2011 Honorary Co-Chairs
My journey with cancer started in the summer of 1998 when I was 44 years old. My son was entering his senior year of high school and my twin girls were going into the 6th grade. Through a self breast exam, I discovered a lump in my breast. Shortly after the cancer was diagnosed, I had a lumpectomy. I then received several months of chemotherapy followed by 30 radiation treatments and an additional 2 months of chemotherapy. My options for this type of therapy were pretty limited, considering my lengthy family history of cancer on my mother’s side of the family. I tolerated my treatments well enough to be able to maintain my daily activities and attend my children’s events, as that was a very important part of my life. I am, after all, their biggest (and loudest) fan!
I got along fine for 4 years and was then diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, called Multiple Myeloma, in November of 2002 at the age of 49. This was a rather rare cancer 7 years ago, but more and more people are being diagnosed every year as doctors learn more about the disease. Multiple Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Our body uses plasma cells to help fight diseases by producing antibodies. In Multiple Myeloma, these plasma cells grow uncontrollably in the bone marrow and they actually form into tumors in the bones. As these tumors grow it makes it harder for the bone marrow to create good cells, like red and white blood cells and platelets. When the body can’t create these ‘good’ cells, it can cause anemia and people are more likely to develop infections. The bone tumors also cause bone pain and possibly fractures. When I was diagnosed, I had 7 fractures in my spine. I had been doing a lot of yard work and was working in the shelter belt and pulling large fireweeds. I developed a back ache that wouldn’t go away. During this month of back aches, I also developed a cough that I couldn’t get rid of. After a long month of these symptoms, a bone marrow biopsy revealed Multiple Myeloma. By the time the cancer was discovered 75% of my plasma cells were affected. I went on a regimen of Dexamethasone for 4 months and when that drug became ineffective I proceeded with a stem cell transplant.
I collected my own stem cells through a unique procedure called apheresis, which is similar to kidney dialysis. I was then treated with chemotherapy that killed off my entire immune system. After the chemotherapy regimen was complete, the stem cells were infused back into my body and I patiently waited for them to engraft and start reproducing red and white blood cells and platelets. This whole process included a 3 month stay at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. I responded well to the treatment and was in remission for about 6 ˝ years. The cancer returned the summer of 2009 but this time the gene was mutated, which made it more difficult to diagnose and treat. This time my plasma cells were 85% compromised. I was first treated with an oral chemotherapy called Revlamid. I had a great response and it held the cancer in check for 6 months. Just like that, the drug stopped working and the cancer was back in full force. I decided to have a second stem cell transplant in January of 2010. After that I was put on a maintenance chemotherapy of Velcade. I received this once every 2 weeks and took it for about 1 year. I went back to Mayo Clinic for my yearly checkup in January of 2011 and the blood work showed some problems. Another bone marrow biopsy showed that I was again out of remission. I had no real symptoms, so this was quite a shock. I continued on the same chemo, only at a much higher dose. I went through 2 ˝ months on this drug and did not tolerate it well. During this 2 ˝ months, my children researched homeopathic supplements for MM. They found a supplement called curcumin, which I started taking in February. Since taking this supplement, I have seen a significant reduction in the compromised plasma cells in my bone marrow. I am now back to a maintenance dose of the chemo again and hoping to maintain at this level.
I’m now just enjoying every day with family and friends and also planning my daughter’s wedding. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it weren’t for my son, Aaron, and his dedicated research to helping me get better, my two daughters, Ashley & Allison, for being my very own personal caretakers and my sisters, Jerilyn & Joyce, for helping my children carry this load. I feel like God has truly blessed me with strength to keep battling the obstacles He has put in front of me, and my family and friends to keep me motivated.
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2009 following a free blood screening at Cabela's. The cancer was confirmed following a physical examination performed by my local physician Dr. Doug Holum.
