Cancer survivors say listen to your doctor, keep the faith


By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 8:47 pm on Friday, October 02, 2015

Cancer survivor Brenda Saladin of Greenville spent years battling stage III invasive duct carcinoma, but she is now cancer-free. — Courtesy photo

When it comes to cancer treatment, is it a positive attitude that breeds success or success that produces a positive attitude?

If you ask cancer survivors Karen Herzog and Brenda Saladin, they might tell you it’s a little bit of both.

Of course, other factors, such as regular checkups and early detection play important roles, as well.

 

EARLY DETECTION

Karen Herzog, right, of Lakeview, had the support of her husband, Ken, during her fight with ovarian cancer, which she calls the “sneakiest” cancer because it is so difficult to detect and diagnose. — Courtesy photo

That early detection aspect proved difficult for Herzog, a Lakeview resident, who experienced ovarian cancer, also known as the “sneakiest” cancer because it’s difficult to diagnose.

In July 2002, Herzog’s regular visit to her gynecologist produced a clean bill of health. However, not long after, she began to experience abdominal pain.

She admits she should have had it checked out right away, but since she’d just gotten an “all clear” from her doctor, she figured it must be something minor.

It wasn’t.

“By being stubborn and wanting to get the right answers, (I) walked around with a bowel blockage for three week,” she said.

The blockage turned out to be cancer. In September 2002, Herzog underwent five hours of surgery in Saginaw where doctors disconnected her bowel and removed much of the mass. She woke up with a colostomy bag. Twelve chemo treatments later, doctors reattached her bowel.

Nine months later, however, the cancer was back, this time in one lymph node. More surgeries followed, along with 12 more chemo treatments. Eventually, Herzog’s doctors declared her “cancer free.”

“It was a big relief to be done with all that and to enjoy every day to its fullest,” she said. “I tell my story to three to five people every month to encourage everyone to be aware and (be) and advocate for their own health care.”

Herzog added she now regularly gets tested so she won’t be “surprised” by cancer again.

 

UNEXPECTED HURDLES

Saladin’s diagnosis of stage III invasive duct carcinoma brought with it a host of unexpected hurdles. The cancer itself, it turned out, was only part of the problem. Getting her insurance company to provide payment for treatment was the other.

Saladin, who lives in Greenville with her husband, Keith, found out about her cancer in 2009, just a few days before Christmas. She was 46 at the time.

Her doctor, Marianne Melnik of the Lemon-Holten Cancer Pavilion in Grand Rapids, tried to reassure Saladin that she was going to pull through.

“I joked with her and asked if I would die,” Saladin recalled. “She touched my hand and said, ‘Not unless you get run over by a bus.’”

On Jan. 8, Saladin started her chemo treatments. This consisted of four different types of chemo drugs — Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and Avastin — delivered through a port in her chest.

Every three weeks Saladin spent eight hours at the hospital receiving the treatment. She remembers it as being “a long day, but worth it.”

Though the treatment was working well — her golf ball-sized tumor had shrunk to the point where it could no longer be felt — the insurance company denied her further access to the Avastin. In fact, they said, she would have to come up with $44,000 to pay for the two doses she had received already.

“How was I going to pay that?” Saladin said.

Saladin contacted the drug company that manufactures Avastin and appealed to them directly. It took a little finagling, but the manufacturer eventually interceded and Saladin’s $40,000 bill was wiped clean.

The treatments continued, causing Saladin’s hair to begin falling out. She purchased a wig and head scarves. Being an innately positive person, she and her husband decided to make the best of a bad situation.

“My husband shaved my hair one evening and it is in the top 10 things we have done as husband and wife,” she recalled. “That is love, when your husband can shave your head and love you more than you thought possible!”

Her last full round of chemo was in April 2010, but she required another 17 rounds of the Herceptin, the final round of which was delivered in December 2010.

The following May, she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

Finally, the doctor told her she was cancer free.

“Praise God,” she said. “I was worried about it then and now, but with each checkup, chest X-ray and blood work, I became used to the idea. In August of this year, I had a breast MRI and still no cancer.

“Some days I still can’t believe it,” she said. “But I put it behind me. My mom, sister, daughter and I all have matching pink tattoo ribbons, and we, as a family, have become closer and have a bond like no other. I am blessed to have had this experience. I went to work every day and never gave up hope.”

As far as advice Saladin has for others who feel they may be at risk, she suggests taking the doctor’s opinion seriously and getting a second opinion if there’s any doubt as to the diagnoses.

Most importantly, she said, “Keep the faith. Do your research and do what is best for you.”

 

UPCOMING CANCER AWARENESS EVENTS

Strike Out Kids’ Cancer

This Nov. 1 event is supporting childhood cancer research at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The event is from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at AMF Eastbrook Lanes, 3500 Lake Eastbrook Blvd SE. Visit SuperBub.org to register.

“What it comes down to for us is giving people a way to join with us in making things different, better, for the next family. And eventually changing the outcomes for our kids,” said Dawn Burgess of Greenville, whose son Braeden died of cancer just before his 4th birthday.

 

Hope For All

A Nov. 12 event, sponsored by Sparrow Carson Hospital, will be held at the St. Mary’s Church Hall to recognize all those who are battling any type of cancer. A live auction and other activities are being planned.

“A portion of the monies raised will go back to the community to help meet needs of those local families who are battling cancers. We want to recognize all cancers,” said Shelly Weaver, manager of the event’s strategic planning and development team.

 

Lakeview Pink Out

The Lakeview High School is raising awareness of breast cancer Monday. The Class of 2017 will be selling pink T-shirts to help raise funds to support breast cancer research.

“The Class of 2017 has really taken this project on,” said Caleb Martz, Lakeview High School assistant principal.

The school’s volleyball, football and cheer teams are all planning events to promote breast cancer awareness.

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