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BRAVE HEARTS October 16, 2013

A Marketing Supplement to Sauk Valley Media









To our readers


ctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Bravehearts is Sauk Valley Media’s salute to cancer survivors, as well as their families and friends, in and around the Sauk Valley. These profiles of survivors talk of trials, tribulations and triumphs. We hope the stories of survival offer inspiration to anyone who is dealing with cancer, whether they have been diagnosed with the disease, or have a family member or friend who is battling it. Marla Seidell Niche Publications Editor

Publisher: Trevis Mayfield Editors: Larry Lough Marla Seidell Page Design: Marla Seidell

3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013

Mindy Billings .......................................................... Page 3 Alice Collins .............................................................. Page 4 Cheryl Gilbert........................................................... Page 6 Braeden Peska ......................................................... Page 8 Karen Heflin ........................................................... Page 10 Lorna Gillette ......................................................... Page 12

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Angel Jackson-Eigsti.............................................. Page 14 Shirley Tyner .......................................................... Page 16 Emily Geil-Taylor .................................................. Page 18 Carol Stingley ......................................................... Page 21

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‘I thought I was invincible’ Mindy Billings walks – because she can and that would be the end of it,” she said. er own fight with She lost about half of her cancer should have foot, and surgeons took an been the most difartery out of her right side ficult thing she faced in life, yet transplanting it into her foot. Mindy Billings, 44, said, “It’s She doesn’t believe without much harder to watch someher family support system, one you love go through it.” she would have been able to Tearfully, she discusses her make it through any of the mother’s fight with leukemia. hurdles. “I would go through what I Her parents, Don and Sue, went through 10 times over for and sisters, Kim Wainscott her to not go through this, and and Dani Bright, were with I know she felt the same watch- her the whole time, even ing me, too.” when she was in the hospital This week, her mother Sue over Christmas. Clark, who was diagnosed in As the holiday approached, 2009, will undergo a stem cell she didn’t want to be stuck in transplant. the hospital, let alone laid up Varieties of cancer run ramfor 3 months afterward unable pant in their family. to walk without assistance. There were times, many in “I thought I was invinfact, when her own cancer cible, like young kids do,” she nearly took her life. Her family recalled. “Everyone around me was no stranger to calls from was really grim, and it wasn’t hospital staff, saying, “She may until later in life I was like, not make it through the night.” wow. Things I see on a daily At the age of 22, she said, “I basis at the hospital, where I didn’t realize the severity. I work, I see how fortunate I’ve was lucky that ignorance was been.” bliss. The doctor would write Billings has worked at CGH in my chart, ‘The patient was for 25 years, where she is a extremely upbeat despite her medical coder. diagnosis.’ They were telling “Two days out of the hospime I wasn’t going to live 5 tal, I was worried about work years because – and even now and wanting to go back, so I – no one else has.” wouldn’t lose my job, and I’m For Billings, cancer prestill there. My mom tried to tell sented as a painless, pea-sized me I had my whole life to work. lump on her left foot. It was Mom did all of my wound care there for about a year. Sure at home, and didn’t have help. it was nothing, she wanted The nurses were amazed. She is to put her mother’s mind amazing, my mom.” and urging to rest and had it Walking along the path near checked. her home, she said, “Now, it Synovial sarcoma, often is all pretty amazing to me. incurable, caused no other It is deadly. They treated 10 symptoms. At her age, she was people in 50 years in Iowa City looking forward to having the with this, and none lived past “nothing” removed to wear 5 years. I’m the only one.” cute shoes. She loves to walk and does it “I was thinking it was a mole as often as possible. Without Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM or just anything the doctor a hint of a limp, she said she Mindy Billings learned from her brush with cancer to treasure every day. Despite losing half of her would take off in his office, does it, “Because I can.” left foot when a tumor was removed, she walks every day and without a limp. BY KIMBERLY WATLEY Special to Bravehearts




3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


‘Do what the doctors tell you’ Family and faith helped Alice Collins win her battle BY CASSANDRA ZIMMERMAN Special to Bravehearts


he battle against breast cancer started early one morning in 1985 for Alice Jimetta Collins. While taking a shower, “I was washing all over and felt something in my left breast and thought, ‘Hmm, what is that?’ I went to the doctor, and it was fairly new to my doctor.” For Alice, now 86, and her family, faith has been the biggest support through her cancer battle and the following years. She still is an active member of the Second Baptist Church in Dixon, and she is eternally grateful to her son, James A. Edwards, 67, who is retired, and niece, Phyllis Simpkins, 65, a caregiver, who have always been by her side. She also appreciates her family, “who were great and always there for me.” For her family, cancer has impacted their lives in so many ways. Her sister recently has been diagnosed with cancer, but other members of her family also have battled cancer. Her older sister, Barbara, Phyllis’ mother, died of stomach cancer as did her mother. “Her mother had cancer, but they did not realize that she had cancer until they went to remove her gallbladder,” James said. “She died about 6 months later, and she really never had any symptoms show up that would point to cancer.” For Alice, the biggest effects of the cancer were the changes in her personality. “I was always tired. I just didn’t want to be bothered, which is the opposite of my normal self,” she said. “Sometimes, I had to be still and that

