In February 2012, Wendy was diagnosed with duodenal cancer, which is a very rare type of cancer found on the first section of the small intestine. Only about twenty people are diagnosed with this illness every year in the United States, and there is no specific treatment plan for it—patients receive the same type of treatment as patients with colon cancer.
Multiple surgeries were required to reroute Wendy’s intestines and to remove the tumors on her duodenum and liver, but they weren’t successful. For six months, she couldn’t eat normal food and had to receive nutrients via IV fluids. According to Wendy, that was one of the most difficult parts of her battle. Despite the fact that there is no cure for her cancer and that she will receive chemotherapy treatments for the rest of her life, Wendy refuses to feel sorry for herself. She firmly believes in the power of a positive attitude.
Since Wendy’s job required her to be on her feet for twelve hours a day, she could no longer continue to work. She is currently on disability and donated her car to the American Cancer Society to get her expenses down. Wendy is a big advocate for a cancer support group called Gilda’s Club, which provides her with a lot of support and many activities to keep her busy.
There’s no cure. And that was really hard…In May, I started chemo and I’ll be on chemo for the rest of my life. A lot of people just have it for a short time and they go into remission and everything’s good. But there’s not any of that for me. I’ll always have to be on chemo. So I just decided from the beginning that…I’m gonna be positive, and things are gonna be fine. I’m gonna work my way through this. My family is really supportive. But the only thing is, they don’t have cancer. So there’s a lot of stuff that I can tell them, but they’re not gonna really understand.
So my younger sister told me about this great place called Gilda’s Club. It’s named after Gilda Radner, who was on Saturday Night Live. She was so funny. It’s a place to go for support and it’s also a place to be happy and be yourself. I live in the city so there’s one there. Everybody there understands. When you say, ‘I’m tired, the chemo makes me so tired’, it’s not like ‘I wanna take a nap, I’m tired.’ It’s like, I’ve been hit by a bus tired. You don’t understand what’s its like unless you’ve been there.
I’m just really enjoying my free time and I try to do fun things all the time. I found out when all the museums in the city have their free days so I go on free days so I don’t have to worry about paying for it. I have some sort of activity every day so there’s something to get me out of the house every day so I’m not just sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.
I’ve become a totally different person. And thanks to Gilda’s Club, I go to art class, I go to yoga, I go to meditation, tai chi cha…they have cooking demonstrations and cooking classes and they have parties and they have tickets for Bulls games. I just went and sat in a suite at a White Sox game, which was so much fun.
And as weird as it seems, it kind of changed my life for the good. You just really appreciate things so much more. You know how everybody says stop and smell the flowers? Well, I really do that now, because you don’t know how much time you’re gonna have.
Be positive, because your mind is really powerful and it can help you. I also really believe that Eastern medicine is just as important as Western and all the things like acupuncture and massage and yoga and meditation are super important because they help your spirit as well as your body. And I think it helps you stay strong because you need to eat really well and work out and you know, stay as healthy as you can. I think…a lot of those things help with the side effects of the western medicine to not be as bad.
But I think the most important thing is just to stay positive. Just do what you can to enjoy your life because it’s going to be different, it will never be the same as it was. Even my friends that I talk to who are in remission or their cancer has gone away, their life is still changed. It’s not ever going to be the same as it was.
Thelma Frerichs Blue Earth, Minnesota
Nancy and John Frank Pocatello, Idaho