Photo by Jen Burris
Winona County’s 2013 Person of Hope Stacy Anderson.
This year, Stacy Anderson, who has been fighting stage four breast cancer since August 2009, is Winona County’s 2013 Person of Hope. Although Anderson’s cancer has since spread to her lungs, liver, hip, spine, and even her brain, she continues to fight back, refusing to give in. “I don’t really have tough days. I mean even if I feel myself kind of getting down, I just push it away. The dogs or one of the kids will be home, or my husband will come home, and it’s gone. But it’s very rare that I get down.”
As Ryan Huibregtse, a staff partner of the American Cancer Society for Winona County, put it, “the 2013 Person of Hope is an individual from Winona County who has heard the words, ‘you have cancer,’ and is living proof that we are saving lives and creating more birthdays. This individual inspires the local community to fight back, and symbolizes the courageous struggle that all cancer patients go through as they deal with the physical and emotional aspects of this terrible disease.”
“It kind of came on without warning, and as scared as I was I knew I needed to go to the doctor,” Anderson quietly explained. “And I didn’t let them push me around at all. I said just do the biopsy. Some of it hurts, but you’d much rather know than not know, so they can start doing something.”
Before the biopsy, they thought it was stage two breast cancer. Within a matter of days, it was categorized as stage four, Anderson said. Since 2009, she has been completing chemo in Winona and radiation in La Crosse. The radiation treated the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, spine, and hip. A year or two into treatment, brain cancer was found. “It was kind of scary, but at the same time, the team [at Mayo Clinic] I got to work with was awesome,” she said.
In January of this year, doctors at Mayo Clinic treated a tumor in Anderson’s brain using the Gamma Knife procedure. According to the Mayo Clinic, the Gamma Knife is a type of “radiation therapy used to treat tumors and other abnormalities in the brain” that focuses the beams directly on a tumor. Since the most recent surgery, Anderson has struggled to keep weight on, and has dealt with vision problems. However this hasn’t changed her positive outlook, “I always tell the doctors, if you need to take off my right arm, go ahead, I’ll still have the left one.”
In the middle of all the treatment, her family's dog, Zeus, developed cancer. “I think they’re called a mast cell tumor. We had a couple removed. Then we said we’re not going to do anything more; he’s getting old and it doesn’t pay to put him through that,” Anderson said lovingly. Zeus is still living comfortably at home.
Through all of this Anderson has refused to lose hope. “I gotta do it! I have kids, I have a husband, I have dogs,” Anderson noted triumphantly. “To give up is just…why do something like that? I mean, besides the fact that it makes you miserable, it makes all the people who love you miserable.”
Another shining light throughout this ordeal has been the medical team involved in her cancer treatment, Anderson said. Dr. Ferris and the women at the Winona Health chemo desk have been incredibly kind. “Dr. Ferris seems to be different with me than with anybody else. Even the chemo nurses agree,” she added with a shy smile. “Just like Dr. Ferris, [the chemo nurses] remember all the small details, like my kids and my parents, and they often ask about them. I don’t know how they keep up. I mean, they have tons of patients.”
Breast cancer may not specifically run in the family, but Anderson does note than many of her direct family members have fought various cancers. “My dad’s had basal cell [skin cancer], and prostate cancer, and my grandpa died of liver cancer. Anderson’s aunt and cousin have fought breast cancer, and her own mother is struggling with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Anderson and her mother held a joint benefit in 2009. “I would encourage anybody who’s fighting cancer of any kind to hold a benefit. It just helps pay for things, and it pulls a whole bunch of people together.” At her benefit, Anderson got up and played with her old band. “I don’t think I could do it on a regular basis though,” she said with a chuckle.
The benefit was packed with people from the community. Dr. Martin came with his wife, and completely wrote off Anderson’s outstanding medical bill. “I was very overwhelmed, but happy,” Anderson said graciously.
Don’t be afraid to accept help, Anderson reminds others struggling with cancer. “If you need help ask for it. Don’t be stubborn, and never give up. I mean even if you get to the point where the doctors tell you there’s nothing else you can do, there’re still things you can do until that [final] day comes.”
Anderson hopes that sharing her story will inspire others. “I hope it inspires them to keep fighting and to show that someone who’s been battling it for four years hasn’t given up." She hasn’t kept it inside, "because I think keeping it inside and not sharing with others makes it worse. I really do.”
If you find yourself struggling to keep up your morale, says Anderson, "Find something to do. If you can’t do crafts or something, find a TV program you like to watch, get out of the house.” Even a trip to the grocery store brings stories from other cancer survivors and fighters, which can be supportive.
An online support group called Chemo Angels introduced Anderson to a friend in Ohio, who sends weekly cards and letters. Anderson appreciates the ability to talk about her treatments with someone else, and enjoys the added support she’s received.
Anderson had been involved with the Relay for Life long before she was diagnosed with cancer. Anderson previously volunteered in honor of her grandfather and for her mom and dad.
For those who haven’t been involved in the past, Anderson encourages people to start now. “One day it could happen to them or their family, and even if it doesn’t, we can’t find a cure unless people get involved,” Anderson passionately explained. “I know money is tight and whatnot, but if everybody in Winona gave a dollar, that could make a huge difference.”
Relay For Life
The Relay For Life event, also known as the Rivertown Shuffle, will take place on Friday, August 9, at the Lake Park Bandshell on Lake Park Drive. The event will take place from 5 p.m. to midnight. For more information visit www.RelayForLife.org/WinonaCountyMN