Philip Marruffo/

Alice Collins still is an active member of the Second Baptist Church in Dixon, and she is eternally grateful to her son, James A. Edwards, 67, who is retired, and niece, Phyllis Simpkins, 65, a caregiver, who have always been by her side. was rough on me. I always felt better when I was doing something.” Her goal throughout her battle was to return to work as a nurse. “I asked the doctor how soon I could come back, and he said you have had cancer, but with your attitude you could come back to work tomorrow.” Her attitude toward cancer also greatly affected how her

family reacted throughout her battle. “Knowing the person she was and [that] she made the decision made a difference,” James said. “I came into town and she told me what was going on and she told me she was OK. Once she told me that, the feelings of dread and dire went away. I didn’t have a long process of worrying because she took the worry away.”

“Many times she was supporting us, “Phyllis said. “I didn’t even know she was sick until she was already back to work. She is always more concerned about how we were feeling than herself.” Fiercely independent, Alice continues to drive and enjoy her life to the fullest. She sings, writes poetry and continues to work with Sunday school children at her church.

She also has words of wisdom for those who are battling cancer and their families. “Throughout my experience, I cried a few times, but I never gave up or lost faith in God. I always listened to my doctors and did what they told me to do, and it did help. Do what the doctors tell you to do, they know what they are doing and they want you to survive.”

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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


Grateful for the little things Sense of humor helps Cheryl Gilbert her experiences there. “I tell the girls, ‘I’m here heryl Gilbert, 68, to get my Kool-Aid,” which a slim and lively, is how she refers to her quick-witted and chemotherapy. Her treathumorous, silver-haired ment days are referred to woman, wears her hair as “party days.” cut into a pixie, just as she Cheryl was diagnosed did when she and her late with multiple meyoloma, husband, Vince, met. a form of bone-marrow She lives with her little rat cancer, 13 years ago. terrier, Darla, in a small, She still undergoes biopbrick-front ranch in Grand sies and chemotherapy Detour. She has a music as part of her ongoing room with an old piano treatment. The treatment that Vince once played. is completed in 3-week Light, from two stuncycles, followed by 1 week ningly beautiful stained off. She teases the nurses glass windows that were by accusing them playfulrescued from a demolly “of just spending their ished church building days, picking on people.” years ago, dances on Cheryl said she tries the piano. Cheryl keeps to maintain a healthy her yard and home tidy sense of humor about her and spends a large part years of treatment. She of each day dusting and sincerely appreciates the cleaning, or picking up friendship of her nurses, sticks in her yard. who gave her a framed She has to hire out to get picture of herself and the mowing done, because Darla together. Her curshe can’t start a mower by rent condition is regarded herself. But, she explains, as “stable,” not “in remisdoing the work over and sion.” She says many over helps to pass the time people are surprised that as the days creep past. She she’s survived as long as and Darla often walk the she has because the disperimeter of her yard, or ease is typically considup and down the street in ered to be an aggressive front of her home, picking form of cancer. up litter, anything to pass Cheryl has had three the time. stem-cell transplants at She hates to cook, but Rush University Medical loves ice cream and cookCenter, spent 6 weeks at ies or cake. She does try to KSB Hospital and 3 weeks eat healthy, simple meals. at CGH Medical Center. Cheryl tries to keep a She said all her siblings positive outlook on life, have dealt with some form and looks forward to the of cancer. days her nurse, Patty As a result, her stem-cell Powers, comes to visit – transplants required that or the days she goes to cells be harvested from treatment at the clinic in her own body. Dixon. She is delighted At first, Cheryl stayed by the care she gets there. with her brother and With a laugh, she shares his family after her first BY LONNIE MILLER Special to Bravehearts


hospitalization, but now has regular visits from her nurse, who takes her to clinic appointments, shopping, and out for lunch. “We go for lunch, where I have an omelet and Patty always buys me two pieces of pie to bring home. Then we go to Culver’s before we come home and get ice cream.” Every 3 to 5 weeks, they get together and take care of Cheryl’s medical or household needs, but Cheryl drives herself to many appointments, even those when biopsies are performed. Cheryl said she tries to send Patty a card after those visits. She’s so thankful, she says, “I don’t let Hallmark do all the work, I try to write a thank-you in each card.” She said sending cards is another way to pass the time, and to spread kindness to others. “I like to encourage others when I can, and I try to help others, and to always be kind to all,” Cheryl said. She likes living in Grand Detour, where she feels safe and says her neighbors are helpful in an emergency. She said her neighbors were extremely helpful when Vince collapsed on the floor after suffering a heart attack. They helped her with funeral arrangements and many other details. She’s grateful for the little things. The only thing she would like to change Alex T. Paschal/ is that she wishes someCheryl Gilbert of Grand Detour was diagnosed with multiple meyoloma, a form of times someone would bone-marrow cancer, 13 years ago. bring her a cookie.

