Fourteen years ago, Roxanne Waling walked around in a blur trying to do her Christmas shopping. The excitement of checking off gifts on her Christmas list had been replaced by a feeling of numbness. That December 2001, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 49 and was engulfed by the fear of dying.
Years later, in November 2012, Roxanne was sent reeling once again when she received a second cancer diagnosis – this time pancreatic cancer. Her fears came flooding back, but faith, optimism and visualization saw her through some of her toughest moments. Today Roxanne, now a grandmother to two, is getting ready to celebrate another holiday season with her family.
“My Life as I Knew it Was Changed Forever”
When Roxanne was first diagnosed with breast cancer, it seemed like history was repeating itself. Her mother had died with lung cancer that had metastisized in the brain at the age of 48. But Roxanne, a healthy eater and regular exerciser, believed she would never get cancer.
When she first heard the words “you tested positive for breast cancer,” she felt like her entire life force left her body. In that moment, she said, “my life as I knew it was now changed forever.” Her breast cancer was found early, however, and chemotherapy was successful.
At the age of 60, when a biopsy came back positive for pancreatic cancer, she wasn’t surprised. She was now a seasoned veteran and had many family members with a history of cancer. “I had been down this road before,” she remembered, but knew this journey would be rockier than the first. Pancreatic cancer is among the most difficult to treat. In Roxanne’s case, the cancer was diagnosed as stage III and inoperable.
She started chemotherapy right away to see if it would shrink the tumor enough to make surgery possible, and this is where her eternal optimism became invaluable.
“I Still Had a Journey to Complete”
Roxanne, a self-described “longtime grandma wannabe,” had a 2.5-year-old granddaughter at the time of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis — and a grandson on the way. She had fearful moments., Yet, Roxanne believed she still had a journey to complete and focused on living to see her precious grandchildren have many memories with their grandmother.
She started chemo (Folfirinox), which she received every two weeks. After the initial course of six treatments, her tumor in the pancreas was completely gone with only signs of enlarged lymph nodes and her pancreatic tumor marker CA 19-9 was now in the normal range.
She received six more courses of chemo to shrink lymph nodes that were still showing cancer, with the last treatment taking place on June 25, 2013 – the day before her grandson, who she calls her “hope baby,” was born.
Three months later, Roxanne received the recommended surgery to remove portions of her pancreas, spleen, left adrenal gland, left ovary and fallopian tube and the covering of her stomach, the omentum. Due to being diagnosed with a BRCA 2 gene mutation, she’s also received a total hysterectomy, in which they found and removed a precancerous leiomyoma on her uterus. She also had a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
“I Always Stop to Smell the Roses”
Her battle against cancer has given Roxanne a new perspective on life. Though she was always an optimist, today she says she always stops to smell the roses and lives every day as stress free as possible.
“I don’t sweat the small things as I used to. After all, if it isn’t life threatening, it isn’t that important. And I thank God every day for my wonderful life, loving family and friends, and all the small things that make me smile and laugh,” she said.
During treatment, Roxanne relied on support from friends and family to get her through rough times. She talked to one of her sisters, who happened to also be going through chemotherapy at the same time, every evening, and they helped keep each other positive and upbeat.
She also “prayed lots” and used positive visualizations and affirmations. When she would receive treatment or feel anxiety, Roxanne would visualize a shield protecting her organs and stopping the cancer. She would use the affirmation, “Cancer, you can’t come in here, I’m protected.”
She also used a Pac-man visualization technique she learned from a psychologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® – imagining the video game character moving up and down her organs and eating up all the cancer cells. Acupuncture, which she received every two weeks during chemotherapy, further helped her with anxiety and stress.
Roxanne remains healthy and active – a key for cancer survivors. She walks and works out six days a week and does yoga on Fridays. She still feels anxiety before her check-up scans every four months, but chooses to live day by day and focus on the positive.
For those facing a cancer battle of their own, Roxanne had this to say: “As difficult as it is, have faith and optimism. Get help for mind-body techniques that will help you feel a sense of control over what your body and mind are going through … It’s not how many times you get knocked down that matters; it’s how many times you get back up.”
No case is typical. You should not expect to experience these results.