Imagine being 28 and hearing, “You have breast cancer.” Those words were spoken to my daughter, Laura Ferguson (UD Class of 2000), 4 years ago and life has never been the same BUT not necessarily in a bad way. Although Laura had to make some very tough decisions, she handled them with a determination and grit that I admire more than I can put into words. Getting cancer teaches you how strong you can be and what really matters in life. Most children look up to their parents but I look up to Laura because she is my hero and she “Dares to be Strong” every day.
Ginny Greene, mother of Laura Ferguson
In order to fully understand who my mom is, you must first understand who my mom was. She was the second female in her high school’s history to score over 1,000 points in basketball, prior to the three-point line, as she always liked to tell me. Captain her junior and senior years; my mom was recruited to play two college sports for the Cabrini Cavaliers, basketball and field hockey. Again, she scored over 900 points at guard for the Cavaliers and managed to graduate with honors. She coached basketball and refereed field hockey right out of college, all while being a full-time third grade teacher in Wildwood, New Jersey. My mom continued to teach while she worked on her master’s degree at night. She got married, had three children, and ran a home all before the age of 35. However, eleven years ago, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system of the body. As her motor skills took a hit and her days became more difficult, my mom had to give up the one true thing that she loved – basketball. For the past eleven years, my mom could not dribble a ball, pull up for a jump shot, or take a charge. Instead, she takes daily injections of medications whose names are too long to remember and spends countless hours with neurologists and physical therapists who attempt to stop the disease in its tracks. But through and through, my mom has never complained about her incurable illness; rather, she inspires others, including me, to take advantage of the valuable time they have. I have talked to her past teammates, coaches, and referees; each one of them tells me that my mom “could shoot the lights out.” When people see my mom and her pronounced walk, they rarely think of a high school and college standout basketball player, and it kills me to think that she does not get the recognition that she deserves. I was never able to see my mom drain a shot or sink the game winning free throw, but I hope to give her the opportunity to be recognized in front of a large basketball-loving crowd for the person she was before her life-changing diagnosis.
Mark Rucci, son of Michelle Rucci
My wife is one of the most kind and caring people I know. In 2009 she was diagnosed with a breast cancer after what the doctor called an accidental lumpectomy. She went in for a biopsy and the doctor discovered a suspicious mass near the original targeted site which he removed during the procedure. It was subsequently determined the mass was malignant and she underwent a course of chemo and radiation. As if that wasn't enough of a test during the same period we lost a long time pet, a close family member had legal troubles and went to jail and her employer (AIG) was in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the depression. Through it all she was able to remain mentally strong and optimistic. She found and started a new job while in the middle of chemo, was first in line to volunteer to counsel others with cancer and always found the energy to smile and inspire those around her.
Danny Warner, husband of Debi Warner
Kathleen Lighty was raised in Kennett Square PA, and has made her home with her husband in Nottingham PA. In November of 2004 at the age of 39 she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer, which meant the cancer had spread beyond the lymph nodes. She endured over a year of grueling treatments including chemotherpy, a mastectomy and radiation. However in January 2006 an MRI revealed the cancer had spread to her bone marrow changing her diagnosis to stage IV. The cancer is treatable at this stage but not yet curable. She will be in treatment for the rest of her life or until a cure is found. She receives chemo 3x a month and her treatments have rendered her unable to work full time. Kathleen’s life took an unexpected turn in 2004, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Initially engulfed in shock and fear, she gradually rose up, choosing to challenge herself. Kathleen returned enthusiastically to photography, her first love, realizing how her vision had changed since she was in her 20s. Kathleen has always felt close to nature in all its forms, and she is especially responsive to water and its many aspects. She started working with digital photography in 2008, and the body of work that has emerged from this transition is an ongoing coming of age for her to shine as she inspires herself and others.
