As a young girl, I loved when my mother would play with my hair. I had dark curls that clung to my head and she would weave her fingers through my hair as I snuggled close to her. One evening, in the fall of 1978, my mom found a lump on the right side of my neck and she immediately knew this lump did not look or feel right.
After a visit to my doctor and trying conservative treatment, on December 7th, I had surgery to remove the mass and I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. After recovering from surgery and “getting through” the holidays, I began a series of radiation treatments which were then given in the lower level of Hamot Medical Center. I had wonderful doctors and caretakers and got through the treatment very well.
For the next few years, I was watched very carefully and enjoyed things that all young girls enjoy. As I approached the five-year anniversary of my original diagnosis I began experiencing pain in my left side. At first it was attributed to my playing basketball for the first time but when it did not go away, again I had to undergo numerous x-rays and I was found to have a tumor in my kidney. At the tender age of 12, I underwent a left nephrectomy.
I missed about three months of school but did not require further treatment. With the help of a tutor I caught up with my schoolwork and finished the year on time with my classmates.
Throughout my bouts with cancer, I had incredible support from my parents and brothers, who always encouraged me and believed that as a family we could get through anything. That belief was tested in 2003 when I was pregnant with my son, Conor and our joy was turned upside down when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a family, we clung together as my mother faced surgery and follow-up chemotherapy and radiation.
After five years of remission, my mother’s breast cancer returned and, once again, we were tested as my mother underwent further surgery which was filled with complications, resulting in five months of recovery.
The table had turned. As a young girl facing my own health issues, I needed my mother and now as a young woman, I had to stay strong for my mother, who was battling her own health issues.
Cancer has affected my life twice and my mother's life twice.
I am lucky. I am blessed. I am grateful. At 38, I have enjoyed a healthy, active lifestyle and relish in the joys of being a mother to my six-year-old son, Conor. I stay involved with the Kanzius Foundation on behalf of people like my mother who have gone through cancer treatments and survived, and those heroes who fought a courageous fight, but lost. I choose to dedicate my time to making a difference in the lives of those who cancer has touched.
I got involved with the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation in 2008 and stay committed as a volunteer to see the day when human trials occur. I was blessed to have been treated in Erie and I am hopeful that Erie will play a key role in the development of these non-invasive treatments. We, as a community, need to rally behind the efforts of the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation and commit our dollars and our prayers to continue the great work of the foundation that John Kanzius began.