Losses sometimes turn into gains | VailDaily.com

Losses sometimes turn into gains

Veronica Whitney

A year later, looking back, Langenwalter, 53, a Vail architect, said she feels what she thought would be losses turned out to be gains.

“After my surgery last summer I replaced biking with yoga, I got a season pass and skied all winter,” she said Sunday during National Cancer Survivors Day celebrations at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards. “What was hard was the feeling of loss of innocence and careless living.”

Langenwalter, who lost her mother to breast cancer just six weeks before she was diagnosed, was one of several cancer survivors from six Colorado counties who shed tears and shared laughs at the world’s largest cancer survivor even. She was one of more than 700 events taking place across North America and elsewhere to honor cancer survivors, as well as those who’ve supported them.

“This event creates community,” said Vanessa Lewis, a counselor at the cancer center who helps people cope. “It also helps other people realize that they are alive. If you’re living with cancer you’re surviving.”

A cancer survivor is defined by the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation as anyone living with a history of cancer from the time of diagnosis through the remainder of life. An estimated 8.9 million Americans are now living beyond a diagnosis of cancer. One in two men and one in three women can expect to get a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives.

“This celebration date is a feel-good with cake and punch,” said Tracy Samdahl, director of the Shaw Regional Cancer Center. “This event, as well as cancer support groups, help patients to share survival tips and techniques.”

Oscar McCollum, 81, of Glenwood Springs has prostate cancer. He was among the survivors Sunday who received a 10-inch-tall blue spruce as a reminder of the continuation of life.

“By giving us this they expect me to live as long as this tress,” said the Glenwood Springs man, laughing.

McCollum’s wife, Lois-Ann, 70, has been a cancer survivor for 22 years.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1979, cancer was the “C’ word. People were afraid of even naming it,” she said. “It’s interesting to see a change in the attitude. People are now more open to talk about cancer, even to celebrate.”

As her nurses and doctors talked at the event, cancer survivor Heather Meadows couldn’t stop snapping pictures of them, as if they were her children graduating from high school.

“He (Brad Austin) is my nurse and she (Patricia Hardenbergh) is my doctor,” Meadows said proudly.

Hardenbergh, the medical director of radiation oncology at the cancer center, said she likes to see what happens to her patients after cancer.

“I like to see how their lives with their families and friends change,” she said.

Going through cancer treatment, Langenwalter added, helped her set up priorities.

“We live in a materialistic and self-absorbed society,” she said. “What is important is the things we do as people with people.”

Nurse Austin said cancer patients need caring and commitment.

“I think the hardest part for the patients is the uncertainty of the future,” Austin said. “We have a team approach and we’re totally optimistic. We become part of their families; we cry with them; we’re all in the same mission.”

When the patients completed the radiation and chemotherapy in four or six weeks, the employees at the cancer center give them graduation certificates.

“It’s very special when the patients come back for checkups a year later and you can see them again under other circumstances, it’s a happy moment,” said Angie Van Dyke, a radiation therapist at the center.

“The key with cancer is early detection,” Lewis added. “That’s what determines how people will live.”

Langenwalter, who in the end did lose her hair – but not a breast – said devoting herself to learning about the disease empowered her.

“Cancer gave me an opportunity to grieve my mother,” she said.

The Shaw Regional Cancer Center celebrates its one-year anniversary this July. Part of Vail Valley Medical Center, the center provides medical oncology services, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Before the center opened in July, people had to go to Denver or Grand Junction to get radiation therapy.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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