Like most of you reading this, the family here at SCB Marketing (publisher of SpaceCoast Living) continues to be deeply affected by cancer. Two years ago, we lost Donna Skattum, a friend and mentor who meant as much to the community as she did to all of us here at SCB. Donna inspired us and made us laugh every day. She also encouraged us to “do what you love, and love what you do.” Her smile and laugh still and always lives in our hearts and memories.
Most recently, we lost Dawn Faust Bibby, a dear friend to many of us, and one of the great personalities ever. If you knew her, you’re smiling right now. She was one of those people who lit up a room and brightened everything around her. A service was held for her in August, and it just wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life” and it was so befitting the life she led, that we felt we had to carry it further. For her, and for us all.
What follows is SpaceCoast Living’s “Celebration of Life” with stories of courageous survivors, and lives filled with meaning. Whether as a mother, a sister, a wife, friend or business person, each of these lives were struck by cancer, as were their friends, families and associates. We chose to NOT write about them, but to let them tell you directly about their fights and their lives today.
We hope you get the same encouragement and inspiration from these stories as we do.
Survivor: 3 Years | Stage 2 Ductal Carcinoma in SITU
“I decided the day that I was diagnosed with cancer (actually I had decided 6 months earlier when I had a premonition) that I was going to be a survivor, that I wouldn’t let any thoughts of fear or negativity consume me, and that every ounce of my energy would be used in a positive way to help heal my body. This was no easy task, as I tend to be a worrier by nature, but I found strength and courage in the stories of the countless women I had met who had already battled cancer and survived. This was part of my journey, and I wanted so badly to be as strong as these women who had inspired me.
The worst thing about cancer — cancer has a way of humbling you and stripping you of your dignity in ways you never knew before. I can remember staring in the mirror with no hair, no eyelashes and no eyebrows and feeling as if I was looking at a stranger for the first time. I’d then reach out to touch my arms to try and feel a connection to my old self. Although the image didn’t look like me anymore, I had a feeling of peace knowing that the chemo was doing what it was supposed to do. The treatments were difficult at times but not as bad as I could have imagined. I just kept telling myself, “this too shall pass” and “it can’t rain forever; the sun will soon come out again.”
There was, however, an outpouring of love and emotional support rushing in. My husband (my rock), my children, my family and my friends lifted me up with their prayers and helped to give me the strength that I needed to get through each day. I was constantly encouraged and loved through the process and I never felt alone. I was blessed with an amazing team of doctors who took excellent care of me. I will forever be humbled by all of the kindness and mercy that surrounded me and will be forever indebted to my family and friends for their unconditional love.
What can I leave you with here? Knowledge is power; get checked regularly; don’t be afraid of hearing that you have cancer, be afraid of not knowing! Early detection can save your life. Cancer doesn’t define me but it has truly been a blessing and I am constantly reminded of how precious life is and that every day is a gift. There are still days when I hear of someone who has relapsed or lost their battle that the fear will creep back up inside me and I have a moment of sheer panic but I remind myself how blessed I am to be one of the lucky ones who survived, how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life, and how blessed I am to be given this gift and then I remember how great God is!”
Survivor: 20 Years, Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma
“At fifteen I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. I was losing muscle control in my face, affecting my smile and ability to close my right eye. Even with treatment, the loss of muscle control progressed. After five years and more doctors and tests, I was told instead that I had Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma. I had cancer. I had to have my parotid gland removed along with 2 facial nerves and my inner ear as a result of having the cancer. As a bonus, to make up for the loss of muscle control due to the cancer damage, the process included several additional and painful follow-up surgeries.
As a teenager, all I wanted to do was fit in. But because of my illness, I stood out like a sore thumb. After I was diagnosed with cancer, I started searching for support groups. I was repeatedly disappointed when I reached out and was told, “You’re too young,” or “You have the wrong kind of cancer.” Throughout the repeated rejection I kept one thought in mind; someday I would help others who needed a sense of normalcy and understanding.
