“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow,” Helen Keller once said. Keller, an author and political activist, was also deaf and blind.
For many, strength and optimism arise in the face of adversity. Such positivity and determination is often prevalent among people who are battling cancer and those who have beaten the disease.
The spirit that these cancer fighters exude is infectious and a source of inspiration for others facing similar emotions and challenges. And when they share their cancer journey stories, it can uplift and encourage others who are in the midst of their own ups and downs as they fight the disease.
Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cancer Institute and iHeart Media have kicked off the I Had Cancer Podcast, featuring honest and personal conversations with cancer survivors about their journeys from diagnosis, to treatment to a cancer-free life.
Hosted by iHeartMedia radio personality Bonny Diver, each Podcast highlights a cancer survivor who shares his or her own unique perspective about the fear, challenges, and ultimate fortitude experienced along the way.
Some of the AHN patients who have shared their stories of how they’ve gone from “I have cancer” to “I had cancer” include:
A radio personality in Pittsburgh for more than 25 years, Bonny is a 16-year breast cancer survivor. In 2003 at age 46, she had a bad fall while riding her horse. As she was checking for bruises and other injuries, Bonny found a lump on her breast about the size of a walnut. When her physician notified her that she had cancer, she said, “Everything changes. What does this mean? Am I dying? I need something to grab onto; something to hold me steady.’”
Bonny went on to be successfully treated and has since started Hair Peace Charities, which helps women and girls who live in the 412 and 724 area-code region with financial assistance to purchase a wig due to cancer-related hair loss.
At 32, Nicole began a career in voice acting, but her promising future was in jeopardy when she discovered lesions on her tongue. She eventually learned she had a rare form of tongue cancer. Nicole had a significant portion of her tongue removed, leaving the tip of her tongue intact to help ensure speech clarity. She also began a dedicated regiment of speech therapy at AHN.
“A lot of people just want to be able to eat again and be somewhat coherent. With the voice acting, I have to be significantly more precise,” Nicole said. “I love the idea of being able to say, ‘I am missing a significant portion of my tongue, and I can still do these things.”
Craig’s daughter had suffered a brain aneurysm and he put off taking care of his own health while he was her primary caretaker. But his wife’s persistent encouragement for him to have a prostate cancer screening was a lifesaver.
“I have to thank my wife for that,” said the 62-year-old. “Not only did I have prostate cancer, I had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. It was devastating.” Craig had radiation therapy and is now in the midst of hormone treatment. He described how much he looked forward to ringing the bell at his AHN Cancer Institute after his last radiation treatment.
“I looked at that bell every day and I would count them down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and it was the day I got to ring the bell.
Craig promotes annual screenings to other men, saying that oftentimes the symptoms of prostate cancer are not going to be so pervasive that you’ll think something is wrong. “Having a prostate exam is no fun, but it can save your life. There are people who need you and people who care about you. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for them.”
As an expectant mother in her second trimester, Gevony was diagnosed with a rare abdominal cancer called goblet cell carcinoid. A team of Allegheny Health Network doctors from several specialized areas quickly assembled and developed a plan to safely delivery her son and then treat Gevony’s cancer.
Her care plan included a breakthrough treatment that combines surgery and heated chemotherapy circulated in the abdomen. It was aggressive and took a toll on her body. But today, she is back to being an avid runner, recently completing the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, and her son, Dax, celebrated his second birthday.
Gevony reflected on the challenges of having cancer and the many months involved in recovery. “Even if you feel like you are alone, you are never alone. You are so much stronger than you ever imagined.”
At 32, Nathan was in the best shape of his life, eating well, and working out at the gym. But after an annual physical, he was shocked to learn he had testicular cancer. He had surgery to remove the tumor and then followed up with chemotherapy treatments.
Nathan explains how it was a trying time, and he didn’t even want to open up about his diagnosis. But with his fiancée and family by his side, he rallied through the difficulties. He’s now happily married and recently enjoyed his honeymoon.
He wants other men to know that testicular cancer is nothing to be embarrassed about and said, “The one very basic thing to say to all of the guys out there is, listen to your body. Pay attention and get yourself checked out.”
Roxann felt a lump on the side of her breast, made a doctor appointment, and soon learned she had aggressive cancer in both of her breasts. Although the cancer was advanced, her AHN Cancer Institute team worked together to develop a multi-layered treatment plan that included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Roxann said that it took courage and faith to endure her year of treatment, as well as an AHN nurse navigator who was with her every step of the way. It was a blessing to have her by my side,” Roxann said about her nurse navigator. “She took a lot of concern from me, she made a lot of appointments for me. If she hadn’t heard from me in a while, she would call in and check in on me. She was there.”
Listen to their stories at: ahn.org/IHadCancer