/CTOBER sSauk Valley Media



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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


‘I survived cancer’

Braeden Peska beat the odds BY KIMBERLY WATLEY Special to Bravehearts

added, “It’s been a while.” His grandmother, Jeanne Peska, e may be only 10, but said, “It’s pretty amazing considering Braeden Peska knows he has they gave him a 50 percent chance accomplished something of making it. He defied the odds, and extraordinary. I know faith played no small part in “Not many people get through it. I that. survived cancer,” he said proudly. “That is when you put it in God’s At just 4, when he was diagnosed, hands,” she said, choking up. “We doctors initially thought he had a would not have wanted him to stay if sinus infection. The first indication that meant nothing but suffering.” was some swelling on the right side of One of the side effects of chemo is his face. that it compromises the immune sysWhen the first round of antibiotics tem. Braeden experienced repeated didn’t clear him up, he was prescribed infections and extended hospital more. stays. He had trouble maintaining his After those failed, his doctor sugweight. gested he wasn’t being given his medWatching her grandson wither, she ication properly. said “It is the toughest thing to watch That was when his father took him a child go through. And it was very for a second opinion. difficult seeing my son go through “If something doesn’t seem right, this with his son.” keep asking, even if you have to go to In February, the Peska family marks a different doctor,” William warns. Braeden’s 5 years of remission. There It is what saved his son’s life. will be early celebrations beginning “The ENT specialist, in 30 seconds in December, to mark the end of his of looking at him, told us it was a treatments. tumor.” “If somebody has to deal with someThat began a year-long whirlwind thing like this,” William said, “even if of doctor’s appointments, biopsies, it looks really bad and they feel things surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are really bad, I’d tell them, just don’t treatments. give up.” A far cry from a sinus infection, his Jeanne said, “Because of his appeardiagnosis was Stage 4 Rhabdomyosar- ance, the doctors worried how he coma. It is a cancer that develops in would be received socially. He hasn’t the soft tissues of the body. had any problems at all. He is very His lower jaw, where the bulk of outgoing, a very fun, likeable personthe malignant tumor was, had to be ality, has a funny sense of humor and removed. The mass was attached to he is a deep thinker. Even before his his brain, and there were cancer cells diagnosis, they nicknamed him Little found in his bone marrow. Old Man, because he came up with Immediately, he was sent to St. Jude things that were beyond his age.” Children’s Research Hospital in Peoria. If anything, his grandmother said, her It all took a toll on him. He went from little daredevil is even more outgoing. being a very energetic little boy to not Each year, he attends a camp for having much spark at all. Being stuck cancer survivors. There he is able to in a hospital bed and undergoing pain- go horseback riding, zip lining and ful medical procedures almost proved rock climbing. to be too much for him, and his family His favorite subject in school is could do nothing more than pray as math. He likes to play football, they helplessly watched. baseball, kickball and board games. “What I remember most was thinkRecently, he became a Cub Scout, and ing how much I wanted to be able to he has no restrictions. see him grow up,” William said. “Looking back, you can’t believe Braeden said, “I don’t really remem- where he was to where he is now – ber anything.” With a chuckle, he complete opposite,” William said.


Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM

At 10 years old, Braeden Peska, has no restrictions and said there isn’t anything he can’t do, including kicking cancer’s butt.

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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


