Cancer survivor shares story to help others on their own cancer journey
Wednesday, July 10, 2013 4:47 AM
Chris Hansen of Mabel is "walking the walk," living with an incurable form of cancer for the past 10 and a half years. That walk has seen its bumpy roads, hills and valleys. Hansen admitted her journey has brought her to where she is today, with knowledge, acceptance and sources of inspiration and hope she will share with other cancer survivors on Friday afternoon during the tea that kicks off this year's Fillmore County Relay for Life in Harmony.
Chris Hansen of Mabel will be the guest speaker at the Survivor's Tea on Friday afternoon at the Relay for Life in Harmony. Hansen has lived for 10 and a half years with an incurable cancer. She will share her not-so-secret ways of staying positive and hopeful during her speech on Friday. MELISSA VANDER PLAS/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Hanson agreed to speak at the tea with the hope that her story and her journey over the past 10 years will inspire others who may be facing a new cancer diagnosis or may be feeling overwhelmed and worn out with their own cancer journey.
"Every cancer survivor has a story," Hansen said. "If I can tell my story to give someone an extra boost, I'll gladly share it."
When she was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkins follicular lymphoma in December of 2002, she said she drew strength from other cancer survivors she knew. "I knew this one and this one and this one who had cancer and were living with it," she said. "I have had so many people who have helped me walk the cancer trail over the last 10 and a half years that if my story can help anyone just a little, I am more than happy to share it."
Hansen stressed she is not someone special, but just an everyday person living with an incurable cancer. "Because I have been so richly blessed with people, if I can do any good for anyone, I want to do it," she added.
In December of 2002, during a routine hysterectomy, doctors discovered a golf-ball-sized tumor in Hansen's small bowel. They removed 12 inches of the small intestine and she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins follicular lymphoma.
Even though her doctor told her it was incurable, he assured her it was treatable and she could live with it.
Following the surgery, Hansen went three years without chemotherapy or any type of treatment before it returned a second time and again several years later.
"In the 10 and a half years, I have had chemotherapy, maintenance chemotherapy, radiation, I've been on a trial drug. I'm in chemo right now," she added.
After going to the doctor in May, thinking she had a sinus infection, Hansen learned her latest remission had come to an end - a four and a half year reprieve from the disease.
She said she got the news on the day her co-workers at Mabel-Canton were throwing her a retirement party, so she kept the news to herself so she would not dampen anyone's spirits at her party.
Hansen officially retired at the end of June as the business manager in the school district and said she did feel a bit of resentment that her cancer returned at this time in her life.
She had her first series of chemotherapy in June and will have her second series on Thursday and Friday of this week. She will be speaking to her fellow survivors after her treatment in La Crosse earlier in the day.
"How will I be feeling?" she asked. "I'll be hot, I'll be on steroids and my ankles will be swollen, but I'll be there."
Hansen will continue her treatments - a two-day series every month - with the last treatment in November.
Highs and lows
Hansen strives to stay positive on her cancer walk and draws strength from her faith and through prayer. Her family and friends also provide her with unwavering support. "I have an unbelievably strong support system that never leaves me," she said. "I don't have any brothers or sisters, but my friends are very important in my walk. My husband and two boys are steadfast. They are my rocks."
Hansen said one of the toughest parts of having cancer is the burden it places on her loved ones. "I think it's harder on my support system than it is on me," she explained. "I know they feel helpless, but they really aren't. They hold me up. I know I'd rather be the one 'walking the walk' because I know how hard it is for the caregivers."
But there are days when the mental anguish of having to carry cancer with her fights to take away her optimism. "It's hard sometimes not knowing where this one is going to lead me," Hansen explained. "Is this treatment going to work? How sick am I going to get? Am I going to survive this round?"
It is then that she turns to her support system and puts a smile on her face, following some advice she received early on in her cancer walk, "Fake it 'til you make it."
"I work hard to keep my glass half full," Hansen said. "When it starts getting empty, I work hard to pull myself up. I remind myself that life is so much better than that."
Advice to others
In her presentation on Friday, Hansen will share a few facts that she tries to focus on when she starts to get frustrated with her cancer walk.
"I think about other cancer survivors who are making it and draw inspiration from them," she said.
Hansen also remembers that there are new resources, new treatments, new drugs and new advancements taking place every day. "Each treatment buys me time until there is a cure," she said with conviction. "I remember the advances and I remember that cancer is not a death sentence any longer!"
She also wants those living with cancer to know that it is all right to receive help when one needs it. "Learn to receive from your family and friends. It's easier to receive when I know that there will be a day coming when I can give back to them again," Hansen said.
Having been fortunate to have two outstanding oncologists, Hansen said it is very important that one trusts, believes and likes their doctors. She recommended patients be aggressive with questions and not to be shy about getting any information one may need. If one does not feel comfortable with their care provider, she urged them to find someone new to treat them.
Finally, Hansen stressed that it is important to have a confidante to whom one can share their feelings and their frustrations with the cancer walk. "It truly does help to talk it out," she added.
"There is no right or wrong way to deal with cancer," Hansen stated. "You just walk your walk the best way you can. Do what is right for you."
Hansen has participated in the Relay for Life since the beginning and she reiterated how she gains strength from the survivors and from walking that first lap of the Relay with them. "When you see all those people, you truly know that you are not alone," she said. "It really, really gives me strength."
This year, Hansen is on the team C.H.R.I.S. (Cancer Haters Relaying In Search of a cure) made up of members of her family and her friends. The acronym came from a friend of hers in Arizona who flies home every summer to participate in the Relay.
While Hansen will participate as long as she can this year, she admits that it may be a year to take care of herself and not spend the entire night at the event.
However, she is so grateful for all the volunteers and organizers who have worked so tirelessly to create an event that supports so many and raises money for such an important charity.
Hansen also thanks those who are working behind the scenes in research, working tirelessly to find a cure.
In the past 10 and a half years, Hansen's walk with cancer has not always been easy. While she said she tolerates pain well, there is nothing pleasant about chemotherapy and its after-effects.
However, she has learned the important fact that one can live with the disease and while she admits to paying cancer its "proper respect," she does not let cancer rule her life.
"I really do enjoy life more," Hansen said. "It's a privilege because I'm here. Because I'm able to live. My outlook on life has definitely changed."
Perhaps she has cherished the special moments over the past 10 years just a bit more than she would have and she acknowledges each great thing that has happened to her during that time. She is grateful for the little things as well - the smiles, the words of encouragement, the fun times she has with family and friends.
"Cancer can shoot you out of the water," she said. "But I will work with cancer and give it its proper respect it deserves, but I'm not going to let cancer drive me any more than it has to."
Hansen will be speaking at 4 p.m. on Friday during the Relay for Life Survivor's Tea at the Harmony Community Center. If one would like to attend the tea, call Kathy Broadwater at (507) 937-3217 to RSVP.