Readers share their cancer stories as part of The Longevity Project
We know cancer touches every part of a community, so in conjunction with The Longevity Project, we asked readers to share their stories of survival or loss related to a cancer diagnosis.
I had been getting very thorough and comprehensive annual physicals for over 30 years. Part of this routine is, of course, both a digital prostate exam as well as prostate-specific antigen bloodwork. I’m now 70 years young, but my very competent physician began noticing a more rapid increase in the PSA number in my 66th year, which continued to rise into year 67. The number was never more than 7.4 but had always been between 1.5 and 3.
Upon receiving the higher number, she referred me to a urologist who did a biopsy and did indeed find cancer in two of 12 biopsies. After “watchful waiting” for six months, my PSA had continued to rise but was still under 8. It was time to act!
Then at 68 years of age, I began researching the various treatment modalities available to me. After reading Robert Marckini’s book “You Can Beat Prostate Cancer,” I decided to get proton beam therapy at the nearest facility that had the equipment, which was Mayo Hospital in Phoenix. From start to finish, the process took roughly seven weeks, 46 appointments (which included 29 treatments) and the best, most efficient care I’ve ever experienced. No side effects at all and no late appointments — ever!
That was in spring 2020, and my PSA number continues to decline now at 1.4. Mayo does accept Medicare, incidentally. My prostate cancer treatment was, in a word, amazing. Literally no urinary or libido issues at all. Get it checked annually, guys! The book mentioned above is very understandable and free on Amazon Kindle.
— Mark Meyer
When I began my journey into the valley of the shadow of death, I had to remind myself that I was not alone. At age 36, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. It was only a few weeks after racing in the Firecracker 50 that I found my lump, but it took until November 2019 for my official diagnosis.
I am a mom of two little girls, a wife to an amazing husband, and I own a business in town. My life is busy, and to know that this was a journey ahead of me was very hard. I had watched my sister go through Hodgkin lymphoma just six years earlier, and I knew what to expect with chemo. It is not pretty. It is an extremely hard journey — one I was terrified to face myself.
I walked into that valley floor and laid in a fetal position with my head rested in the Lord’s lap. Lots of tears, anger, screaming of “why?” and wondering what the Lord had for me in this. As followers of Christ, I think the church makes us think we need to have a positive attitude about times of suffering — that we have a “God’s got this!” happy attitude, that we aren’t allowed to be upset and angry about our situation — but that is false. We are meant to lament, and it is OK to not be OK with seasons of suffering. Why would he bother with a Bible full of suffering and lamenting if he didn’t mean to have us walk through it just like him!
My journey through treatments was not smooth at all. I had two lymph node biopsies, and the last destroyed my nerves in my armpit and back of my arm, leaving me with no feeling. I had a blood clot in the vein that my port ran into just after my first chemo treatment. Chemo destroyed me. I got so sick with what we now know as COVID during my second-to-last chemo. I finished chemo to then be on lockdown. Finally, I made it to my lumpectomy to then be told four days later that the tumor didn’t fully respond and now I need a bilateral mastectomy.
Just a few weeks after my bilateral mastectomy, I got MRSA in the breast with the cancer and had emergency surgery to remove and clean out the infection. Shortly after that, they did an extensive biopsy of the tumor that didn’t respond and found that I was now HER2-positive when I was originally diagnosed HER2-negative. So the chemo had changed my cancer, which I didn’t know could happen. After finding that my cancer receptors had changed, I then needed to do another year of infusion injections every three weeks followed by another six weekly chemo treatments. I lost my hair twice. Ugh.
All along, I was just wanting to be a wife, mom and business owner. Instead, I was forced to the bed. I missed out on two years of being a mom. That’s something I can’t get back, but I’m thankful that I am here today to be their mom and soak up every moment.
A lot of the time during treatment, I heard nothing from the Lord. That was OK with me. I knew he hadn’t left me but that it was my time to seek answers to all my questions, to dig deep into why he allows suffering and how can I find joy in it. No matter if you have a relationship with the Lord or not, we all go through times of suffering. We are not immune to it. However, it is about how we can find the Lord in it. How we don’t have to go through it alone. We have him!
I knew that at some point, the Lord would help pick me up off the valley floor and start walking me out the other side of the valley. I will never forget the moment he spoke to me early one morning to wake up and listen to the song “Blessed Assurance,” a good ole hymn. Here is just a taste of this song that spoke to me deeply that morning that it was time to walk out the other side:
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
This is what I had been doing for the last year. Watching and waiting. Continuing to see my life’s story unfold in his goodness.
I will never forget my dear friend telling me at the beginning of my diagnosis that God was going to use my unique outcome of cancer to change how my doctors would treat women in the future and that it would save lives.
