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Former cancer patients share stories of survival

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:20 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 29, 2012
Cancer survivors and their guests met at MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital Health Pavilion to celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day. Kim Becking, breast cancer survivor, was the guest speaker at the event Tuesday evening.

COLUMBIA — Kim Becking stepped forward and said to her audience:  "Repeat after me. I resign as the general manager of the universe.”

“I resign as the general manger of the universe,” her audience said in unison.

“Isn’t it better?” Becking said.

The audience laughed.

This was one of the top 10 things Becking suggested cancer survivors should try to do to make things better while they are going through treatment.

Becking was the guest speaker at the Cancer Survivors Celebration held by Ellis Fischel Cancer Center Tuesday night. About 50 cancer survivors and additional guests attended the dinner at MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital Health Pavilion to celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day, which was on Sunday.

Switching into a "fighting mood"

Becking was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 when she was planning a birthday party for her 2-year-old son. She was 30 at the time.

Becking said she was not as sad as other women when she lost her hair in chemotherapy.

“I walked around with my bald head and told people that I am not too young to have breast cancer,” Becking said.

Becking said she has three friends who also have breast cancer. All of them were 30 or younger when they were diagnosed.

She said she didn’t do her breast exams until one of the three friends, Patti Balwanz, was diagnosed with cancer a few years before. Annual exams helped her to detect the cancer at a relatively early stage.

Becking said she was thinking about her son at the moment she received her diagnosis.

“I wanted to be there. I wanted to see him grow up,” Becking said. She said she wanted to be there for the important moments – she wanted to dance at his wedding.

This encouraged her to switch into a "fighting mood."

Her treatment lasted roughly one year. Her breasts were removed and reconstructed, and she endured two rounds of chemotherapy.

Becking said she learned to laugh at things. Once, during her treatment, she was trying to make her way to the restroom on the second floor of her home, but couldn't make it there. She peed in her pants.

"I could either cry and feel sorry for myself or just laugh at it," Becking said. 

Becking said it was hard to find “a new sense of normal” after treatment.

“I seem to have the same outlook, but inside, I am not the person I was any more,” she said.

Becking quit her job at a law firm and started her career in public relations and motivational speaking. She now offers support and help to cancer patients and survivors.

"I want to make everyday count," Becking said.

"I felt like a zombie for six months"

Brian Lami was one of the youngest survivors at the celebration dinner on Tuesday night. He is about to turn 30, and he was diagnosed with an unusual brain cancer in 2003 at the age of 20.

Lami was a junior at Columbia College at the time and was majoring in computer science. He was diagnosed with a pineal germinoma. Though the cancer itself is common, the location of Lami's tumor was extremely rare. 

Though they weren't sure it would be effective, doctors began treating Lami with chemotherapy two months after his diagnosis.

"Then it worked," Lami said.

When the side effects of chemotherapy started to outweigh its benefits, Lami started receiving radiation instead of chemotherapy.

“I felt like a zombie for six months. I didn’t think. Not that I didn’t want to, but I just didn’t,” Lami said. Lami let his mother take care of everything and make decisions for him while he was undergoing treatment. 

Lami said he finished his radiation treatment one Christmas Eve.

“I went back and told everyone I lived. What better gift can there be?” Lami said.

After the treatment, Lami's cognitive functioning diminished to a degree. He lost some vocabulary and didn’t have a concept of time anymore.

“I still know the order of things, but just couldn’t remember when it happened,” he said.

Lami feels he is different than before, though not everyone notices.

“The good news is I am still able to function,” he said.

Lami went back to college six years after his treatment, and he is currently trying to finish his degree in computer science.

A face-to-face experience with death changed Lami.

“Most of the stuff just don’t phase me anymore,” he said. “The small tragedies that bother other people, like running out of money or losing a job, I just deal with it.”

“I thought I was going to die”

Kathy Windmoeller was very scared when she was diagnosed with cancer in January 1999. She said she didn’t know what would happen next.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said.

But she survived after going through a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. 

Windmoeller said she was uneasy during her six months of chemotherapy.

“It wasn’t too bad. It’s just that I don’t feel like myself,” she said.

Windmoeller said her chemotherapy treatments seemed different every time, so she didn't know what to expect.

“It’s cumulative, so the more your body takes in, the worse you are going to feel,” she said.

Windmoeller said she was scared during the whole process, but her husband helped her through it.

"He was my rock," she said. 

After all this, Windmoeller said she is a lot more confident than before. She started a breast cancer support group in 2000 with her friend and has been helping other people with cancer ever since.

"It just drew me closer to the Lord"

Five years ago, Robert Arnold, 74, was diagnosed with two types of cancer.

Arnold said he went to his urologist to test his prostate, and, for some reason, went to have an X-ray of his chest around the same time.

“I don't know. God told me to do a chest X-ray,” he said.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer and prostate cancer at the same time.

Arnold said he had the upper part of his lung and his prostate removed. He recovered after that.

Arnold said this experience led him to appreciate life more.

“It just drew me closer to the Lord,” Arnold said.

Do you have your own or a loved one's cancer survival story that you'd like to share with our readers? Send it to us at submissions@ColumbiaMissourian.com.

Supervising editor is Ann Elise Taylor 


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