Rhonda Swarter, friend of Kathleen Lighty
One evening back in October 2009, my wife said to me that she was going up to bed. I was downstairs, and heard an unfamiliar sound, hard to describe. I called up to my wife, and there was no response. I rushed up the steps, to find my wife lying on the bedroom floor. I only thought CPR, and immediately began compressions. I grabbed the phone in the room, called 911, and the dispatcher asked questions, while coaching me through CPR, compressions and breaths. I continued exhausted, knowing that I had to hang in there. The dispatcher told me when the Paramedic and EMTs were in the driveway. I had to unlock the door. The EMTs and Paramedic rushed up the steps and took over CPR. The paramedic used an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) to shock the heart, a number of times. The paramedic determined that they would proceed to the hospital ER, not knowing which one, because of the unstable condition. They wanted to go to Christiana Hospital, being twenty five minutes away, they weren’t sure they had that much time. It was decided two minutes into the transport, that Jennersville Regional Hospital, being five minutes away, was their best option. I rode alone, in a driving rain, following closely behind the ambulance. Once at the hospital, the ER took control. I watched as they worked on my wife, just praying that they wouldn’t tell me, “sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do”. My daughter from Wilmington and her boyfriend arrived shortly, then my daughter from Philadelphia, arrived soon thereafter. More than twenty hours had passed before they were able to transfer my wife to Christiana Hospital. Once there, my wife was taken into Cardiac surgery. After the stent procedure, we met with the cardiologist. He gave it to us straight up. I asked a couple questions, but the only answer that mattered, was ”it’s minute by minute for the next seventy-two hours”.
After that milestone, they had to remove equipment that was doing the work of her heart, allowing it time to strengthen before it had to take over on its own. Day by day, machine by machine, we watched a woman with unmatched strength and will, show us the way. We were watching the 2009 Phillies World Series in her room that we knew she was back. Linda talked the Chief Resident into allowing her to have jello, instead of a swab dipped in ice water. This woman was home from the hospital two weeks from the heart attack. A few days later, Cardiac Rehab began, three days a week for twelve weeks. In January, Linda resumed her duties as the Director of the Adult Literacy Program, at the Bayard Taylor Library in Kennett Square, PA.
A low sodium diet, which began in the hospital, still rules the day. The tests for her Ejection Fraction determined that she was a candidate for an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD). In September 2011, the procedure was done for the ICD. A few weeks later, a small blood clot was found at the site of the ICD. Medication to dissolve the clot, which also caused bleeding from the gums was taken daily for nearly four months. Three days a week, Linda uses a treadmill for 45 minutes at a time. Three days a week, Linda goes to a Fitness Facility to work on Strength and Conditioning.
Did I forget to tell you about the blister? Linda got a blister back in August, at our youngest daughter’s wedding, from dancing! I told her it was the best blister she ever got!
Linda is a 1977 graduate of the U of D, having majored in Special Education. That’s another story.
Michael Jacobi, husband of Linda Jacobi
My name is Trelon Parker. My strong hero is my Nana Gloria Johnson. She had six kids, wow! My mom is one and if she didn't do that I would not be here. My Nana had brain surgery, I am afraid of a flu shoot so I can't amagine what pain that may of caused my sweet, sweet Nana.
She also had another surgery in her throat. Boy, she is strong if that is not strong I don't know what is. My nana is smart, so I'm glad her brain is well. She is my hero. God let her survive so we could keep on playing Scrabble together, she does that well too!
Trelon Parker, grandchild of Gloria Johnson
I would like to recognize Madison Dodge of Milford, De for her positivity, leadership, and advocacy in the midst of medical hardships. At first glance, Madi is just like the average 16 year old girl. Vibrant and full of life, she is a talented musician and writer, an aspiring journalist, and an 11th grade honors student, delighting in her first driving experiences. But, Madi faces many more challenges than the average teen. Madi was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 5, and has been fighting back and giving back ever since. She raises awareness and money every year, and her team, Madison's Prayer, is often the top fundraising team at events. After serving as the American Diabetes Association’s Delaware Diabetes Advocate and the Eastern Shore Step Out Walk youth ambassador from age seven, Madi was honored with a national position within the American Diabetes Association. During the year of 2011, she was the National Youth Advocate, the top youth leadership position within the ADA. With this position, Madi traveled the country, spreading awareness, speaking at numerous events, and sharing her story with influential individuals ranging from celebrities to government officials.