Well, when I went into my lumpectomy, I was remembering that this has been too easy. It has all gone according to protocol, so how could my story change how my doctors treat women with my type of cancer? I had this feeling it was not over yet, and I was right when they found that my receptors had changed after chemo. It wouldn’t be until almost a year later, when my breast surgeon called me, that my friend’s prophecy would unfold.
The surgeon explained how she just went to a conference where they spoke mainly about how 47% of women who start with chemo first to treat breast cancer have a change in their cancer receptors. What? I had no idea that your cancer could change. It is not protocol for them to retest any tissue, lymph nodes or leftover tumors for change in cancer receptors, and this is why women come back years later with metastatic breast cancer!
They found that when they retest after chemo and find a change, then they do infusion injections and this decreases reassurance significantly. This is exactly what happened to me, and I am beyond thankful that my breast surgeon retested me and then put me on the infusions. It saved my life!
It is now protocol at my cancer center to retest women after chemo. So this is how God works the good out in our times of suffering. I am thankful that more women’s lives will be saved from this working of the Lord through myself and my doctors.
I am now a little over a year out and working hard to be healthy and strong again. I am thankful to be alive, to be a wife, mom and running my business again. I couldn’t have done this without the help of my husband, who took on so much during those two years. I’m thankful for the outpouring of support from our family, church and friends. We couldn’t have gone through this without you all. Thank you all!
— Mindy Thein
In 2013, my mammogram showed all-clear. I asked about a very small lump, and a second, more-intense screen showed a problem. I had a biopsy, and it showed Stage 2 invasive cancer. I received a call from my then-doctor on a Friday. I was at work and couldn’t get in to see her until Monday. She said it couldn’t wait: I had cancer. Wow, what a way to tell me.
I went to another doctor in Salida who showed great compassion for my diagnosis and situation. She helped me decide what I needed to do and when to do it. I thank her for the wonderful care I received at Heart of the Rockies Medical Center.
I always tell everyone to not blindly accept a test. If you find a concern, make the time to find someone who will listen. I am eight years cancer-free!
— Kendra Driemeyer
My dad was always the glue that held us all together. The peacemaker, one might say. Where “dad jokes” were concerned, he had it covered. He was a family man, and I never had to doubt his genuine love for us.
On a grey day, March 28, 2017, I made my way to Aurora in my jeep. My mom had driven my dad to Colorado from Idaho in two days’ time. We were on our way to meet at Anschutz. My dad never liked going to doctors or hospitals, but he had lost 50 pounds in just two months, and he was having some pain in his back/shoulders that didn’t seem to have any origin, along with blood in his urine. He needed some moral support, so I cleared my day, jumped on I-70 and made my way to meet them at the ER. He was worried it was gallstones.
The triage nurse immediately put him in a room, and they started running a series of tests. My dad was always active and doing his best to eat healthy, so we never expected cancer. But about two hours into testing that evening, I saw his doctor frowning at the computer in the hallway. I approached him and asked if he was looking at my dad’s files. He confirmed that he was. That evening, it was discovered that my dad had a Stage 4 diagnosis of cancer. I asked the medical team to please be as blunt as possible concerning the outlook. I was told that my dad had two, maybe three, months left without chemo. If he attempted chemo, maybe six months.
They called it correctly. My father, Jose M. Balderas, passed away 10 short weeks later on June 10, 2017.
In that short time, our family learned more than our fair share about cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer in the bile duct. It is very much a silent killer, rarely diagnosed outright and usually only found in early stages accidentally. By the time it is in its Stage 4 phase, it is causing havoc in other suspicious ways, which can lead to its discovery. But by then, it can be too late.
We were fully unprepared for this. We tried to cram as much as possible in those 10 weeks, taking as many pictures and videos as our devices would handle. I was thankful that the doctors were so blunt with us, as that gave us the push we needed to make sure my dad got his bucket list trip before having to go to The Denver Hospice.
I’m not exactly sure how our story can help others — except to say that if you feel something is off, get it checked. I don’t believe it would have made much of a difference in our story, something I made sure to let my dad know as he expressed so much guilt about not having gone in earlier.
I really do hate cancer. I hate that it took my dad from us. It took my mom’s prince from this world. It took his laugh away, his hugs, the way he would affectionately pat me on my head whenever I was near him — even as an adult.
I will forever be grateful to Dr. Elizabeth Winfield in Frisco for taking him on as a patient then, when her waiting list was about a month out. She saw him right away and allowed him to go through this with as little discomfort as possible.
I will never understand how the place where I was living gave me notice that if I did not have my dad leave my apartment, we would be evicted because my dad put us one person over occupancy, even when I brought in documentation from the hospital proving that he was terminal and that I was trying to be his caretaker. But I will always be thankful for the close-knit community of locals here in Summit, who provided support and friendship during those 10 weeks.
