By Stacy Steinhagen
For The Patriot
“You have cancer.” Three words that change if not derail lives.
The words from the doctor last summer might as well have been a million pound weight sitting on knives on my shoulders.
Words like: stage four, fast tracked oncology, chemo is the best option.
My mom’s cancer fight loomed. My head might as well have been underwater, my throat suddenly killed. This can’t be happening. But it was. Runaway train.
We have to do better than chemo. I knew that on day one: June 1, 2016. And I know that today 10 months after the death of my mom, Lynn Steinhagen, on October 9, 2016. I will do whatever I can to bring cancer to its knees. It takes people like my mom from us too soon.
Cancer also took my cool uncle 15 years ago. July 18, 2002, I vowed to fight back on his behalf. He was a nonsmoker and cancer won less than a month after his lung cancer diagnosis.
He is why I became a proud American Cancer Society volunteer six years ago.
Now, serving on a regional and state board and as a proud member of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, ACS CAN, I fight for my mom, too.
ACS CAN is the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society and our nation’s leading voice in the fight against cancer. From where I stand, someone who’s lost a lot because of cancer, it’s not political. ACS CAN supports policies that reduce the cancer burden, ensure patients receive the care they need, and improve the quality of life for cancer survivors and their families.
ACS CAN members are powerful in making sure the voices of cancer patients and survivors are heard by lawmakers.
The American Cancer Society works to provide comprehensive survivorship programs for hospitals, health care professionals, cancer survivors, and caregivers. These programs provide up to date information and resources for managing post–treatment needs and concerns…imagine numb fingers and toes, muscle tone gone, taste buds gone or changed, the sheer PTSD of surviving cancer. Or not surviving.
Early on, my mom was offered specialized care called ‘palliative care’ to deal with the pain of her cancer and manage any number of side effects from her chemotherapy. But June 1 to October 1, she took exactly two pills—they didn’t agree with her and her pain tolerance was high. Her biggest comfort throughout her treatment did come from a member of the palliative care team—a chaplain. When it became clear her cancer would no longer respond to chemo, in those final days, her care team worked to manage her pain.
Though scary, life–changing, and always challenging, I know that the cancer journey is different for everyone. Regardless of your prognosis, we need to continue developing better approaches to care delivery, especially when it comes to tackling the side effects of serious illness today and tomorrow. Quality of life counts and palliative care is quality of life. And I can report good news. A Palliative Care Advisory Council is being formed on a state level to work to improve quality of life through palliative care. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s website is taking applications now for membership.
Another pressing issue: Tobacco 21. Edina recently became the first city to change its ordinance—making 21 the age to buy tobacco products…several other cities— including Mankato— are seriously considering this. Remember when there was smoking in bars and restaurants?? I do. This type of change changes lives.
Another example, did you know the federal government is the largest funder of cancer research dollars? But right now, that research funding is at risk. A billion dollars of cancer research at risk. The proposed cuts in 2108 would set research funding back to the level it was in 2000. Think of how far we have come in cancer research, treatment, and prevention in recent years alone. Why would we turn the clock back?
I am so grateful palliative care was there for my mom when she – and our family – needed it.
As a caregiver for my mom, I understand the importance of a continuum of care and supporting the patients and their loved ones. It’s a scary, tilted, gray world of ‘what do I do’ when someone you love has cancer. It’s like watching a movie – it can’t be your life. But it is. And palliative care teams can help answer the question you ask yourself a billion times a day –what can I do to help her? My mom simply said, ‘I want my life back.’ The idea of digging out from all the fatigue, appetite loss, and in the very end—pain; all I could do was watch and worry about my mom’s nutrition and muscle loss. And the biggest comfort pressing me on when it all felt too hard was a doctor or nurse reassuring me, “you’re doing a good job.” I can’t imagine what our experience would have been like without palliative care.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear about what’s happening right now in Minnesota to bring palliative care to more patients and families, I am inspired and want to take action to do more. If you’re like me, and want to be a part of supporting ACS CAN’s initiatives, now is your chance to support cancer survivors. You’ll join the fight and that means supporting ACS CAN and its mission to ease pain, stress and side effects of cancer. Quality of life matters. And for my mom, she just wanted her life back.
Joining ACS CAN is $10 a year. This is our chance to fight back. Thank you.
Waconia Native, 5, 6 & 10 Anchor at KEYC News 12
Stacy will speak at the closing ceremony of the Relay For Life of Waconia at 1:30 a.m. at the Carver County Fairgrounds.