As powerful of a story as this may be, what you have heard so far is only the first half. Throughout these accomplishments, Madi has had to overcome many other medical problems in addition to type 1 diabetes. At the age of 13, Madi started having severe stomach pains every time she ate. After nearly two weeks of hospitalization, she was diagnosed with eosinophilic gastroenteritis. This is a very rare autoimmune disease that causes the body to recognize the proteins found in foods as harmful, causing painful inflammation and damage through the digestive tract. At this time, there is no cure and the only treatment is eliminating all food from the diet, which Madi did for four months, getting all of her nutrients through the use of a feeding tube. She can slowly add single ingredients to her diet, but even this requires an invasive endoscope with multiple surgical biopsies every 10 – 12 weeks to see if her body can handle the food. If not, she has to stop eating foods until her body heals, and drink disgusting amino acid based medical formula in the meantime. This eosinophilic disorder caused her to miss seven months of eighth grade, and now, three years later, Madi can still only have 12 fruits, 10 vegetables, rice and dairy products. Madi has also sustained damage to her other body systems, and combats problems with fatigue, dizziness, and body temperature on an almost daily basis. But through it all, Madi thrives. She refuses to let anything get in her way. She goes above and beyond, doing whatever it takes to make others feel accepted and welcome, both within the medical community and in everyday life. I don't know anyone else who would have the determination and perseverance to not only face each day, but to do so with a smile. Madi's smile is contagious, and her dedication to volunteerism and delight in helping others sets her apart from anyone else I have ever met. Madi is truly an outstanding example of the power and strength of a young woman dedicated to impacting the world in a positive manner.
Lindsay Schulze, friend of Madison Dodge
Our daughter, Katie, is a 2002 graduate of the University of Delaware. In August of 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is just 31 years old. She has been through surgery for a double mastectomy and reconstruction as well as 4 months of chemotherapy- a journey that she has made with an incredible amount of grace and dignity. She is truly a beautiful woman on the inside as well as the outside, and she has inspired her family and a multitude of friends with her positve outlook and amazing poise. We are so blessed by and so proud of her courage.
Sandy Cumbaa, mother of Katie Sedlak
My Strong Story is one a a personal nature that has influenced my career path and life choices for Graduate School at the University of Delaware. My mother, Diane Coleman, is an incredible woman, survivor, and advocate for women with this disease. Diane was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer when I was in Junior High. Watching her lose so much, fight this disease, and conquer it with dignity and strength has inspired me to pursue a career in Health Promotion at the University of Delaware. My mother lost everything due to the debilitating effects of this disease, but she did not lose her spirit. She is a survivor who now volunteers as a Breast Cancer Patient Advocate at the Union Hospital. Her selflessness and concern for research in this area is an inspiration to all, and my mother is my inspiration to promote awareness and spread encouragement in the midst of this battle that women face.
Whitney Coleman, daughter of Diane Coleman
This is my wife's story in her words---she wrote these for a local (Buffalo, NY) running club after each of her two go rounds with breast cancer (Mon. 9/12/05):
I’m sitting in a dark hotel room eating mint ice cream with M & Ms and chocolate chips; I have a whole quart of it! I’ve been awake for 25+ hours—but who cares; I am an Ironman! After “I do,” those might the sweetest words in the English language.
The day starts early. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. with everything going through my head. Since I’d checked all the equipment in on Saturday, I couldn’t go through it again. I had to rely on my endless checklists.
The day started hot and clear, ended hot and clear (though very dark), and was blazing hot and windy in the middle. The recorded high was 92degrees, but it was much hotter than that on the bike while riding through the cornfields. There was not a cloud in the sky and maybe about one mile of shade on the entire bike route.
The swim started precisely at 7 a.m. It was amazing looking back at the shore and seeing spectators in every spot possible. They were our best friends all day—cheering, encouraging, cajoling. I got out of the water in 1:26—20 minutes faster than I expected. Who knew a wetsuit could make such a difference?