— Priscilla Magdalena
I had surgery on New Year’s Eve 2018 (not a great way to spend New Year’s Eve) and the diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer was made Jan. 18, 2019. I was so lucky no further treatment, other than medicine, was necessary. The medicine destroyed my bone density and caused a 35-pound weight gain. It’s an estrogen suppressor. I still consider myself lucky as I continue to be physically active. In fact, I completed my second triathlon (with my youngest son) on my 65th birthday! I can’t wait until January 2024, when I will be considered cancer-free.
— Beth Kamp Veath
I was born in Summit County in 1994, and getting to grow up here is the best blessing I could have gotten out of life! I’ve always been a very active person, from loving the outdoors to playing sports ever since I could walk. I graduated from Summit High School in 2012. I’m a father and a plumber for All Phases Plumbing. Life was going normal, and I was happy.
Cancer isn’t common in my family, until it snuck up on me. I caught COVID-19 the first time around when it was going haywire throughout the world. I was bedridden, but I didn’t think it was going to take a turn the way it did. I never fully recovered from the sickness. Then toward the end of 2021, family members and friends started noticing my activity slowing down, and I knew I was not the same as before. The day I truly noticed my health turning south was a cold December day. I was not able to function how I normally could, and there were moments throughout the early morning when I couldn’t move because the circulation in my body was so poor. That night, I visited my mother, and she knew something was terribly off. That is when I decided to go to the ER.
I thought it was going to be a quick in and out, but that wasn’t the case. The doctors drew my blood and knew right away from the results that it wasn’t good. I had to be transported down to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood by ambulance right away. As I was going down, they told me my blood levels were very critical, and I would have to immediately need a blood transfusion. The scariest part was not knowing what was going on with my body. I was fully drained, and I couldn’t stay awake.
I ended up having to stay at St. Anthony’s for 18 days. They would check my blood every day, and I had to get two bone-marrow biopsies while I was there. The doctors were just as confused as I was and didn’t really know what was going on with my cells. I had to get blood transfusions almost every day. We got the results of the first biopsy Jan. 24, 2022, and there was no evidence of cancer. This was great news! However, they weren’t too sure what was happening, so they called it immune-mediated pancytopenia, and said that might be what was causing my body to do this to itself.
They then scheduled me an appointment at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center on Feb. 14, and that is when Dr. Nauman Moazzam gave us the news that I had myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a rare blood cancer. At that moment, it really hit me. My heart dropped. It is very rare to happen to someone at my age, and my doctor said I am one of the youngest cases he has ever seen. He also informed us that my Chromosome 7 was depleting, which meant I had a high chance of it turning into leukemia. I needed to start treatment right away at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute at the Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital in Denver.
I was referred to Dr. Richard Nash (he is the best). March 3 was my first appointment, and Dr. Nash said I needed to get have a stem-cell transplant ASAP. We began the search for a bone-marrow match (a DNA match). My brother and sister were not matches. At the same time, my team was searching the national registry and found seven matches after a few days. That’s when the long journey of staying on the third floor of Presbyterian St. Luke’s began. I needed to stay at the hospital for three to five weeks for the transplant and until my blood counts were at a stable level afterward. I needed to move to Denver for the first 100 days after the transplant and have a caretaker 24/7. My dad was my caretaker and took off of work for the summer to help me heal and get back to a new normal. We needed to be within 10 miles of the hospital, as I was still going in for blood work three days a week and having a bone-marrow biopsy every 30 days during the 100-day phase.
I was admitted to St. Luke’s on May 11 and began intense chemotherapy to wipe all of my cells from my body. Five days after the transplant, I was drained with no energy, no appetite and no strength. I felt nothing like myself. Finally, I was feeling a little better by Day 9 and was released at the beginning of June to our new home in Denver. The 100 days were very difficult because I was feeling better and wanted to go out and do things again — simple things like going to the store — anything that would get me outside. However, now that I had a brand new immune system, I needed to use a mask, gloves and sunscreen. I had no idea how different things would look after.
I’m back home now in Summit, my 100th day was Aug. 25. I can never explain or share how grateful I am to be alive and to the donor who saved me. (I hope to meet my hero someday.) I still have a central line, and I’m working closely with my team in Denver to monitor my numbers. (I go down every week.) I need to have new immunizations, but I cannot start that process until one year after the transplant. Until then, I will live every day to the fullest with the best of my ability. I’m not able to go back to work or be around too many people, and I have to stay protected when I am out. If I get any type of sickness, it will take my body longer to heal, and I might need hospital help to recover.
I have a newfound love for life, although I did ask, “Why me?” And I did struggle emotionally from time to time. My family stood by my side and held me up through it all, and I don’t know what I would have done without them. My life was saved by a stem-cell transplant, and I am in remission. My bone-marrow biopsies have not shown any myelodysplastic syndrome or abnormality in my DNA, and that is amazing to me. I have had a total of eight biopsies, and half have been clean with no cancer. I can now call myself a survivor, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I hope my story brings hope and inspiration to those who are walking this journey now. Do not lose hope or faith.