‘Cancer is not a death sentence’ Humor helped Karen Heflin overcome cancer sisters to cancer. Her older sister, Sandy Carter, died in espite twice battling 2005, and her younger sister cancer, Karen Heflin, Linda Coppetelli, who fought 68, and her family are colon cancer, lost her battle in full of spirit and, more impor2007. tantly, humor. Her diagnosis of lung cancer Diagnosed with colon cancer in a couple of years later hapMarch 2003, Heflin says that she pened differently. just felt sick and was experiencShe went to the doctor ing leg cramps, “nothing really believing she had arthritis, out of the ordinary felt wrong.” but soon found out that canBut once she was diagnosed cer had returned and wrapped with colon cancer and underitself around her ribcage and went surgery, things took a turn lungs. She eventually had for the worse. one-third of her right lung Heflin explains, “Once they removed. were working on my colon, the Before Karen’s battle, the doctors realized that something family did not know of any different was occurring in me cases of cancer within their than in other patients,” Heflin family, but that changed said. when a poem was found that Her daughter, Kim Webdescribed Karen’s aunt’s loss ber, 48, said, “Dr. Powers of her sister to bowel cancer. explained to us that while Seven years free of cancer, operating on her colon, they Heflin and her family depend found polyps, many more on their faith and sense of than in the average cancer humor to overcome anything. patient. Karen playfully reminds her “He told us that he stopped mom, “ I expected an inhericounting after finding more tance, but this wasn’t what than 400 polyps, a sign of FAP.” I had in mind,” while her Familial Adenomatous mother feels that part of her Polyposis, FAP, a hereditary survival over cancer is due cancer gene, is found in about to the fact that they laughed only one in 8,000 patients together and stuck together and, as the Heflin family has throughout the process. realized, greatly increases the While she never felt sorry odds that someone will devel- for herself or complained, she op cancerous cells. suggests to those struggling “The biggest impact was now, “Cancer robs you of your that Dr. Powers told us to get dignity, but just stay positive. checked despite the rarity of It doesn’t discriminate. For this syndrome, Kim said. “He me, it was about being around saved my life and my mothfor my grandchildren and er’s. I didn’t waste any time being able to do things with and went in immediately.” them, like visiting the zoo. “Now I know that I have With faith, will, and hope, you to watch this. Luckily, they can do anything. You can’t didn’t find any polyps in my do anything about it, so you brothers or my sister.” might as well fight it.” However, there is still an Karen’s spirit is stronger increased chance that Heflin than ever, “I am not going Alex T. Paschal/ or other members of her fam- anywhere and they should Karen Heflin’s (inset) daughter, Kim Webber (above) said, “Dr. Powers explained to us that while ily could be diagnosed with know that cancer is not a operating on her colon, they found polyps, many more than in the average cancer patient. cancer. Karen has lost two death sentence.” BY CASSANDRA ZIMMERMAN Special to Bravehearts


/CTOBER sSauk Valley Media



Cancer diagnosing, treatment, awareness and support are but only a few aspects of your life - it is in the journey through the darkest time that you truly see yourself.

You are a Survivor Proud to have been included in these stories of survivors throughout the Sauk Valley area.



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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


‘I’m a chemo girl in a cancer world’ Nine-year-old writes song for Lorna Gillette


BY LONNIE MILLER Special to Bravehearts

orna Gillette and her husband, Todd, have faced a lot of things together. So when Lorna was diagnosed with breast cancer, they faced that together, too. She underwent several tests. She and her husband hoped that they weren’t really facing cancer. Then they despaired when they discovered they were dealing with the Stage 3 variety. Lorna, 49, thought she was going to die. She apologized to Todd for having cancer. Then, they composed themselves and presented a united front when telling their 15-year old son, Rowland. They weren’t sure how to approach the subject for a while, so Rowland, noticing they were acting differently, thought maybe they were angry with him for some reason. Lorna, who is a professional day care provider, said she felt fairly comfortable telling her little charges and their parents about having cancer. Telling her son, she said, was much harder. “He’s taken things pretty well,” Lorna said. “The day care children have been very accepting.” They are all back in her care now that she’s completed chemotherapy. At first, she found church families who would care for the children while she was unable. Now, Lorna often sits with them around her kitchen table answering questions, play-acting different scenarios such as losing her hair and wearing a bandana. She discusses things that might change or happen when she starts radiation treatment, wearing a surgical mask, or talking about being tired after chemo treatment. “They’ve taken polls on how my hair might look once it grows back, will it be wavy or curly? Will it be a different color, or if they don’t like it could they shave it off again?” One 9-year old girl wrote a song for her, “I’m a chemo girl in a cancer world. I wear bandanas, it’s so fantastic. I may have no hair, but who really cares. I’m a chemo girl, in a cancer world.”

Lorna said the children are much easier to deal with than some adults she’s encountered when the family is out in public. “One day we came across some folks who were blatantly staring at me, and talking aloud about the fact that I have cancer. I wanted to say, ‘I am not a funeral procession.’ Our son Rowland came, stepped between us and wrapped his arms around me. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied, ‘I’m protecting you, Mom. I’m going to protect you.’ “ Lorna said she wishes more people understood how uncomfortable it is to be stared at, or to have adults discuss within earshot the fact that she obviously has cancer. “I wish the grown-ups in society could take some classes on how to respond to someone who’s dealing with cancer.” Lorna and her husband have a lot of support, too. It has come from many sources; it’s come from the parents of her day care children, church members and both their families. Many sent flowers. “Those little gestures mean so much, Lorna said” Her doctors and nurse practitioners have been a wealth of information as well as strong, emotional support during her treatment. Sue Hageman, a resource nurse at KSB Hospital, gave Lorna and Todd some helpful advice, “Sue told us, ‘Stay positive, but it’s OK to cry.’ “When we first found out, we got so much unsolicited advice. We had to sort out the good, verifiable information. We were told some crazy, scary stories, it didn’t help,” Todd said. Todd said the day he helped his wife by shaving her head once her hair began to fall out was tough. “I had some very strange feelings,” he said. He gave Lorna a CD with his song for her, “I Won’t Give Up!” Some days Lorna says she plays it over and over. Some days she still cries, and some days she just moves forward.

