Sue Wheeler, RiverPlex Supervisor since October of 2016, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.
“Well first off, they followed me for years upon years upon years (at the doctor’s office) for fibro adenomas. These are like cysts. I had cysts all the time and surgeries all the time to remove these cysts. But they all came back benign. So you get accustomed to how it goes. You come in to the doctor’s office, they take the images and run the tests, and then they get back to you letting you know that your results are benign. Well for one particular scan, they thought “well we better take a look at this one. So when they call back and tell me that I have this type of breast cancer my first thought is that there is no way. There is no way that you are looking at the right scan.”
“It doesn’t hit you because you’re thinking, I was never sick ever in my life. I would always have perfect attendance in school, I never missed work. I could count on one, maybe two, hands how many times I’ve been sick… and now you are going to tell me that I have this (breast cancer) and now you are going to put things into my body that are going to make me sick?” This was not easy news for Sue. For the first few days, Sue said she remembers walking on the path behind the RiverPlex thinking “this is not a club that I want to be a part of.” She did not want to be a part of those that are fighting cancer. This is not what she ever wanted for herself. But these were the cards she was dealt, and so she remembers waking up one day and saying you don’t get to have that choice, you are just going to have to deal with things the way that they are.
“You don’t know how to function, you don’t know what to do next after hearing that you have breast cancer.” So Sue told herself, “go put on your big girl pants and charge forward.”
Sue had an uneasy start to her chemotherapy. She remembers the doctor’s telling her that if the chemo gets outside of the veins that it will burn your skin. But this didn’t change the fact that Sue did not want a port put in. A port is a vascular access device that is implanted under the skin so that one can receive chemotherapy without searching for a new vein each time. Ports are inserted surgically under the skin of the chest or upper arm. Ports are kept installed until chemotherapy is finished. Ports allow the chemo to enter the body rather than a nurse searching for veins to use. “One thing that they don’t tell you is that once a vein has been used for chemotherapy once, it cannot be used again for treatment.” This is to keep the veins from being punctured and then accidentally leaking out chemo into the body freely.
Sue remembered her first time ever receiving chemotherapy. “It was the first time and you go through all the treatments. My friends took me home. We stopped to get lunch, they mention they wanted to stop at Kohl’s and so I agreed to go with… I remember being in Kohl’s and saying to them (her friends) I gotta get home. It was like an out of body experience (the way that she felt). I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t sit there, I couldn’t see. It was like my head was giant.” Sue remembers thinking to herself, how am I going to do this 8 more times? “It was the most ungodly feeling I had ever had.” So then Sue goes to her second treatment. (She still didn’t have a port installed.) She remembers sitting there during treatment and all of a sudden her arm felt like it was burning. Sure enough they lifted up the towel and her arm was burned from the elbow down. The chemotherapy had leaked through a vein and had burned the inside of her body. It was after this incident that Sue had a port put in. “What a difference it made.” “If there is any advice that I have for anyone going through this, it is to stay positive and GO WITH A PORT!” “I didn’t want to have another appointment, so I didn’t want the port.” But after having it implanted, she realized this was the smarter way to have her chemotherapy done.
Staying positive was hard. This was an experience that Sue didn’t want to have to go through. She remembers the staff here at the RiverPlex was just so helpful and supporting. “The staff at OSF was amazing. The personnel there were so gracious and kind.” Sue said that there was not one person at OSF Cancer Center (where she received treatment) that ever acted like they were having a bad day. Everyone was positive and they had to be. Their bad days were not comparable to the people that they worked with everyday.
We asked Sue how this whole experience changed the way that she did things…
Sue remembers that she would walk and swim and participate in some group exercise classes, but she said she is stronger now, mentally and physically, than she was before. Sue has this new outlook on life since becoming a breast cancer survivor. She now trains with a personal trainer and has taken small group training classes as well. She remembers during treatment that she didn’t understand why she couldn’t lift a certain amount of weight or why she felt so tired. But she “put on her big girl pants and just charged forward.”
If you or someone you know is fighting cancer or has beat cancer and is looking for a way to get back into being active, please visit the RiverPlex and ask about our training options. We are able to make modifications for anyone and everyone with our training options. OSF offers an amazing class called Get Active for cancer survivors.
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