— John Melott
Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Before my diagnosis, I had no idea males could get breast cancer, but in fact they can.
My diagnosis came about because I had a very thorough and wonderful general practitioner at the time. I had asked her to prescribe some physical therapy for my knee. She required me to come to her office for an exam. At the end of the knee exam, she asked me what else was going on with me, and I responded by telling her about a bug bite that I had had for a couple of weeks.
It turned out not to be a bug bite but rather a tumor. My treatment consisted of a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. So far so good. My biggest residual issue is lymphedema and peripheral neuropathy in my left arm and fingers. Of course I am left handed. But I can still enjoy being with my family and friends in Summit County, and of course I can still ski.
— Rick Levinson
My story began as a preteen summer 1989. I was 12 years old and pretty oblivious to the changes in my body. My grandma, however, noticed something different about me: a lack of energy and wanting to sleep a lot. She mentioned it to my parents, saying she was worried about me. Soon, my lymph nodes began to swell, and the right side of my neck looked as though I had the mumps.
Fast-forward to a biopsy and the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I could hardly even pronounce the name, let alone comprehend what was going on in my body. I had heard the word cancer only one other time, and it was when a teen older than me passed away from that C-word.
Thanks to a small-town doctor with connections, we were able to meet an amazing oncologist at Children’s Hospital in Denver the following morning. The day was a bit of a blur. I remember hearing words I have never heard before, my dad sitting with his sunglasses on inside because he didn’t want me to know that he was crying, and my mom holding my hand while she was crying. As a child, you don’t have a choice; you do what you are told, so I just went with it.
There was test after test after test. For six months, chemotherapy every other week made me so sick that I would just start to feel better in time for the next treatment. Three failed central lines led to me feeling like a pin cushion every time the doctors needed an IV. I tried to go to school every other week when I felt good enough, but that was almost harder. Friends started trickling away one by one. Who wants to be friends with a girl with a head of stringy hair that is almost bald? They were probably afraid that they would catch it. The six months eventually came to end, and we were told that if I could make it five years without a relapse, I would be considered “cured.”
Life started to feel a little more like normal. I was feeling better. My parents seemed happier and less stressed. My sisters’ lives were back to normal. I returned to my eighth grade year of school in the fall with hair that was starting to grow back, and I got to feel a little bit like a kid again. Every six months, I was reminded of the cancer when it was time for blood work and scans, but each time seemed a little less scary.
One year and seven months later, I was starting my freshman year of high school, playing volleyball and doing things a kid should be doing. One day, I walked in the door after day sailing with a friend, and I could see that my parents had been crying. Knowing that I had just had scans, my heart sank. I knew my life was about to change again. I had relapsed. Why?
My parents wanted to be sure this would never happen to me again, so they took me to Stanford University, a top teaching hospital with tests that only they were doing. After a week of doctors and tests and pokes and scariness, we had a plan. This course of treatment would include chemotherapy, a month of daily radiation and more chemotherapy.
The new nausea meds made life a little better, but high school was a nightmare. I quickly found out that kids can be mean, and I felt it every time I walked in that building. All I wanted to do was stay at home — where I felt loved and not weird and not unwanted — and watch gameshows with my mom. As time went on, my parents and I decided that I would finish school on a home-school program. At the time, it felt right; it felt safe.
Looking back now, I missed out on so much life: friends, dances, drama, laughing, hanging out — all that that goes with being a high school kid. Treatment ended, and once again we were all getting back to normal. The five-year countdown to being “cured” was on, and I was trying to move forward and figure out life as a young adult who missed a big portion of growing up. The years passed one by one, putting cancer that much further in the back of my mind. Then the five years came, and I was considered cured!
As time passed, I worried less about ever being sick again and began looking to the future. I met my husband of 22 years in March 1998 and knew then that things were falling into place. I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I remember being told during the cancer treatment that I might not be able to have children of my own, but I didn’t dwell on that. In April 2002, we had a little boy, Colton, who made me a mom. My life was turning out just the way I wanted. In October 2005, Kylie was born. I had a little boy and little girl that were both miracle babies, and I never felt more in love. My pregnancies were hard, and although I always wanted four children, we had been blessed, and my body was worn out. Life was busy with two kids, helping my husband with his business and putting cancer further and further behind me.
Due to the mantle radiation and correlation of Hodgkin’s and breast cancer, doctors told me that I was at very high risk of developing breast cancer. So at age 20, I began going twice a year for mammograms. Things would pop up and require a biopsy, my nerves would heighten and then the results would come back negative. It started to feel routine. For 25 years, this was the journey. Then on Feb. 3 of this year, my radiologist said, “It’s cancer, Rachael.” I had just been diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma.