I selected Dr. Darlys Hofer of the Sioux Falls Urology Specialists to be my urologist and he performed the biopsy on my prostate. The biopsy showed that one-third of my prostate was cancerous. Mulling over the various options provided to me by Dr. Hofer, I decided to have the prostate removed robotically. The surgery was performed at Sanford on December 4, 2009.
Even though the surgery was deemed a success, there was always a possibility that not all of the cancer would be eliminated surgically. This possibility happened to me. We discovered during a post-surgery PSA test that my levels were rising and something more needed to be done. We decided on a 6 month program of hormone therapy to try and slow the cancer growth. I received Lupron injections. Enduring hot flashes, night sweats, body aches, and weight gain would be worth it if we could slow the cancer down. Unfortunately, the hormone therapy didn't bring my PSA level down to an acceptable number and I decided on radiation treatment. I underwent 32 radiation treatments at Queen of Peace Cancer Center under the direction of Dr. Stephen Dick. I finished with the treatments on December 16, 2010.
I recently had a follow up PSA test and my number is still high. My doctors have encouraged me to wait 3 months and have another test administered. Hopefully my number will have dropped and we will have good news to report.
I would like to thank the Heart and Sole committee for selecting me to be an honorary co-chair. I am thrilled and humbled to be included in the festivities. I wish to thank all those people who have come forward and wished me well and a special thanks to my family for their love and support through this most difficult time.
Finally, I encourage all men ages 50 and older to have their PSA's checked regularly. Early detection of prostate cancer is the key!
Xavier is the 4 year old son of Craig Valandra and Deanna Flood. He has a sister Simone who is 11, and a brother, Marquel who is 8. Xavier was diagnosed March 12, 2009, with ALL (Acute Lympho Leukemia) at the age of 2. ALL is cancer of blood cells. It develops in the bone marrow, which is the soft tissue in the center of the bones where blood cells are made. ALL is a cancer in which young abnormal infection fighting white blood cells, called blasts, crowd out the normal bone marrow cells and spread into the blood system. Blasts also spread to the brain, spinal cords, testicles, and organs.
Xavier had been spiking fevers, keeping his parents up all night with crying and saying he had “owies” for several months prior to being diagnosed. They had taken him to the pediatrician several times, only to be told that he was spoiled, teething, or having growing pains. Then one night they decided to take him to the ER as they knew something was wrong with their little boy. They found out the next morning that he had leukemia. At that moment all they could do was cry. For months they had been trying to figure out why he had been telling them something was wrong. They had to get him to Sioux Falls soon, to find out what kind of Leukemia he had. What a horrible experience for a parent, to watch your child be poked, and in pain.
Five months after being diagnosed, he went into remission. Xavier has been having spinal taps every 3 months, and has been on chemotherapy for 2 years now. After one more year of treatment, he will hopefully be done.
Xavier loves to go to The Children's Castle in Sioux Falls. The staff are now friendly faces, and he is not scared to receive treatment. He is a strong and very brave little boy!
This has been hard financially and emotionally for the family. It not only affects Xavier, but his older siblings as well. They have been limited to certain activities because of Xavier's sickness. He can get sick easily if his counts are down, with colds and ear infections. Something like a hangnail could put Xavier in the hospital. He can't go swimming at a public pool, go to daycare, or get to enjoy a park when he wants. Xavier does weekly visits with The Home Base Program through Early Headstart and looks forward to going to school and being able to play with other kids and make new friends.
The family was able to take a trip to Disney World though Make A Wish inApril 2010. They had to wait till Xavier's counts were up, and have the doctor's approval. They stayed at “Give Kids the World Village.” While there, he got to see many of his favorite characters, as well as The Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios, Universal Studios, and Sea World.
The children at Longfellow Elementry did a penny drive for Xavier, and surprised them with a check at the Spring Concert. When the family needed it the most, Heart and Sole Cancer Assistance was there to help. In March of 2011, Xavier and his parents participated in the radio-thon on 104.7 with Mel and Andy. Xavier and his family are very thankful for and truly appreciate all the help that has been given to them by their community and some special people in their lives.