Wileville woman shares her personal fight with cancer
by Paula Levy

source: southshorenow.ca
published: June 25, 2003

This is a story of one woman's fight with cancer. Through periodic updates, Rosanne Himmelman will share her experience.

WILEVILLE - Armed with a positive attitude and thrust for life Rosanne Himmelman is beginning her second fight against cancer.

Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, the 36 year old found out June 11 that cancer has once again become active in her body and she would need to begin another chemotherapy regime.

"Right now the cancer is growing in rapidly dividing cells and hopefully the chemo will attack it with zealous," says Rosanne.

The young woman has metastatic cancer which means the cancer cells have spread from their site of origin to other areas. In Rosanne's case, the cancer began in her colon but has since spread to her liver and lungs.

Putting a positive spin on her situation is top priority for the local woman who started on her second journey through the cancer care system on June 16. That day she received her first session of chemotherapy at South Shore Regional Hospital.

"I don't let it slow me down," says Rosanne, noting after each chemotherapy session she plans to follow it with a fun activity. Last week after chemo, she and a friend went for lunch and did a little shopping in downtown Lunenburg. "There's a lot of living to be done. You can lie in your bed and wait to die or you can get up and face the world with a positive attitude and do something about it."

Oncology nurse Colleen Cameron-Mosher attended to Rosanne the day of her chemotherapy. She says there is a multitude of things that help cancer patients get well.

"We give them treatment, there's a higher power and...it's attitude. A positive attitude will do far better than a pessimistic attitude," she says.

It's that positive attitude that saw Rosanne get through her first chemotherapy regime and she's hoping it will carry her through this time.

"You go in and have a positive attitude and try to look at this as chemo being your friend...not your enemy. It's helping me and it's going to work," says Rosanne, who also meditates and prays daily that chemo will continue to be her friend.

"It would be nice to get rid of all this but you have to be realistic. I'm not foolish and dreaming but I think that it's reasonable to think that I could get rid of the spots in my lungs...and significantly shrink the tumours in my liver," says Rosanne.

By the time she was diagnosed, cancer had already spread to her liver and lungs. Her extraordinary ability to face misfortune meant that she moved past what could have been and embraced the hand that life had dealt her.

Although metastatic colon cancer is currently incurable, intermittent chemotherapy can manage the disease, prolong life and improve her quality of life.

Ms Cameron-Mosher says maintaining a good quality of life is one of the reasons why patients come for chemotherapy.

     Rosanne Himmelman, Wileville, began her second fight against cancer last week. The 36 year old started chemotherapy at South Shore Regional Hospital after it was discovered that cancer is beginning to once again become active. Paula Levy photo

"If you're giving people a good quality of life or time, you are successful," says Ms Cameron-Mosher about the services at SSRH. "Our goal is now to get her back to where she was."

Rosanne adds that chemotherapy will turn back the clock.

"This [chemotherapy] will turn the clock back. I'm hoping that it will not only turn the clock back to a year ago, it will do even more," says Rosanne, referring to her first battle against cancer which ended a year ago. "I have less cancer in my body than the first time and I have a good 25 pounds on. I'm much stronger than I was. I'm much healthier and my immune system is where it should be."

Rosanne was in Vancouver when her cancer diagnosis came to light. Her university education led her from Halifax to a promotion in Vancouver. The new job was more demanding so she repeatedly attributed her growing fatigue, weakness and weight loss to work stress. After her general practitioner ordered blood tests, the results revealed abnormalities, especially with her liver function. The tests led to an ultrasound and her diagnosis was beginning to unfold.

It was September 25, 2001, when she found out that it was cancer that was making her sick.

"Although you don't want to know, my first question was 'how long do I have?'" remembers Rosanne. The doctor told her that she had six months at the most and as little as a month, depending on where the primary cancer was located. At this point, her liver was identified as possessing secondary cancer.

"Each day my situation seemed to get a little more dire. That month dwindled down to a matter of days...I decided to fly home no matter what," says Rosanne, who was longing to be with her family. On October 6, the primary site for cancer was located. It was in her colon and doctors thought she had as little as two weeks to live. What was worst was she was told chemotherapy was not an option because she was too weak to handle the treatment.

Immediately a friend booked a commercial flight and accompanied Rosanne to Halifax. Once in Halifax, the on-call oncologist thought that she was too weak for chemotherapy. But Rosanne responded that all she needed was a good night's sleep.

The next morning when the doctor returned, after seeing her, he ordered chemotherapy.

The 24 treatments of chemotherapy was so successful the first time that she was able to have surgery to remove the primary cancer in her colon. However, the chemotherapy in her liver and lungs, the secondary sites, did not eradicate the cancer cells. It's in those sites that cancer has once again begun to grow.

"I was quite disappointed to get the news that it has progressed significantly in my liver and I need chemo. But a couple hours later, I put a positive spin on it...I've been expecting it," says Rosanne, anxious to get started on chemotherapy.

The experience has had a profound impact on her life and how Rosanne sees the world. She no longer takes life for granted and takes the time to enjoy the simpler things. She continues to travel and do all the things that she loves about life.

"People need to know that it's not always negative and racked with pain with horrible chemo. I live a pretty full life...I used to worry about things that weren't important. Now I focus on the positive things," says Rosanne.

But each day is a gift for the woman who was only given two weeks to live 20 months ago. The night before chemo, Rosanne says she is anxious to get started and take that first step in her continuing fight to stay alive.

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