My world came crashing down. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. Hadn’t I had enough already? I had a lumpectomy April 21 and was readmitted April 29 to open me back up because I had an infection that almost killed me. Well, it wasn’t my time. A few days in the hospital and many, many antibiotics later, I was ready to fight the fight again. The results of the lumpectomy revealed I also had ductal carcinoma in situ. Thankfully, it was caught fairly early, and I would only require radiation and 10 years of once daily Tamoxifen. Here’s the kicker: They are almost positive that the radiation I received as child is what caused this cancer.
This is my path and my journey and my story. I have learned a great deal about myself. I learned that I have severe post-traumatic stress disorder from everything I have gone through. I have learned I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of not being here to watch my kids grow up. I have learned that you have real friends and people who say they are your friend but really aren’t. The whys are always in my head, but I have faith that I have a journey that was chosen for me, and I am going to live it and fight it and make the very best of my life.
I have completed treatment and will know in January if I am in complete remission. Until then, I will stay positive and focused on the future and love on those who love me.
— Rachael DeLong
My wife, Gail, and I own a condominium in Dillon that we purchased about four years ago to visit more often with our daughter and granddaughter, who live in Centennial.
My cancer survival story starts with an annual physical in October 2011, after which my primary care physician asked me to come in for a consultation. My doctor told me my prostate-specific antigen count was high at 98. I asked what the number should be, and he said a PSA count should be below 2. The doctor set me up for a biopsy. Once the biopsy was performed, the urologist informed me and my wife that my Gleason score was nine out of 10 and that 10 out of 12 of my biopsies tested positive for cancer. Because the cancer was very advanced, he said I had only one option: radiation. He then asked if we wanted him to pray with us.
We were leaving the parking garage in tears, and I told Gail that I didn’t like the doctor. She agreed and called a work colleague who suggested Dr. Brian Miles, one of the leading prostate cancer and research doctors in Houston. Gail’s colleague also was able to get us in with Dr. Miles the next day. At our visit, Dr. Miles said we should have the prostate removed as soon as possible in order to get the cancerous area out of my body. Then, if the cancer had spread, I would need radiation to treat the affected areas. He also said that if you radiate the prostate first, you will not be able to remove it, so the odds of further cancer spread are likely.
I had my prostate-removal surgery in February 2012. They did find cancer cells in my lymph nodes, so after I healed from the surgery, I had 38 radiation treatments to kill the cancer cells. Though I have some side effects after the prostate removal, I have been cancer-free for more than 10 years. I have lived to see seven grandkids and two step-grandkids be born, which is one of the greatest things in life.
Because prostate cancer does not get as much publicity as breast cancer in women, most men do not know much about it. It is one of the leading cancers in men. There are a variety of treatment options if caught early, but most men do not know that an annual physical and a simple blood test can detect prostate and other cancers early. When caught early, you have a greater number of treatment options, so men should know their PSA numbers and what they mean.
My advice to men 45 and older is to get an annual physical and do not be afraid to get a second opinion if you do not trust the results. Trust your gut when dealing with doctors, and remember they are humans, too, and are subject to making mistakes. A friend of mine was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year after me (though not as advanced), and he chose to have radiation treatments instead of prostate removal. His cancer returned after five years, and he passed away a few years later after numerous unsuccessful chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I believe I am still alive today because Gail and I did not like the original doctor’s bedside manner. I feel Dr. Miles was the right doctor for my situation at the time, and I am glad Gail and I chose the options we did for my treatments.
— Allen Derrick
I’m sharing this story in the hope it might help others: I’ve been hiking, climbing and skiing in the States and internationally for over 50 years. Beginning about 20 years ago, I’ve had six procedures for precancerous and cancerous skin lesions. I’m about to have several more. If you love the outdoors, sunscreen up and wear a hat.
— Steve Slater
My breasts were small and dense, which means that every mammogram led to an ultrasound for further review. It became old hat, part of the deal. And year after year, my fibrous boobies were deemed in the clear — until they weren’t.
In 2018, I felt a lump, and it felt different. The mammogram of course led to an ultrasound, during which the radiologist told me, “Probably nothing. You can come back in six months for another, or you can see a surgeon about it now. Up to you.” When I repeated those words to my surgeon, she had a few choice words of her own. After she finished an impressive string of bleep-worthy words for my radiologist, she performed a biopsy and diagnosed my ductal carcinoma in situ.
Treatment options included a lumpectomy with radiation and chemo in addition to frequent mammograms to screen for changes, or a mastectomy or double mastectomy. Normally, I go back and forth in my mind with practically every choice presented to me, always worried I’ll make the wrong one. This choice was quick for me. The thing is, if I had not gotten yearly mammograms and checked routinely for lumps, if I had opted to wait for another screening before seeing a surgeon, my ability to choose might not have existed. As hard as they are, choices are good. I opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. And because I caught the condition early, it had not spread, which meant no radiation and no chemo.