Alex T. Paschal/

Lorna Gillette said that children are much easier to deal with than some adults she’s encountered when the family is out in public. She wishes more people understood how uncomfortable it is to be stared at, or to have adults discuss within earshot the fact that she obviously has cancer.

/CTOBER sSauk Valley Media



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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


‘She’s always been a fighter’ At 9 months old, Angel Jackson-Eigsti was diagnosed “My sister Wendy is an RN. She was 10 when I was born. ngel Jackson-Eigsti, 48, She remembers a lot of what of Sterling, was just 9 mom and dad were going months old when she through and says I am the reawas diagnosed with juvenile son she is a nurse.” chronic myelogenous leuke“Back then, they wouldn’t let mia. kids come into the hospital to “By the time I got old enough visit, but she would cry for me,” to really understand things, I Wendy recalls. wasn’t critical,” she said. Their mom would talk hospiMost of her memories are tal staff into bending the rules based on the stories her loved as long as Wendy promised ones have shared over the that her little sister would not years. see her cry, too. What she clearly remembers, “You know, at that point, they however, are her doctors, didn’t think she’d make it and whom she always called her that’s why I think they let me boyfriends as a child. in,” Wendy said. Dr. Tom McDonnell, her No. In remission at 18, the can1 boyfriend, would enter the cer came back when she was exam room and she would hur- 28. Stress, illness, “anything riedly hide. really” can bring her out of “Where’s my Angel Puss?” he remission, doctors warned. would call out. Although she was in a nearGiggling behind the door, she fatal accident that took her would wait to jump out and brother Greg’s life, and sufscare him. His over-animated fered a heart attack, she said startled reaction is a fond she has been lucky. memory that still makes her At death’s door in 2004, she giggle. said, “My accident, I saw the “Doctor Tom diagnosed it,” tunnel and everything. I could she said. “We had a lot of fun hear people talking to me but I when I was little. When he was could not respond back. They in his 80s, he had Alzheimer’s, said, ‘Hurry up! We got to work but he remembered me.” on her!’ I don’t know how I surHer lab technician, Steve vived.” Nichols, is her No. 2 boyfriend. “She almost died so many And respiratory specialist times,” Wendy said, looking Larry Thompson is her No. 3 over to Angel with a teary-eyed boyfriend. Each played such a smile, “but she’s always been a large part of her surviving can- fighter.” cer, she said, she would never She even had to fight for a forget them and all they did for family. Married to her high her. school sweetheart, Steve Eigsti, “They were a really special who she met at church, she part of my life.” was told she could never have Her family gets much credit, children. too. Eigsti is Walter “Bluey” and Her daughters, Ashley Knox, Mary Lou Jackson’s youngest 27, Alicia Knox, 25, and Athechild. Her siblings are Donna nia, Knox, 23, are just three Murphy, Cathy “Cook” Lewis, more miracles in her life of Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM Wendy, Bruce and Andy Jackdefying odds. The couple also Angel Jackson-Eigsti, 48, of Sterling, listens as her sister, Wendy Jackson, reminiscences about son, and the late Danny, Susie has 5 granddaughters and one having a baby sister who was fighting cancer. and Greg Jackson Sr. grandson. BY KIMBERLY WATLEY Special to Bravehearts


/CTOBER sSauk Valley Media

Youngest in a family of nine children, she wasn’t the only one stricken, which resulted in the whole family participating in a case study searching for genetic links. Four family members were confirmed to have the inherited leukemia. Wendy said each of the 29 tested, gave blood samples, fingerprints and skin biopsies. “What was strange is, the ones who had it, they all looked alike, like Angel,” Wendy said. The family remains in contact with the institute.




My mother ... this is hard. She was an inspiration. She would do everything with me and she was just always there. When she passed away, I took it real hard. Wendy took my mom’s spot. Whenever I have a problem, she is there for me.

Angel is a strong supporter and has participated in Relay for Life for 5 years – two of which she was awarded longest survivor. Things were touch and go for the first 5 years of her life.


Angel Jackson-Eigsti

Her spleen, appendix, a lymph node and a strawberry birthmark all were removed. Christmas day, her No. 1 boyfriend got a call to come quick. “I just had a cancerous birthmark removed,” she said. “I was

sitting on Wendy’s lap looking at a fish tank. My brothers had cap guns that they must have gotten for Christmas. They were running around shooting, and at the same time, one of my stitches popped. Wendy was wearing

white and she was covered in blood.” Laughing, the sisters said the boys thought they shot her. “I was covered in her blood, but being 10 years older, I knew it had nothing to do with the cap guns,” Wendy recalled. “My mother…” Angel said, fighting tears, “this is hard. She was an inspiration. She would do everything with me and she was just always there. When she passed away, I took it real hard. Wendy took my mom’s spot. Whenever I have a problem, she is there for me.”



