Patient never gives up fight against cancer
by Paula Levy
published: May 19, 2004
The first time we met Rosanne Himmelman, she was beginning a regimen of chemotherapy to fight metastatic colon cancer. Through periodic updates, Rosanne is sharing her experience. This is part eight of her journey.
Sitting outside under the warm spring sun by a nearby lake, Rosanne Himmelman, 37, speaks freely about the cards life has dealt her.
In contemplating her future, she dismisses the idea that metastatic colon cancer will beat her. But don't be fooled. Rosanne is not going through life with her head in the sand.
"I understand my diagnosis. I understand my prognosis," she says. Rosanne is well aware of the statistics, how ill she is and she knows full well the odds are against her. But, she doesn't give up.
"I work well with odds," she smiles. Many statistics of metastatic colon cancer patients are that of an older man. Even when she was first diagnosed, Rosanne proclaimed that she was not a statistic.
"They were basing their diagnosis and prognosis on stats that were relative to a 62-year-old man, which I wasn't. I'm unique. I'm an individual...I understand that there's no cure. But you can live for years with something like this... you can have many good years."
It's that unwavering love for life and refusal to let cancer beat her that has brought Rosanne this far in her battle. After all, it was more than two years ago now that the then 34-year-old woman was given two weeks to live.
In facing the most devastating news of her young life, she was also told that cancer had spread from her colon to her liver and lungs. At that time, while still living in Vancouver, she was given no hope for survival.
"I was a little angry at the health care system because they were so negative. And, I was told there was no hope and there would be no treatment plan because I was beyond the point where any treatment plan could help me," she says.
"I felt written off ... almost. ... Because I was so optimistic, I really didn't see it as a death sentence because I had a feeling that I wasn't going to go in two weeks as they were indicating. ... I knew that I was much stronger than they were recognizing."
She was right. Rosanne knew it wasn't her time to die and somehow she would find the strength to get through. And, in the coming months, reality set in about her life and just how big her battle would be. But she refused to give up.
"What are the options? It's to fight or not fight. It's not a difficult choice for me. The alternative is laying in bed and waiting to die. That isn't an option for me," she says.
||Rosanne takes a walk by a nearby lake. Paula Levy photo
After she started to feel better, Rosanne began throwing herself into helping other patients cope with their fears. But she says, she realizes now it was a defence mechanism that enabled her to cope with her own uncertain future.
"I was helping other cancer patients as a way to push aside from the more serious issues that I had to deal with. You're faced with fighting for your life daily. But in helping others, I could run away from my problems and not focus on it," says Rosanne.
She says reaching out to others wasn't purely an escape. She also felt since her battle was going so well, she needed to give something back. But dealing with many cancer patients meant that there were sad times, especially when one of them died.
"It kind of tears you down, especially when they're dying with something that you have. When they've become a dear friend, that's really tough," she says.
Now, she gives her time to serve on cancer-related committees. It is a way that she can give of her time to benefit others without throwing herself into emotional upheaval.
Rosanne also spends time learning and practicing alternative therapies such as Reiki and flower therapy to enable her to take better care of herself and take each day as it comes. Now, each morning she does a Reiki treatment on herself, followed by meditation and prayers.
"The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning, is to start taking care of myself," she says. "That was something that I didn't do before."
Since she began putting her health first, she admits she feels the best now since going back on chemotherapy. She attributes much of her tolerance in dealing with the toxicity of treatment to complementary therapies.
Rosanne is also documenting her own personal journey in writing and welcomes contributions from other cancer patients who may have a funny story to tell about treatment. She says, cancer isn't all doom and gloom. She says many humorous things happen too.
There is one more aspect of Rosanne's life that keeps her well. She says the love and support of her family and friends also continues to give her strength, including strangers who now recognize her.
She says many people seem afraid to approach her. But she welcomes them to offer their warm wishes so that she may be able to continue to gain strength to continue her fight.
As well, Rosanne hopes by sharing her experience, she can be an example for others who are fighting the same battle.
"Keep fighting. Have hope and it's not always as it seems. Things can turn around. I was told that my organs were shutting down and I was in the dying process. And I got back up out of bed," she says. "I truly believe that everyone is this strong. You just don't know what you're made of until you're faced with something really tough."
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