Cancer survivors celebrate National Cancer Survivor Day at Saint Francis Medical Center

Sunday, May 31, 2009
Laura Cahow, left, tells how she survived cancer with the help of others, including Julie Baker Caplan, right, outpatient care center nurse at Saint Francis Medical Center, during a National Cancer Survivors Day program Saturday at Saint Francis.

When Laura Cahow was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, she feared it was too late for treatment to be successful.

She didn't have insurance, and was using ice packs for the pain by the time she had a biopsy.

"I figured it was too late, but there were a lot of good people involved," Cahow told a room of fellow cancer survivors Saturday afternoon at Saint Francis Medical Center.

Cahow was the first survivor to speak at the eighth annual National Cancer Survivor Day celebration, sponsored by the cancer institute at Saint Francis.

When Cahow began chemotherapy treatments, she said she knew it would be incredibly difficult and painful.

"I was scared and worried," Cahow said.

"I watched the chemo go through the tubes and I waited for it to hurt."

Oncology nurse and fellow cancer survivor Julie Baker Caplan talked to Cahow and comforted her during the treatments.

One by one, Cahow thanked each nurse and doctor throughout her speech for their individual contributions in keeping her going, providing encouragement and giving her comfort.

"We don't have parades for them and we don't name streets after them, but I just want them to know they make a difference," Cahow said.

For Donna West, it was an ordinary summer day in 2007 when she first became a cancer patient, she said.

West told the other survivors that she thought she knew about cancer.

Her husband was a cancer survivor, and she had volunteered regularly with American Cancer Society and worked for other agencies dedicated to helping cancer patients, she said, but there was much for which she had been unprepared.

When she learned the cancer had returned after having been in remission, and it was thought to be incurable, West said she felt as though she was "out of miracles."

"Of course, I had hoped for one," she said.

When West returned to the chemotherapy treatments, she knew it would likely be for the rest of her life, she said.

West eventually learned to "bend and turn" with the cancer and the treatments, living as normal a life as she could, and urged other survivors to do the same.

"There has been some shrinkage, but I'm not likely to go into remission ... and life is still good," West said.

West said her ordeal has taught her many valuable lessons, including the importance of forgiveness, giving more love, and letting others help her.

When she looks into the mirror now, she doesn't see "Donna West, cancer patient," she said.

"I look in the mirror and just see Donna," she said.


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