The transition area was atop a four story parking ramp, so after having peelers whip off the wetsuit, we ran up the helix, had our own personal changers help us with body glide and clothes, and out to the bike area where they call out your number and grab the bike for you. Lots of domestiques! Off on the bike. It just got hotter and hotter and the wind really picks up (it was reported to be gusting at 43 mph). We ride 14 miles to the 42 mile loop, which we will do twice. I get about 30 miles into the loop and think it’s not too bad, I can do it again. Then the last three killer hills come. They are lined with people exhorting you up—what a rush. You feel like Lance Armstrong. On the hardest hill of the day, devils lined the road because—well, we all know where we are at that point!
The second time around, lots of people are walking their bikes up the three tough hills, but I say on, determined to ride them all. Most people have deserted the hills at this point, so we are on our own. I know my family, with their bright yellow Kim’s Klub tee shirts will be there for me.
I finally get through the bike with one last climb up the helix. Off the bike, I tell the guy who takes it from me that he can keep it. I’m not the first one to tell him that today. Many people were carted off the bike route in an ambulance, so I feel lucky. 7:40 on the bike.
Off to the marathon after my changer helped me dress. I have 7 ½ hours before the cutoff, so I know I can practically walk it if I need to. The pressure of not thinking you need to run the marathon is a great feeling. And walk I did, as evidenced by my 6:21 time. And to think I once qualified for Boston in 3:35! Walking was to insure that I didn’t blow up during this leg. Even as the sun went down, there was little cooling off. With a goal of finishing under 17 hours, there was really no pressure. Walking also allows me to get to know some of the participants and volunteers. (Next time you’re at a race, thank as many volunteers as you can. They are out there in the same conditions, and often before and after you, but with no reward at the end.)
With three miles to go, I suddenly decide I need to break 16 hours and wouldn’t with the pace I was keeping. So I took off running. Joyfully, and with most of my family in tow, I cross the line in 15 hrs., 52 min., and 58 seconds. That last mile is incredible! All the hard work, the 5:00 a.m. workouts just about everyday for a year, the lonely 6 hour bike rides—it all pays off in one sweet moment. As many signs on the course said, “Pain is temporary, Ironman is forever.”
I highly recommend this journey that tests your mental fortitude as much or more than the physical. You need someone to help you along the way. Mary Eggers—awesome, awesome coach—handled my neurotic self-doubts incredibly. Her positive mantras stayed in my head all day long. My other support was my husband, Bob. It can’t be done without someone at home encouraging you along, helping you find time to workout. For me this day is especially meaningful as I am reminded of my entry in my running journal just over two years ago:
I’ve come a long way, baby. And now, I AM AN IRONMAN!!!
AND, A FEW YEARS LATER: If you think running a marathon is hard, try chemotherapy…twice. That was my motto as I prepared for the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 6, 2009. Having recently completed chemo. for my second treatment for breast cancer (the first was in 2003), I had to find some goal to pursue. Having completed an Ironman after the first one, I knew there wasn’t a longer race I wanted to try; I needed to find a higher purpose.
After talking to my oncologist all these years, I came to believe that I am healthier than a lot of her patients. We talk about how exercise seems to ward off a lot of the side effects of treatment and the drugs I take to ward off a return of the cancers (I had two distinctly different kinds). One drug I take is an aromatase inhibitor. One of the side effects is joint pain, which I have never encountered. Once I told my doctor of my plan to raise money for Roswell, she told me of a quality of life study she wanted to research—the effects of exercise on the side effects of aromatase inhibitors. It was a perfect match! My goal was to raise $5000 for Dr. O’Connor’s research that would end with me running the marathon (I am paying all my expenses for the marathon, so 100% of the proceeds raised will go to Dr. O’Connor and Roswell).
My main fund raiser was a night of comedy—laughing is an important medicine—at Rob’s Comedy Playhouse, on February 28, 2010. After all the fundraising efforts, I raised over $6000 for Dr. O’Connor and qualified for the Boston Marathon! To read more of my adventure, check out my blog at kimtruesdell.blogspot.com.
Kim Truesdell in her own words, submitted by her husband Bob