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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


‘I left it in the Lord’s hands’ Faith, support helped Shirley Tyner through take some stuff out of your spine, then they put the n February, Shirley chemo in the same spot. Tyner, 86, of SterI felt like somebody was ling, will celebrate helping me get on that 2 years of being cancertable each time, like I had free. angels with me.” Following a routine Tyner’s in-home carecheckup, her doctor said, giver, Lori Hartle, said “Something isn’t right.” one thing is clear: “She “I had regular blood was so brave through the work because I was anewhole thing. And from the mic,” she recalls. “He start said, ‘We are going called me in and said to beat this…’” I think we need more “And I did,” Tyner interblood work. Then I had a jected. bone marrow test. Then, Her support team – her he told me I had nonniece Pam Shoffner, HarHodgkin’s lymphoma.” tle and many friends at Her doctor didn’t mince Sterling Tower — all were words. The cancer was at praying for her, which Stage 4, she already had she said helped her get a pacemaker, and at 84, through the tough times. there wasn’t much hope “I have a saying I go by, of survival. and I read it every single Although shocked by the day,” Tyner said. news, she was ready to “When trials intrude to accept her diagnosis. But slow down your life, it not without a fight. would be easy for you to “I accepted the fact that give in, but by perseverI had cancer, but I was ance you’ll overcome ready to be done with it. strife. So just keep on They were going to treat plodding, with Christ you me, but they didn’t know can win. When the world if it would help at my says, ‘Give up,’ hope age. I left it in the Lord’s whispers, ‘Try it one more hands. I believed if he time.’” wanted me to live, he was Shoffner said very little going to let me live.” slows her aunt these days. Her body took well to She participated in Relay chemotherapy. for Life, walking a victory “Did better than they lap with other survivors expected me to,” she said last year, and already has with raised eyebrows and expectations of being a broad smile. there in upcoming years. She underwent a spinal “I walk just fine by tap for each of her six myself. I just don’t walk treatments. fast as I’d like,” Tyner “I’m telling you, at my said, wearing her survivor age, it wasn’t easy,” she Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM medallion. “My advice to said as her smile faded. anyone with this, I’d say, Backed by her support team, Pam Shoffner (left) and her in-home caregiver Lori Hartle, Shirley Tyner proudly “You have to lay on your fight back. That is all they wears her Relay for Life medal. She was honored to participate and walk a victory lap last year after defying stomach a long while. They can do.” the odds by beating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. BY KIMBERLY WATLEY Special to Bravehearts


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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013



‘Who is going to want me ...?’

Emily Geil-Taylor, 37, was just 17 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She has been in remission since Sept. 27, 1994.

Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM

Emily Geil-Taylor had a hysterectomy at age 17 BY KIMBERLY WATLEY Special to Bravehearts


t 17, Emily GeilTaylor was, like most high school seniors,

focused on graduation. She had 3 weeks to go and would be leaving home, headed to Norway, where she would stay for a year as a

Rotary foreign exchange student. Her parents, Linda and David Geil, hosted students from abroad. Her brother,

Marc, spent a year in Japan, and finally, it was her turn. She corresponded with her host family and was eager to meet them.

Looking forward to the next chapter of her life, she felt a bladder infection coming on and decided to get it taken care of before she left.

/CTOBER sSauk Valley Media

She already waited a month or two, hoping the symptoms of bladder pressure, frequent urination and inconsistent pains would go away on their own. Her plans came to a screeching halt. With no history of cancer in her family, Emily would be the first. “I went to the appointment by myself,” she said. “Mom had offered to take off work, but I said, ‘No it is something simple.’ Next thing I know I was having my first ever pelvic exam.” The doctor thought she was pregnant, but she knew that wasn’t possible. He said her uterus was very full. She was sent for lab work and an ultrasound. The blood test revealed she was not pregnant, but the ultrasound technician said he saw something there – filling her uterus. They told Taylor it would be 3 days before results would be available. She went back to school but was pulled out of class her first day back. Still unsure what they were facing, her mom picked her up early and brought her straight to the doctor’s office. “He told us I needed surgery and said there was a possibility it was cancerous,” Taylor said. “But based on our family history, they suspected they would be removing a fluid-filled cyst.” He warned, however, if he went in and found cancer, he might have to remove some of her reproductive system. Nevertheless, he would try to save as much as possible. “I ended up having a complete hysterectomy,” she said. “The hardest thing for me … [was] being told I wouldn’t be able to physically have children. It is something I always wanted.” Hidden inside of her 120pound frame, surgeons found two tumors; one the size of a football, the other as large as a grapefruit. She had Stage 3B ovarian cancer, the silent killer. “I had a boyfriend at the time; he was supportive. But longterm, me not being able to have children was a big deal. He is from a different culture, and in a sense, that was a downfall to our relationship.”