As a childhood cancer survivor, the question I’ve always asked myself is, “How can I use my experience to help others?” I looked at career options where I felt I could have the greatest positive impact on children. I completed a master’s degree in School Counseling. After starting my career in the local school system, I soon realized that with all the additional responsibilities that school counselors have, I wasn’t actually doing very much counseling. I wanted to do more. So I went back to college, completed an extensive internship with additional course work and became a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC).
My involvement in the world of mental health has allowed me to support children, adolescents, adults and entire families struggling with a wide variety of stressors like a cancer diagnosis. Helping others find ways of coping with life’s difficulties and ultimately improving their quality of life has been extremely rewarding. I’m able to apply my professional skills and experiences to helping others, and I am regularly rewarded by the progress made by the individuals I work with, as well as the positive feelings I get from reaching my personal goal of helping others.”
Diagnosed: February 2016, Carcinoma In Situ
“In my 31 years as an obstetrics nurse at Cape Canaveral Hospital, I have been witness to alternately tragic and affirming situations where warriors have fought hard battles against odds, diagnoses and treatments. Some have survived. Others have not been so fortunate.
I am one of the fortunate. But I don’t feel like a warrior. I don’t feel like I’ve earned that badge. I did not have to endure chemotherapy or radiation. And, when I learned about my cancer diagnosis in February, the information was received from a close friend, who also happens to be my doctor.
In some ways, I had the best of everything.
As a healthcare provider, I had resources that aren’t always readily available to other patients – trusted friends and colleagues who knew how to help me, guide me and support me through my breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent mastectomy.
In fact, some months earlier, I had enjoyed the privilege of being on the delivery team when my (eventual) breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Sharon Noori, had delivered her child at Cape Canaveral Hospital. (Dr. Noori runs the Health First Breast Cancer Institute, where my treatment plan was developed with dedicated specialists, some of whom I’d known for years.)
As a wife, I had the support of my amazing husband, an engineer who systematically helped me review the issues and put them into perspective. My amazing partner helped me through every stage of the disease, surgery, recovery and follow up. He went to every appointment, held my hand through every conversation, took time off to care for me and never, ever gave over to sadness or anger.
As a mom of seven, I had the love and concern of my children and step-children, who served as constant reminders of the beauty, and wonder, of life. And my friends, my army of friends, who delivered home-cooked meals to me every other day for two months so I would have one less thing to worry about.
But it was the prayers that lifted me. Every day. Gave me something so hard to describe but, perhaps, best put as “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
That’s what I am celebrating most, this feeling of peace. And I believe, I know, that there is a greater purpose to what I’ve experienced. I’m searching for that and I’m kind of excited. It’s like a Christmas present waiting to be opened.”
Survivor: 6 Years, Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer, Stage 2, PR ER Positive, HER2 Negative
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was angry. Not depressed, not afraid, just angry. I couldn’t believe that something the size of a pecan was going to make such a mess of my life in so many ways over such a long period of time. Any time I had to tell someone that I had cancer, I felt like an attention-seeking drama queen. But I couldn’t hide it from my family and friends and co-workers. I set about learning as much as I could about my cancer. Information is power. I let go of the anger.
The worst thing about the cancer was Life…Interrupted. By the end of my treatment I was left wondering “Who is this woman and what has she done with my life?” I didn’t look the same. I didn’t feel the same. I had medical appointments two or three or four times a week. I couldn’t do many of the things I loved to do. My home was filled with medications and esoteric medical supplies and binders full of medical bills and EOBs and information about cancer.
The best part of cancer was the kindness of other people. My husband and I staggered across this uncharted territory together. My octogenarian parents and my sisters helped care for me during the tough times. My friends checked on me regularly. I work as a clinical psychologist at the Burnham Woods Champa Counseling Center, and my work family was tremendously supportive. I had the opportunity to meet other people with cancer and the immediate bond was incredible. My treatment team was knowledgeable and efficient. Strangers wished me well when they saw my bald head or my PICC line.
My beloved sister, who was diagnosed with a different cancer almost a year to the day before me, is in hospice care as I write this. I am now a six-year survivor. There is good treatment available for the type of cancer I had and I know I am one of the lucky ones. I bring that awareness to my life every single day. It helps me to appreciate every moment and experience that I am able to collect, even the ones that aren’t so pretty.”