My Journey with Breast Cancer
by Chris McHugh
I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer on June 6th, 1997. Those first days were filled with shock, anger, fear, isolation, and a lack of knowledge for the lingo that goes with this disease. I wish someone would have told me I wasn't dying that day, but it sure felt like I had. I certainly didn't feel like a survivor. Mine is a story of faith, love, hope and healing. I have had over 100 chemotherapy treatments to date, bilateral mastectomies, a bone marrow transplant, 6-1/2 weeks of radiation, and 42 days of IL2 injections.
Along with an estimated 8 million Americans, I am a survivor and LIVING with cancer. I still do weekly chemotherapy and Herceptin treatments, but I am living a quality lifestyle. This doesn't just happen. I am blessed with the help of a very caring health team. I take Chemo on Tuesdays, so I feel up to a very active family lifestyle by the weekend. I schedule rest during the day, follow a healthy diet, and exercise daily. I take time for prayer and meditation. I also must find humor and peace in the long moments waiting for appointments, scans, and seeing doctors. I am very educated about my disease which helps me make very important treatment decisions and enables me to push for a quality lifestyle. This may not have been the lifestyle I had envisioned for myself at age 36, but I had to accept that cancer can be a chronic disease. People ask me, ''How did you do it?'', and my usual response is, ''It would have been a lot easier if I knew that I would LIVE!'' My husband has been very patient with me, because I had him married off for the past two years. He simply said to me one day, ''Honey, it will be very hard to remarry when you are always hanging around!'' How many times have you heard the horror stories that everyone is eager to share? My Aunt died from that... blah-blah-blah! I quickly respond, ''WAIT, what part of this story will make me feel better?''
I had previously owned my own beauty shop. I quit the day I was diagnosed. I knew I would need all my energies for healing and inhaling my wonderful family. Patrick, age 9, Brianna, age 7, and my loving husband, Mike. We cashed in all my retirement stocks and had enough to live on for two years. I thought if I had lived, I would, or could, go back to work. When the kids started back to school in the Fall, I started volunteering. I chaired the DeForest ''Relay for Life'' event and helped to take it to one of the ''Top 10'' events in the nation. I helped in the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation office, weekly. I started visiting and praying with the families at the U.W. Childrens Hospital. I was asked to be a ''patient voice'' for a computer based support group called CHESS. I attended the National Relay for Life convention in Minneapolis, MN and flew to Washington DC to march on the mall, demanding more money for cancer research and faster approval of cancer fighting drugs. I have told my story in many newspapers and magazines, both nationally and internationally. I have also been interviewed, along with Linda, for a book about ''Survivors.'' Linda and I are also very honored to serve on the advisory board for the University of WI Comprehensive Cancer Center. Our business has also been featured on every local news channel. There have been some very exciting things happening in my life... but the best part is, I am not working! Tee Hee!
I have lived with cancer and according to my husband, I have spent money like I have six months to live! On this journey I have met incredible people, and some very wonderful people have never left my side. That is what leads to me to the next exciting thing in my life, CHOOSE HOPE™, INC. CHOOSE HOPE™ was formed by my two dear friends, Linda Nielsen and Paula Lundberg, and myself. Linda is a two year survivor as well. She was just weeks away from graduating with a Graphics Arts Degree, and BAM, a cancer diagnosis. She too never planned to work again! (HA HA!) Paula was a small business owner who literally put her life on hold for me. She was a chemo runner, meal planner, and always there to wipe away a tear. Her mother is also a colon cancer survivor. We started making funny buttons for our friends and family. We couldn't keep up with the requests, and we saw the smiles on people's faces in the chemo rooms. The testimonials were wonderful, "I reached in my pocket as my aunt lay in the hospital bed, and I felt the 'CANCER SUCKS' button and knew I wasn't alone." I watched the face of the elderly man as I pinned on his button. His smile lit up the room, and he proudly pointed to his pin as the nurses walked by. As I was eating in the hospital cafeteria one day, I was asked if I knew where to get the button I was wearing, "HAIR TODAY - GONE TOMORROW". This nice lady told me her husband was losing his hair and the button would give him that extra punch he needed to keep fighting. God Bless them all! Linda has also written a small collection of very powerful poetry. These poems make patients feel less isolated, and "My Gift" has been published in the "Coping" magazine.
So to make a long story short... What started around the kitchen table with a button machine and a lot of laughter and love has grown into a business organized to benefit cancer research and services. We have created over 40 humorous and inspirational gift items. With every item sold, our dreams continue to the day when we can say, NO MORE CANCER. That would be the BEST day ever... The day we wouldn't have to WORK!!!
THE MESSAGE IS SIMPLE... CHOOSE HOPE!
In faith, love, hope and healing, Chris McHugh
It is with great sadness that we write this update. At her home on April 2, 2003, surrounded by the people she loved most in the world, Chris McHugh quietly and peacefully passed away.
Chris was the most amazing woman we have ever met. From the moment she was diagnosed, she picked up the gauntlet and gave it her all. Her courage and humor not only carried her through rough times, but us as well. She often used to say, "Your life may be the only Gospel that some people read." At her funeral, we looked out at a sea of nearly 1,000 people, and it was then that we realized just how far her love, compassion, and caring had reached. From the many people in the chemo room whose faces would light up the instant they saw her, to the medical staff who often asked her to mentor those newly diagnosed. From her family who lost a much loved wife, mother, daughter, and sister, to her many friends who lost someone to laugh with and to cry with. And finally to us, Linda and Paula. We came together strangers, but we grew to be much more than just business partners. Even more than friends, we became sisters, and we will miss her tremendously.
Unfortunately her battle was not to be won, but the war continues. Choose Hope, Inc. will be Chris' legacy. She passed the torch to both of us, and we will carry it forward with pride.
This is for you Chris....we hope you are proud of just how far Choose Hope has come and even more so of how far we plan to go.
In Faith, Hope, Love, and Healing,
Linda and Paula
No matter how many years pass Chris.... we miss you just as much now as when we lost you. You're still a huge part of Choose Hope, your presence is felt on a daily basis. This legacy of yours continues to grow and reach out across the world. You did make a difference our friend. Your idea has touched many lives.
Linda and Paula
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