I’ve been cancer-free for four years now, and when I hear others’ cancer stories, I feel very lucky — almost guilty — about how “easily” it went for me. But it wasn’t luck. It was routine screening, early detection and a quick response that saved my life.
I have to give two shoutouts. Thanks to my amazing and innovative surgeon, Dr. Beth DuPree, for providing insight, support and free coupons for holistic healing to go along with her state-of-the-art surgery skills. And Thanks to Dr. Adam Boettcher for his caring explanation of all that was to come (including a needle stuck into my chest injecting saline into subcutaneous stretcher bags every few weeks) and his skillful, realistic reconstruction. They not bigger, but they’re better. And now they won’t kill me.
— Denise Bennett
In 1973, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I was desperate to have a baby and was devastated by the news that I needed a hysterectomy. I got a second opinion from another OB-GYN, but he agreed that I needed a hysterectomy.
I decided to try natural means to beat the cancer. I started reading a book called “One Answer to Cancer.” In following the book, I stopped eating beef. Instead, I ate chicken and fish each once a week. In the morning, I would eat 12 raw almonds and drink an 8-ounce glass of freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice. For lunch, I would eat 12 more raw almonds and drink an 8-ounce glass of freshly made carrot juice. I ate no protein after noon. And each time I ate the almonds, I would have papaya enzymes that I bought at the health food store. During the day, I would also drink an 8-ounce glass of freshly made celery juice. I also ate a mixture of raw grains. I also remember taking vitamin C pills throughout the day and walking or exercising in the pool.
According to this book, all cancer is the body’s inability to digest cancer. When my tests still came back showing cancer, I started taking 10 apricot seeds in the morning and the evening. I was scheduled for a hysterectomy April 11, 1974, and on April 1, the doctors office called to say that the test showed no cancer. I am thankful to the doctors for finding the cancer, and I am forever thankful to God for healing me. I did everything I could do, and God did the rest. I now have four wonderful children and no cancer!
For the past 20 years, I have been taking a product called Juice Plus. Juice Plus consists of 17 raw fruits, vegetables and grains in a capsule. I am certain that this has helped me to remain healthy and strong.
— Carolyn Hobbs
Cancer: one of my most feared diagnoses to hear. Death: another thought that isn’t so great to think about — so permanent. And I automatically link cancer to death.
Well, I have learned firsthand that isn’t necessarily always the case. I am here today to tell you my story. Maybe my story will inspire others to go in swinging and come out the other side feeling pretty darned good.
I was diagnosed in 2019 with breast cancer. I had breast tissue removed and reconstructive surgery done. Vanity: what a painful burden! Then in 2021, when I visited the UC Health Anschutz Medical Campus a few days before Thanksgiving, I was told my cancer had spread to my liver, lungs, bones and spinal cord. I was a pretty sick puppy by then. My liver was swollen to five times its normal size. The tumor was huge! My liver was so stressed, it was pumping fluid at a rate of 2 liters per day into my abdomen. Yikes!
The minute I heard liver tumor, I was preparing to die. So I asked a very dear friend to coffee and gently dumped my horrible news on him. Knowing he likes to hike, I asked him to spread my ashes in a big wildflower field south of Breckenridge. My plan was to write my own death notification, all stamped and ready for someone to mail it. Now that’s quite a lot to dump on someone in one sitting. He handled it like a champ. It wasn’t until probably four months later when I learned that metastatic breast cancer can be treated, even when it spreads to other organs. Learning the difference between metastatic breast cancer and liver cancer was like blowing a fresh breath of life into my soul. Liver cancer originates in the liver. Metastatic liver cancer originates from breast cancer tissue, which has a high rate of successful treatment.
I was referred to one of the best oncologists ever, Dr. Elena “Nova” Shagisultanova, and prescribed IV chemotherapy treatments. But my liver tumor had destroyed half of my liver, and my oncologist told me she didn’t think I was going to live long enough to make my first treatment in December 2021. And yet she and her team jumped in and saved my life!
I have to say the treatment was pure hell. I was sick for over three months and barely had the strength to get out of bed. My hair fell out by the handfuls. The nausea was so bad I lost 62 pounds. Being quite voluptuous (better than saying fat), I could afford to give up some, but I felt and looked like a scarecrow. I had no strength at all. Then I had to wait to see if my liver could grow back or if too much of it was gone to function. In between all of this, I contracted sepsis. I was in horrific pain. I again made it through because of the amazing care I received from Dr. Nova and her team. And sheer will power. The body is absolutely amazing.
