Warrior Walk Honorees Put Voice to Cancer Survivorship

Warrior Walk Honorees Put Voice to Cancer Survivorship

To celebrate the newly formed Clinical Cancer Survivorship Program at the Wilmot Cancer Center, organizers have planned a Warrior Walk for cancer survivors, which will be held Sunday, June 2, at the University of Rochester River Campus. The event coincides with the national celebration of Cancer Survivors Day, and is designed to create greater awareness of the unique needs of those who have battled cancer, and to support a program formed to help them have a better and healthier future as they face ongoing health issues related to the late effects of their cancer treatment.

While the number of cancer survivors who have received treatment at the Wilmot Cancer Center continues to climb rapidly, as do the national figures, this years walk will highlight the stories of five individuals who have battled cancer or supported a loved one with cancer. Following are their stories, in their words:

Emma Falk

Student at Our Lady of Mercy High School
Hodgkin lymphoma and Acute Myeloid Leukemia Survivor

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in July 2007, the summer before I entered the seventh grade. I was shocked and in disbelief to say the least. The news hit me hard, but I knew I could beat it and would put it all behind me. I underwent three months of chemotherapy and was declared cancer free in late September 2007. In July 2011, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). It was likely caused by the treatment I received for Hodgkin lymphoma. Words cannot quite describe how I felt when I heard this news, but I knew I could beat it just as I had the first time. I was hospitalized for a month at the Golisano Children's Hospital receiving chemotherapy treatments and went to The Boston Children's Hospital in August where I was hospitalized for over two months receiving chemotherapy, full body radiation, and a bone marrow transplant (my sister, Aidan, was a perfect match). I remained in Boston for an additional month receiving outpatient care through the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

The support of family, friends, and the community gave me strength. Without my family, I would not be here today. Through the toughest times, it is my family that gives me strength, courage, and motivation. I knew my family, friends, and the community, including people I have never met, were behind me and praying for me. Cards, social media, texts, calls, and posts on my CaringBridge website put a smile on my face and gave me the courage to fight on. Looking forward to the future and all the things I had always dreamed of doing with my life gave me motivation to fight every day.

These experiences have completely changed the way I look at each day. I realize that every day is a good day and have a new appreciation for every day and opportunity that I am given. I have learned to never take anything for granted. I have learned that with will and hard work you can achieve normalcy after overcoming the effects of treatments. Although I am not as physically strong as I once was, I am mentally stronger and I realize that my physical strength will come back in a matter of time and hard work. I realize what is truly important in life.

I want to be a part of the Warrior Walk because I want to show people that cancer IS beatable. I hope to be an example to all those that are battling cancer right now, will battle it in the future, and to their family and friends that will battle it with them. I am living proof. I am honored to share the day with so many survivors and family members that have had their loved ones affected by cancer. Their courage and strength is so important. I hope I can instill optimism in those battling cancer. Cancer is beatable.

The clinical cancer survivorship program will have a profound effect on cancer survivors. It will give survivors the connections, support, and opportunities needed to live a happy and healthy life after cancer. It will also give those fighting cancer additional motivation and optimism. It will be a support group for all those that have overcome the disease. For me personally, I am so excited to meet other survivors and learn their stories. I am interested in learning how to lead the healthiest life possible.

Shannon Case

Non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma Survivor

My name is Shannon Case, I have been married to my wife, Carrie, for 13 years and we have two beautiful children, Jamie and Luke, that are 4 1/2 years old. I work for a pharmaceutical wholesaler in the Rochester area as a System Network Analyst. My hobbies include cycling, reading, and computers.

My official diagnosis of Aggressive B-Cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma did not occur until June 3, 2003. We had known about my cancer since April 2003. All I knew about cancer was what I had seen in the movie Dying Young. I was terrified. I was afraid for my wife. I was afraid of the side effects of the chemotherapy and what it would do to me. Initially I was convinced that I was going to die. I drew a lot of strength from my wife. She kept motivating me and kept a positive attitude. She would encourage me and did not let me wallow in my fears. Praise and positive statements from family and friends helped a lot.

I was told I was in complete remission on November 25, 2003. We told everyone we could about the good news and enjoyed a very Happy Thanksgiving two days later. We waited until the summer to officially celebrate and took a trip to Disney for the first time.

After a routine CT scan on September 29, 2004 revealed a mass, I was told that I now had Hodgkin lymphoma. I wasn't afraid of the chemotherapy side effects this time. We were afraid it wouldn't work. We knew the chances of survival decrease when the cancer returns. We had asked at one point what the chances of survival were if the cancer returned and knew that it was around 20%.

Family and friends rallied together even more so this time around. They seemed more experienced the second time around and were able to anticipate what we needed. I also got a lot of inspiration from Lance Armstrong. He was just a regular guy (like me) and beat incredible odds to survive his cancer. I clung to that thinking he beat cancer why can't I?

On August 25, 2005 my oncologist (Dr. Friedberg) told us I was cancer free. We had a remission party that weekend (8/27) to celebrate the good news.

Many people do not realize that once the cancer is gone, it continues to be part of your life in some way. There have been ups and downs. At first, there was joy at being cancer free, then there were periods of depression all the support and attention suddenly dropped away. I had to find a new identity. I was a cancer patient for almost three years; my life revolved around that. Then all of a sudden, I was just this average guy. Staying with cycling helped to form a new identity healthy, alive guy. Staying active and eating healthy have continued to be part of my life and how I am raising my family. Health is much more important to me now than it used to be.

