Coping with Cancer

Mary DeRayMary DeRay knows cancer all too well. She’s lost family members and dear friends to the disease. She’s also a three-time survivor. Over the past decade, Mary, 71, has fought and beat cervical and endometrial cancer once and breast cancer twice. All in all, she’s endured 30 months of chemotherapy treatment. Below, she explains how focusing on health and wellness helped her through it all.

How can we as survivors help you on a journey you didn’t plan on taking? We can open our hearts, give you hope and provide some tips to make the trip a little less bumpy.

Throughout my battle with cancer, I kept reminding myself what my mother once told me: “Keep your faith and never lose your sense of humor.” Aside from that nugget of wisdom, here are some other things that helped me along my journey:

Water
Water helps flush chemotherapy through your body quicker. I drank six to eight bottles a day. It not only kept me hydrated, but helped me avoid getting sick during 30 months of chemo.

Exercise
Staying active is good for the body and soul. Try walking 30 minutes a day.

Friends and Family
Having someone by your side during chemo helps you stay positive. Laugh, tell stories and be silly. It works!

Asking Questions
Your nurses are angels in uniforms. Don’t be afraid to pick their brain and ask them questions! They are a wealth of information and true encouragers.

Books
Fatigue can become a real issue. Keeping a couple books handy will get you through those days on the couch. One of my favorites was “SeinLanguage” by Jerry Seinfield. A good laugh is great medicine. Another favorite was “Jesus Today” by Sarah Young. This book is where I found my mantra—Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer: Romans 12:12.

Perseverance Pays Off

lucyweylandLucy Weyland, a breast cancer survivor and former Y member, details her battle with cancer and how the Y helped her feel like her old self again.

Not long after adopting our two children, I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a common type of non-invasive breast cancer. As a result, I underwent six different surgeries, including a double mastectomy, and endured 16 weeks of chemotherapy treatment. I gained weight, lost my hair. I was told I’d never play the game of volleyball again.

In the fall of 2010, while still seeing an oncologist regularly and having painful and debilitating side effects from the surgeries and drugs, I decided to join the Y. I couldn’t play the only sport I loved, but I thought I could figure something out.

I started by working out independently and slowly regaining my strength and endurance. After a year, a former neighbor suggested that I take a class, that it could be more effective. First I resisted, telling her that I had stuck my head into several classes and that they seemed too loud, with music blaring and the instructor yelling into the microphone. My neighbor, without skipping a beat, said, “Oh, Lucy, just suck it up and try it!”

I took my neighbor’s word and tried my first class the next day. Admittedly, I was instantly hooked. The music was great and I felt motivated—not only by the instructors but by fellow participants.

Eventually, my range of mobility began to increase considerably, and my strength, endurance, and flexibility did too. Doctors took notice as well. At every subsequent appointment, they were astounded by my improved looks and corresponding lab results…and I had many appointments with many doctors at that time.

My rollercoaster ride with cancer has slowed, but it will never really end. I have to see an oncologist for the rest of my life. But as I reflect on my journey, I’m thankful I found the C.W. Avery Family YMCA when I did. During my time there, I met and became friends with an incredible group of people. I know it sounds corny, but the Y became my second home. Bittersweetly, my family and I recently relocated to Sarasota, Florida. We did, however, purchase a home five minutes from the Evalyn Sadlier Jones YMCA. And that was no accident.

What is Breast Cancer Awareness?

drdrugasThankfully, we’ve reached a point where most people know October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. But, what are you aware of beyond the pink ribbons and bows and their association with this terrible disease? Are you aware that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime or that 230,000 women are diagnosed each year? Are you aware that, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an average of 448 women in Will County alone are diagnosed with Breast Cancer each year.

Those numbers are staggering and sometimes frightening. But there’s something else you should be aware of. I want you to be aware of hope, of compassion, of survivorship and I want you to be aware of perhaps something even more important. I want you to be aware that you alone have the ability to take the first swing at beating cancer. You’re the one that makes the call. You’re the one that schedules the mammogram. You’re the one that chooses to fight if you hear the word cancer. And, if you need us, we’ll be here to fight with you.

You’re no doubt aware of all the scary statistics—but are you also aware that breast cancer is highly treatable if caught early? We’ve come a long way in our ability to detect and treat cancer with exciting new technologies like 3D digital mammography and personalized cancer treatments based on genetic testing. But, it really does start with you.

There’s one more very important thing I want you to be aware of.

There are almost three million breast cancer survivors alive in the United States right now? THREE MILLION SURVIVORS! And, as we continue to raise awareness and get better and better at beating cancer, that number will continue to grow.

So, I leave you with this:

Be aware of the risks. Be aware of the screening guidelines (see below). Be aware of changes in your body. But most importantly, be aware of hope and your own ability to beat this disease if you have to.

Diane M. Drugas, MD, FACS
Presence Medical Group 

Dr. Drugas is a General Surgeon specializing in Breast Biopsies, Breast Cancer Surgery and General Breast Surgery at Presence Health.


The American Cancer Society offers the following Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer Breast Cancer.

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (X-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening.
  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.

All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening. They also should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away.

Some women—because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors—should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

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