I am still taking chemotherapy pills. I have developed some side effects from chemo, such as stenosis of my tear ducts and skin that bruises, tears and bleeds easily, but the dosage is so much less that I am beginning to regain my strength. I am getting stronger every day. Five of the six spinal cord tumors were radiated and are assumed to be gone. The sixth is responding to chemo. My bones are clear. My liver is functioning normally. I still have swelling in my abdomen, but it is much less now. I still have lung “nodules” but nothing life threatening.
What a long, painful, horrific ride. But I’m still here. It hasn’t been easy at all. I am still trying to regain my strength. I have learned to have patience with myself and to not push so hard. I have been at the brink of death twice and come back. I am thankful for each day I get to live now. I am thankful to have family that took me in at such a horrible time in my life.
I hope this helps at least one person to keep trying no matter how awful it gets or how dark the thoughts get. Keep fighting. Keep fighting! It’s important to listen to your body. Top-notch medical care is so important, too. I am convinced that I would be gone if I didn’t have the cancer team I have. The prognosis given to me is five years from start of treatment. Which puts me at a little less than 4 1/2 years today. I reject that. With the care I have, I changed that number in my head to 15 years.
I believe receiving excellent medical care is most important for fighting cancer. Eating good-quality protein along with fresh greens and fruits plus a positive mental attitude and support from family and friends all helps on the often painful and difficult road to recovery.
Today, I am planning to take a road trip to visit my family and a few dear friends. My sweet, little co-pilot, a rescued Labradoodle named Doodlebug, is going with me. She will be a wonderful travel companion. This trip is certainly not going to be easy, and I know I will need to stop quite often to rest. I will be sending blood test results every month to my oncologist at Anschutz and stopping in California for a CT scan. This trip is important to me, and I am looking forward to it.
My goal is to become strong enough to ski again. When I reach that goal, I’ll make my way back to Breckenridge. In the meantime, I hope anyone who is going through treatments can see that it isn’t easy, but with excellent medical care, good nutrition and lots of rest, there can be a welcome light at the end of the tunnel.
— Pamela Dietz
Since July 2020, I have remained by Ira Bornstein’s side as we live day to day with the most aggressive form of terminal brain cancer: glioblastoma. After the diagnosis, Ira endured an eight-hour craniotomy, six weeks of chemotherapy coupled with radiation, and a six-month regimentation of chemotherapy combined with the use of the Food and Drug Administration-approved Optune device, which he continues to wear on his head. This portable device uses tumor-treating fields, therapy which was designed to interfere with the dividing glioblastoma cells.
Miraculously, Ira has remained active since his diagnosis. During the past two ski seasons, we have skied approximately 20 times during each season and have continued to hike throughout Summit County during the warmer months. This stands in sharp contrast to most glioblastoma patients who succumb to this incurable cancer within 12 to 18 months of diagnosis. In many instances, deficits caused by the tumor and/or the treatments prevent patients from returning to their prior quality of life.
After learning about the high mortality rate, I immediately started to research how other people beat the odds of terminal diseases. Some of these resources highlighted how people who take initiative and implement a multitiered approach have a higher likelihood of living longer. But that was only part of the equation. With just days to decide on a neurosurgeon and a neuro-oncology team, we had to act fast. Since the diagnosis occurred near the beginning of the pandemic, we had to seriously consider whether it was a wise decision to establish care outside of Colorado. After consulting with Dr. Kevin Lillehei at the UCHealth Neurosciences Center at Anschutz Medical Center, Ira felt that he found the right surgeon.
Luck also had to be in our favor. Adverse side effects from the surgery or the treatments could potentially derail any hope for a longer than normal survival. Identifying the optimal pathway to minimize the ill effects of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation was my first goal. Ira’s positivity and willingness to change went hand in hand with this approach.
Ira was able to complete the standard of care treatments without suffering any long-term deficits. Lillehei removed 100% of Ira’s visible tumor. This successful resection increased Ira’s chance of a longer progression-free time but did not affect the aggressive malignant microscopic cells from trying to reform into a tumor. To date, medical intervention, along with our lifestyle choices, have forestalled the reformation of another malignant tumor.
After Ira completed his six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, we resumed our travels. Due to pandemic restrictions, our travels were initially limited to the United States. Since the beginning of 2021, we enjoyed horseback riding at Vista Verde Guest Ranch near Steamboat Springs; snorkeling in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii; exploring Florida’s Captiva Island; indulging in a winter Celebrity cruise to the Caribbean and a spring Azamara cruise to Spain and Portugal; spending time with some of our grandchildren in Scottsdale, Arizona; touring the ports of Iceland and trekking there; hiking in southern Utah; and fulfilling Ira’s request to visit Israel for the fourth time. When we were in Haifa, Israel, we had the amazing opportunity to thank the scientist, Dr. Yoram Palti, who invented the Optune device that Ira wears daily.