I feel it is vitally important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay positive. I would never have survived my cancer without the support of family and friends. These are the things I want to share with others who are battling cancer or helping someone who is battling cancer. Support, healthy living, and hope all are so important. The clinical cancer survivorship program can help survivors and those currently battling cancer to keep fighting. It can provide them and their caretakers with the support they need and teach them how to stay strong and healthy. Surviving cancer is not an individual feat; it requires a team, working together, each with a role in reaching the goal of survival. This program will improve the ability of the team members to provide what is necessary.

Scott Kropman

Neuoroendocrine Cancer Survivor

My family, which is my reason for living, consists of my wife, Stephany; sons, Skylar 16, Parker 14, Max 12, Cooper 10, Zane 4; and daughters: Chloé 7 and Logan 1-year, 7-months. My hobbies are coaching wrestling and football.

My initial response to being told I had cancer was actually not what most may think. I just called my wife and told her. She broke down and I said it is what it is, let's just figure out how to beat it. I explained that she needed to remain positive and it will be okay. I have never really looked at it as a negative not sure why, I just never have. I still have that same attitude.

During my treatment, I drew strength from people, other cancer stories, etc. I don't know that I can even begin to explain how many people I would need to thank for the love and support I have received during this time family, friends, the wrestling and football community, and my co-workers. My greatest strength comes from LOVE!! Not to mention I promised my doctor that I would get him into the medical journals by being the first neuroendocrine cancer patient to be cured and I still plan on keeping that promise.

By participating in the Warrior Walk for cancer survivors I am hoping that I will help to educate the uneducated and bring light to a great program and clinic that will be available to help so many people in need of help. I feel the survivorship program will help to enlighten so many as well as allow for survivors, as well as those living with cancer, to have a place they can feel comfortable discussing and getting help they may otherwise not be able to obtain.

Changes are many but most notable. I do not sweat the small stuff and I have learned to Live, Listen, Love, Laugh and that Love Will Prevail. I guess that I have learned to enjoy all the sweet little things that life has to offer and not worry about the annoying little things that are meaningless. I feel it is important that cancer is not a death sentence and in some cases (mine) is a new beginning. I have learned to look at the love and beauty in the world instead of the hate and pain. I have learned to slow down and enjoy the little things I used to miss. In short, I have become a happier, more patient, better person who truly understands unconditional LOVE.

Leah Shearer

Program Coordinator,
Teens Living With Cancer
Thyroid Cancer Survivor
Hodgkin lymphoma Survivor

I am originally from Lima, NY and have one younger sister and two wonderful parents. I am the program coordinator of the Teens Living with Cancer program (Melissa's Living Legacy). In my free time I love to travel, blog about my travels and experiences. I also enjoy theater and thanks to Patrick, the special man in my life, I am afforded the luxury of seeing it quite often.

The first time I was diagnosed, with thyroid cancer, it came as a shock and I had no way of understanding of how this eventually would truly change my life in a positive way. The second time I was diagnosed, this time with Hodgkin lymphoma, I truly had a deeper fear that perhaps I would not survive this ordeal. The second time was more of an unknown, as at the time Id never met another cancer survivor who survived a second diagnosis.

During my treatment I was bolstered by support from my co-workers, friends and others in my community. I was lucky to feel supported and loved to summon courage for each step in the journey. Yet, it was the stories of young adult survivors that I sought the most to help me believe the old adage strength in numbers.

I didn't consider myself truly cancer free until a year after my first diagnosis and I celebrated that with a party, commemorating the day with fun. The second celebration from my second remission was a trip to Europe which I used most of my savings to do, but it was vital to me moving forward acknowledging that life is too short.

Since my diagnosis I've felt a deeper connection to other cancer survivors and a stronger resolve to use my life experiences as a way to help others. I've also had a renewed interest in keeping myself healthy, finding a way to exercise as often as I can.

The Warrior Walk is a great way to make a strong statement of the power we have together as survivors. Our stories are powerful and important to share because they can provide hope for others who face uncertainty. The new survivorship program will provide survivors with access to the kind of information that enables them to be informed about their treatment, connected to resources and vigilant about their follow-up care.

Mary Schwid

Caregiver to husband, Steve,
who died of soft tissue sarcoma

Steve and I met the summer after our sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was from Milwaukee and I came from Chicago. We married and had or first child while in Madison, then in 1990 we moved to Rochester and Steve started his residency in neurology. I stopped working when we moved and became a stay-at-home mom. We had five children, four boys and a girl. After residency we wanted to stay in Rochester, and Steve became a professor at the University of Rochester, in the department of neurology. As a family we enjoyed boating, hiking, camping and playing games. We still enjoy boating, hiking and playing games, but camping was Steve's idea and I just went along. Camping is much better when there is a nice dry, warm, and critter-free hotel room involved.

Steve was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma in May of 2005. Initially my response was quite typical I think; there has to be some mistake. But as the week moved on it became quite clear there was no mistake, it was cancer and treatment began. My husband was a very pragmatic man, things happen and you handle them. This was the way he had always done things and continued till his death. Being his caregiver was in many ways a privilege, he trusted me. But it was also challenging because he often did not want help and clearly needed some.

It has been almost four and half years since Steve died. And I can say the kids and I are alright. We have a strong appreciation for each other and a perspective of what matters. We have learned that there are things you cannot control but you can get through them, and its ok to keep moving forward with life when really sad things happen. We have learned that we can count on our family and that our friends are family. And most importantly, we have a different life but its still a really good one. This is something I would like all families to know.

Dialogue Spring 2013 Cover

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