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Cancer survivors celebrate life

May 26, 2000|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Larry Wegner's cancer nightmare started in early 1998 with night sweats.

"I would wake up two, three times a night soaking wet. I had to change my shirt," remembers Wegner, 29, of Sharpsburg, who didn't see a doctor about the problem or the large lump he discovered on his clavicle soon afterward.

cont. from lifestyle

It wasn't until a couple of months later, when he visited the doctor for sinus drainage and chest tightness, that he found out the earlier problems were symptomatic of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

After chest X-rays showed Wegner's lungs were farther apart than they should have been, his doctor followed up with a CAT scan that revealed a fist-sized tumor between the lungs. The doctor sent Wegner to an oncologist, who told him it was cancer.

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Even though doctors didn't initially give him a prognosis, Wegner said he became convinced he had only two months to live because of the tumor's location. He told that to everyone.

He was so anxious, he stopped eating and lost weight - before he started the six months of chemotherapy, which left him drained and sick. That was followed by radiation. Following treatment, doctors said the cancer was in remission.

Wegner was fresh from the ordeal when he and his wife, Linda, celebrated his bright prognosis with hundreds of other local cancer survivors and their families last June at the National Cancer Survivors Day picnic at Family Recreation Park on U.S. 40, west of Hagerstown.

"My disease was very treatable. I kind of got lucky," said Wegner, who credits God, above all, for his healing. Thanks to a switch to healthier habits, he feels better than he ever has.

Wegner regrets that he and his family - including his stepson, Devin, and infant daughter, Faith - won't be able to attend this year's survivors' picnic on June 4 because of a conflict with travel arrangements made before he knew the date.

"You get a chance to talk to people and hear the miracles they have to say," he said. "It was really just a great day."

The picnic, sponsored by John R. Marsh Cancer Center, Washington County Health System Inc. and the American Cancer Society, drew 800 people last year, according to Maureen Theriault, public relations supervisor for Washington County Hospital.

In its 13th year, National Cancer Survivors Day is a national day of celebration for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, Theriault said.

"Basically, a survivor is anybody who has made it beyond the diagnosis and is working with their health-care professional. It can be one day or years and years," she said.

 

Not a death sentence

One of the messages of the annual "A Celebration of Life" picnic is that, while serious, a cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, Theriault said.

"Care, treatment and results are changing. People are surviving and going on to live a pretty normal life afterward," she said.

After two bouts with cancer, Bettiejean Grout said she definitely considers herself a "survivor," and has made a point of going to the survivors' picnic every year since her colon cancer surgery a decade ago.

"It's a fun day. You do run into a lot of people that you knew, and you meet a lot of new people," said Grout, 78, of Hagerstown, who can't believe how much the event has grown over the years.

Grout remembers knowing just about everyone at the first picnic at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Memorial Park, which was organized by cancer support group members.

Back then, everyone brought a covered dish to supplement the grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, she said.

Grout's colon cancer was diagnosed early, thanks to her attendance at a lecture on cancer screening at Washington County Hospital and the free home test for blood in the stool all attendees received.

After surgery and six months of chemotherapy, which caused all of her hair to fall out and wreaked havoc on her digestive system, Grout's cancer appeared to be in remission. Her hair grew back, and she felt well again.

Three years ago, cancerous nodules were found under her rib cage during gallbladder surgery, so Grout had exploratory surgery, which revealed a tumor in an ovary she thought had been removed during her 1962 hysterectomy.

The tumor was removed and, though slowed a little by age, she said she's feeling pretty good and planning on attending this year's picnic.

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