Photos submitted

Emily Geil-Taylor’s son, Brice, hands out balloons to survivors at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. All of her plans, current and lifelong, had changed in a matter of 3 days. “Mom was told when I woke up to get the nurses and call dad home from work,” Taylor said. “I still remember my dad standing on the right hand side of my bed, mom on the left and my oncologist at the foot of the bed. “I remember my dad holding his red handkerchief, and I asked Mom if everything was OK. I asked the question about my trip to Norway if I’d be able to go.” The oncologist suggested perhaps there was a pavilion at Epcot for Norway. “I think that is probably the closest you are going to get to Norway because this isn’t a good prognosis,” he told the teen and her parents. “I don’t know if you’ll be at your graduation in 3 weeks.” Her story appeared in the Daily Gazette and the community gathered around her and her family. Their church community, neighbors, family and friends brought meals, sent flowers and offered prayers and well-wishes.

At CGH Medical Center, Taylor said the entire staff went above and beyond. “They were amazing and they were very good to me. They let my friends come in, they’d bring in a movie cart, would let them stay past visiting hours just to keep things normal for me. “Technically I should have been in pediatrics, but they advocated for me to be on the adult floor. When you’re told you can’t have children, and then to be around them like that was too hard and they knew that.” Tearfully, the 37-year-old said, “I wonder when I read about other children in the community who die from cancer, why not me? Why them?” She calls the pain she feels survivor’s guilt. Officially in remission since Sept. 27, 1994, to get there, she underwent a complete hysterectomy, removal of lymph nodes and her appendix, chemotherapy treatments and underwent some experimental treatments. It took everything she had to walk across the field to gather

with the other Sterling High School graduates, but she made it. She also made the trip to Norway. “It was awesome. They had a big Bavarian dog, his name was Billy. I was cross country skiing with my host dad, and was too weak to make it back. He hooked a harness onto me and the dog, and he took me back to the car.” Smiling with childlike excitement, she said, “It really was awesome.” Through it all, Taylor said, “A lot of good has come out of this.” Her parents founded the Whiteside County Relay for Life chapter, which she has been a part of since its inception 18 years ago. She remembers their first meetings held at her family’s dining room table. Last year, Taylor was the Relay for Life Committee Chair for Survivors. And her son was on the committee with her. In tears, she said, “I used to think, ‘Who is going to want me if I can’t provide a family?’ Fortunately, when we were dating, I told my husband [Adin] upfront. He is a junior, so I

thought, ‘Oh great! The family name thing,’ So his response was, ‘You don’t have to make them to love them.’” The couple has been married for 13 years, and have two children they adopted from St. Petersburg, Russia. Brice, now 11, was 15 months, and Alena, now 7, was 21 months. “I took that hard, really hard, but now I have my kids,” she said, beaming. “They are my kids. Doesn’t matter if I physically gave birth to them or not. And the crazy thing is, they kind of look like me. I always say my husband is the adopted one because he has dark hair.” Plenty of people helped her beat the silent killer, she says. “I had this inner conversation with God, and I felt he just said, ‘Everything is going to be OK.’ From then on that is how I still live my life. I can have a crummy day, especially in my line of work [Lutheran Social Services of Illinois], but I always think, ‘What should I take from this? What good came from this?’ Without this experience, I wouldn’t have been able to bring two children home from the orphanage.”


3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013



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‘Don’t keep it all inside’ Faith helped Carol Stingley overcome lung cancer


BY LUCINDA HALL Special to Bravehearts

till weak and recovering, there is strength in Carol Stingley’s voice that speaks to her positive outlook about the future. “I want to be able to see my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up,� she said. “I have graduations, birthdays and weddings to look forward to, so I have to take care of myself.� Stingley, 66, a widowed mother with four children, five grandchildren and three greatgrandchildren, worked at a local factory for more than 15 years before health problems prevented her from working.


It just dawned on me. I’m too young to die. So I went down to the hospital chapel and talked to the Lord. ‘I need you’ I told him. My faith got me through a whole lot of stuff.

The story of this Sterling resident really begins more than 5 years ago when she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a heart rhythm disorder that has left her with chronic rapid heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness. No stranger to the hospital,

Carol Stingley

it was an A-fib episode that led to an emergency room visit at CGH Medical Center in November 2012. A subsequent chest X-ray that day could be called an ironic blessing in disguise when a small spot on her lung was discovered. “Carol, you have lung cancer,� were the chilling words from


her doctor after further tests. “I thought it was just my heart! It was a good thing I was laying down or I would have gone through the floor,� Stingley said. “I was so shocked and so scared.� A nonsmoker, she is quick to mention that lung cancer can happen to anyone.