Wherever we have traveled, people have been inspired by Ira’s zest for outdoor adventures. At a time when pessimism outweighs optimism, we are both determined to encourage others to embrace life rather than cancer. I chronicle our cancer journey by publishing travel and lifestyle stories, which can be read on the portfolio page of The Traveling Bornsteins website. To help care partners and glioblastoma patients find resources focusing on diet, exercise, travel, the Optune device and how to beat the odds, I launched a For Glio page at SandraBornstein.com. Far too many people facing terminal illnesses simply give up. If you fall into the trap of believing that dire statistics are your destiny, it will be hard to become an outlier.
On Sept. 17, Ira and I — along with our four sons (Josh, Adam, Aaron and Jordan) and their families — will be participating in the Colorado Brain Tumor Walk & Race at Sloan Lake in Denver. The National Brain Tumor Society sponsors this event to unite the brain cancer community, to bring awareness to the public and to raise funds for more effective treatments along with the hope for a cure. The National Brain Tumor Society estimates that a little less than 90,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a primary brain tumor in 2022, with most cases being non-malignant. However, for the smaller number of glioblastoma patients who face grim statistics of a five-year survival rate of 6.8%, the need for more funding is immediate.
Since we divide our time between Summit County and the Front Range, we are sharing our story with Summit Daily News readers. We hope our story, along with our participation in the National Brain Tumor Society walk and race, will bring increased awareness to incurable brain cancer and raise money for more glioblastoma research.
For details about the walk, along with information on how to make a donation, visit the Bornstein family’s fundraising page, Keep Moving; No Regrets, at BrainTumorCommunity.org/goto/keepmovingnoregrets.
— Sandy Bornstein
I have been living in Summit County since 1999, and at the age of 64, things changed.
Cancer is quite familiar to me. I lost my youngest daughter to leukemia when she was 8, and my mother went with breast cancer before I moved to Colorado. I always felt that cancer was going to come for me, too.
In October 2015, I went in for my annual physical checkup. My prostate specific antigen came in at 8.4, so my physician recommended seeing a urologist. In November 2015, a biopsy was done, and it confirmed that I had prostate cancer with Gleason’s scores of 4+3, 3+4 and 3+3 in multiple locations. Only one sample was cancer free. My stage was set at T1C. After researching my options, I selected to have a prostatectomy. This was done in March 2016, so there went my ski season and my employment as a snowboard instructor. After surgery, my stage went to 3, as cancer was found in the seminal vesicle.
All was fine for three years, and then my PSA went above the magic number that determines one is cancer free. After a review with the doctors at Shaw Cancer Center, I selected to do radiation and the hormone treatment. The hormone treatment was the easy part, but the seven weeks of radiation was very hard. Since the end of summer 2019, I have tested PSA undetectable, but the hormone treatment has left me with several of the known side effects. It has now been three years after that treatment, and in October I go in for another review.
As I said, I am a snowboard instructor and looking forward to the 2022-23 season. I also enjoy gravity bike riding and hope to get in a few runs this year before the season is over after recovering from hip-replacement surgery.
— Mark Daley
Several years ago, I noticed a brownish discoloration appear in the corner of my eye. It was hard to miss when looking at myself in the mirror. I mentioned it to my ophthalmologist, who indicated sometimes that happens. It’s like a freckle, he said. Seemed odd, but OK.
Fast forward three years (shortly after this picture was taken), and the “freckle” began to change. I immediately called my dermatologist, and he took a biopsy. He thought it might be a relatively simple and noninvasive form of skin cancer. Well, nope again! It turns out it was Stage 2 melanoma. That was not welcome news.
The pandemic and staff shortages delayed surgery to remove this fast-growing mass that I watched change every day. Doctors wanted to remove the cancer immediately, but that was not possible. We take for granted the amazing medical care we have always had in this country. I became depressed and angry that I had to wait months for surgery while the cancer continued to invade. It felt like we were giving the cancer a better chance to win this battle.
Initially, I was concerned about what I would look like post surgery. This is not an easy place to remove a tumor, and big scars on your face are never welcome. However, by the time surgery finally occurred, that was the least of my concerns. How far did we let this nasty disease spread by waiting? Would they need to remove more than they initially anticipated, like an eye?
The year since the diagnosis has been almost a blur (pun intended). With amazing support from my partner Danae, my friends and two amazing children, life is almost back to normal — a new normal I guess. Yes there are new scars, and yes there are new challenges, but we have the opportunity to face the challenges together, which I consider a blessing.
The war against this melanoma is far from over, but regarding the initial battle, I am putting the “W” in my column. With every passing surveillance visit, every hike, every bike ride or ski day, another “W” goes in my column. My goal now is to win by a large margin. I am off to a great start.
— Carl Craig
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