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Life after cancer: finding support

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After a lumpectomy, six rounds of chemo and 33 rounds of radiation, Woodstock resident Kathy Brazas is grateful to be alive but said her life has irrevocably changed.

“Cancer changes your life regardless of how old you are or the outcome … every six months I have to [take the tests] and find out my outcome again,” she said. 

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 after undergoing a routine mammogram. There was no family history of the disease. 

“My stubbornness and killer instinct kicked in … I might walk out of the house, get hit by a bus and die, but I’m not letting cancer take me down,” Brazas said.

She fought back. Though initially euphoric from beating the disease, a few months after finishing treatments she ran into more challenges. Her body wasn’t moving as it had previously, her vitamin D levels began dropping, and her hair wasn’t growing back. 

“Having to relive the experience is not a pleasant journey. Though I’m done with the treatments, the aftermath of what those treatments do to a body [lingers].”

Help came in the form of Wellness Place, an organization providing education and support free of charge to cancer survivors.

“I felt like a different person. [Though] I have a strong family and support system, when I spoke with counselor Kathy Scortino, I felt like someone really ‘got’ how I was feeling.”

Brazas began attending free weekly exercise, cancer education and wellness classes at the Palatine facility with other cancer survivors.

“From the first moment, I felt like I belonged. Our different ages and walks of life don’t matter; we share a bond.” 

What has she learned most from fighting cancer?

“We are here for a finite period of time and have to make the most of the time we have,”  she said.

“Going through this you have the opportunity to reflect on what really matters in life. You get a second chance to tell people they matter. Life after cancer can be better in some ways than before … with the right resources life can be richer and fuller than it was, though maybe not the same.”

She said Wellness Place is lifesaving for people who may not have insurance and are overwhelmed with bills. 

“Wellness Place has been a  godsend … I encourage people to reach out for support. It can make a world of difference.”

Wellness Place will sponsor a 5K walk/run Sunday, May 20, at the Arboretum of South Barrington, for which Brazas has been volunteering.

“[It’s not just] about the donations. Go out to encourage the women,” said Brazas. 

Encouragement from strangers helped her greatly during her darker moments.

Wellness Place has a satellite office in Crystal Lake.

For information, visit www.wellnessplace.org.