“I just want people to realize you don’t have to smoke to get cancer.� It was the emergency room visit that led to the very early detection of her cancer. Just a month later, on Dec. 28 at SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford, a portion of Stingley’s lung was removed. The reality hit her hard just before surgery. “It just dawned on me. I’m too young to die,� she shared. “So I went down to the hospital chapel and talked to the Lord. ‘I need you’ I told him. My faith got me through a whole lot of stuff.� CAROL STINGLEY CONTINUED ON 22

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3AUK6ALLEY-EDIAsOctober 16, 2013


‘I wasn’t happy about it, but it happened’ CAROL STINGLEY CONTINUED FROM 21

Her surgery was followed by 12 weeks of chemotherapy at CGH. While she suffered many of the painful and unpleasant side effects of the treatments, she takes some pride in tolerating them well and considers it a personal victory that she did not lose all her hair. “It was a little thing, but made me feel better.” She remembered a special nurse at CGH by her first name only. “Barbara was so amazing. I was so scared and just cried and cried,” Stingley said. “She was so kind and explained everything to me. She was the best nurse.” “Carol, you’re cured,”

was her doctor’s proclamation after treatments. “I know I’m not out of the woods and I have to continue to have checkups. I know there is always a chance it could come back,” she said. Still, she is very positive about her prognosis. During her recovery, she has relied on her children, her dog Allie and “the Lord” for emotional support. “Dogs can sense when you’re sick and they stick by you,” she said of Allie, a black pug who is her constant companion. And she has some advice for others facing cancer treatments. “Talk to people. Don’t keep it all inside. Let them know what you’re feeling, that you’re hurting and you need their help,” she said. “Too often people

avoid you out of their own fear about cancer.” Still weak, she looks forward to gaining strength so that she can return to simple pleasures like taking walks, mowing her yard and shopping. She continues to avoid crowds and is sensitive to being around others where she might pick up an illness that could delay her recovery. At times she still admits to being exhausted. “I just take it really slow, but I have a reason to live. I have my family, my home, friends and my dog,” she reflected. “I am blessed. They found the cancer and got it. I wasn’t happy about it, but it happened. I talk to the Lord, and he’s watching over me.”


I just take it really slow, but I have a reason to live. I have my family, my home, friends and my dog. I am blessed. They found the cancer and got it. I wasn’t happy about it, but it happened. I talk to the Lord, and he’s watching over me. Carol Stingley




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Nutritious food a friend to cancer survivors

Roasting and Toasting (nuts and seeds) This process releases the nuts’ natural oils and increases their flavor. Roast nuts at 325 F on a sheet pan. The roasting


time depends on the type and quantity of nuts. Roast almonds


illions of people across the globe receive a cancer diagnosis each year. While that diagnosis can initially be devastating, it’s important to note that many cancer patients survive the disease and go on to live productive lives.

for 10 to 15 minutes, pistachios for 8 to 10 minutes, pecans for 7 to 8 minutes, and pine nuts for

Advocacy is a significant part of many cancer survivor’s lives. Cancer survivors often become strong supporters of cancer research so one day others won’t have to endure the disease. Whether they’re supporting cancer charities that fund cancer research, spreading the word about cancer prevention in their communities or participating in events aimed at raising awareness about cancer, cancer survivors are a source of inspiration to their friends, family members and neighbors.

only 2 to 4 minutes. Roast a lot at one time, some to eat and some to freeze. To toast, place seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat.

But as much as cancer survivors tend to do for others, they should also take steps to ensure their own health. Diet is a great way to do just that. A healthy meal can provide the nourishment cancer survivors need as they get back in the swing of things and continue their lives going forward. And such meals need not be void of flavor, as the following recipe for “Asian Japonica Rice Salad With Edamame” from Rebecca Katz’ “One Bite At a Time: Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends” (Celestial Arts) can attest.

Asian Japonica Rice Salad With Edamame


1 cup toasted cashews (see box) 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro ½ cup chopped fresh basil 1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds (see box) 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar 3 tablespoons tamari 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger 2 cloves garlic, minced ¹/8 teaspoon cayenne ¼ cup sesame oil 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice ¹/8 teaspoon sea salt ½ teaspoon maple syrup

Don’t walk away from the stove or the

Serves 8

seeds will be toast

2 teaspoons sea salt 2 cups black Japonica rice, rinsed and drained 1 cup shelled edamame beans 1 cup peeled and thinly sliced celery, sliced diagonally 1 cup peeled and shredded carrots ½ red bell pepper, diced ½ cup thinly sliced scallions, green and white parts, sliced diagonally

— not toasted. Shake

In a medium pot, bring 4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and return to a boil. Cover, decrease the heat and simmer until tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Pour the rice onto a sheet pan and fluff with a fork to separate the grains and cool. In another medium pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil

the pan over the heat until the seeds become fragrant, about 3 minutes.

over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt and blanch the edamame until just tender, about 1 minute. Transfer to a colander, rinse with cold water, and set aside. In a bowl, combine the rice, celery, carrot, red pepper, and scallions. Prepare the dressing by whisking the vinegar, tamari, ginger, garlic, cayenne, sesame oil, toasted sesame oil, lime juice, salt, and maple syrup together. Toss the rice mixture with the dressing. Stir in the beans, cashews (reserve a few for garnish), cilantro, and basil. Top with the sesame seeds and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve in a salad bowl, garnished with cashews.

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