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They're beating the odds

Area cancer survivors gather to celebrate life

Area cancer survivors gather to celebrate life

June 05, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WILLIAMSPORT

About a half-century ago, doctors warned one little girl's family that she might not survive past childhood.

Andrea Myers lived, then proved untrue another of the doctors' prognostications - she had children of her own, and then watched them have children.

As a cancer survivor of 54 years, Myers was among the elite group of long-timers at a picnic for cancer survivors Sunday in Williamsport. According to numbers provided by Linda Shroyer, who handles cancer statistics for Washington County Health System, 441 cancer survivors and 577 guests attended the John R. Marsh Cancer Center's annual picnic at the Williamsport Red Men Lodge.

Myers, 56, said the picnics drew only a handful of people to City Park when she started attending years ago.

She said she was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the bones and glands when she was 19 months old.

"I was treated for it up to the time I was 13 years old, but they told my parents I wouldn't live past the age of 4, if I lived that long," Myers said.

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She also was told that she would not be able to have children.

The picnic's guests are "living testimony that one can deal with the cancer, can get treatment, and go on and have a meaningful and purposeful life," Dr. Frederic Kass III said.

As medical director of the cancer center, Kass said patients are benefiting from earlier diagnoses and better treatments.

"I don't think we have seen as much progress as we would like, but clearly, we are seeing patients being cured now who wouldn't have been cured before," Kass said.

After a stroke and two bouts with Guillain-Barr syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that can cause paralysis, George Henicle, 67, of Hagerstown, said he knows positive thinking is an important factor in getting better.

He finished treatments for cancer one year ago, he said.

"A lot of it is between your ears, you know?" Henicle said as he talked to other cancer survivors sitting at his picnic table.

For cancer statistics registrar Shroyer, a 21-year cancer survivor, and several other women, family responsibilities and children provided the only incentives they needed to keep fighting.

"I had a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old (at the time). 'Who's going to take care of my babies?,'" Shroyer recalled thinking.

Margaret Sigler, 88, has lived 53 years since being diagnosed with cancer. She walked arm in arm with her daughter, a nine-year cancer survivor, as the two filled their plates at the picnic.

"I had two children at home, and that's what encouraged me not to give up," said Sigler, of Smithsburg.

Tutored at home and sequestered from her siblings, Myers said she never felt sorry for herself, but learned to appreciate what she had.

"Count each day as a blessing, and treat each person as you would want them to treat you," said Myers, who still lives in the house where she grew up in Pinesburg.

Myers had cancerous polyps removed a few years ago. Because she has had four hip-replacement surgeries, her mobility is limited, but Myers said that's not stopping her.

She plans to participate in this year's Relay for Life at South Hagerstown High School.

"As long as I'm able to walk, I go. I can't go far, but I go," Myers said.

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