Cancer has touched us personally, and because of it, we traveled to Puerto Rico for the first time in 2007. Now it is leading us along a new path, using our combined experiences and knowledge to help others on their journeys. Our personal stories are below.
After more than two years of knowing something wasn’t quite right, I was diagnosed in January of 2006 with follicular Non Hodgkins Lymphoma, or fNHL. My daughter was a senior in high school, and I remember wondering if I would be around until June to see her graduate. After the diagnosis, I went through a battery of tests and talked about options with my oncologist. I became my own advocate, researched available treatment options, and did a self referral to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion. The oncologist I spoke with at Mayo told me about a clinical trial he thought I would qualify for, comparing two methods of administering a drug called Rituxan. Rituxan is a monoclonal antibody that targets the “bad” cells without wiping out the entire immune system. I did qualify for the clinical trial, and had my first round of Rituxan treatments in July of 2006.
During the treatment phase, I felt that I was taking control of the situation. However, once I completed the four rounds of Rituxan, it was as if someone had cut the string on my helium balloon. I felt myself sliding farther and farther away from my family and friends, wondering if the treatments had worked, wondering if I could beat the odds and outlive the statistics. By the fall, Dennis had become very concerned.
June of 2006 marked our 25th wedding anniversary. We had put off any celebration because of the uncertainty of treatments. I had a scan about 3 months after completing the Rituxan regimen and was told there was no evidence of disease. We made plans to take a trip to a warm place in the winter to celebrate our anniversary. We decided on Puerto Rico since we wouldn’t need passports because it’s a U.S. territory, and it is inexpensive to fly there.
That week in January of 2007 was a lifesaver for me. I was able to get my mind off of everything that had happened over the past year. It was a “restorative escape” for me. We loved Puerto Rico, so much so, in fact, that we bought a piece of property that summer, and by the summer of 2010, we had built a vacation cabin.
Now we are taking the next step. We want everyone who has had the experience of being diagnosed with cancer to have the chance to have a restorative escape of their own. Esperanza Renovada will help that dream become a reality.
More about Kathy:
Kathy has a background in architectural drafting, space planning and interior design, and management. She worked as an office space planner for a major insurance company in Illinois before moving to Wisconsin in 1986. She managed a food cooperative and a convenience store. Most recently she has worked as an executive assistant for her local school district. Kathy has helped to manage several of the family’s businesses since 1986, and has used her organizational skills in management positions in private industry as well. In her spare time, Kathy enjoys creating with Silver Beach Sea Glass and listening to music. She is looking forward to using her skills and talents, and her knowledge of what it’s like to be a cancer survivor, to operate the lodge at Esperanza Renovada.
When Kathy was first diagnosed in 2006, our lives were turned upside down. The day she was diagnosed, I got a call from the doctor’s office while she was still driving home from her appointment to say that they had her scheduled with an oncologist the next day. That was how I learned of her diagnosis. The next few days were a horrible roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Kathy went to the web first – what is lymphoma, what can be done, what is the life expectancy, etc. Down! At the appointment the next day, the doctor tells us we have some time to sort this all out and we may not need to do anything right away. Up? Maybe just scan, watch and wait – wait? Wait for what?? Down!
Luckily, Kathy decided to research all of the options thoroughly herself. By the time the scans and tests were done and she went for a second opinion, the second doctor asked if she worked in health care because she knew and understood all of this so well. She decided to join a clinical trial and informed her oncologist that this was the way she wanted to go. More tests were done, and then the first round of treatments.
The waiting for three long months to see if the treatments had done their job was definitely the hardest time for us. Kathy was very depressed just waiting and I hardly recognized the person who shared my home. We talked a lot about moving forward and getting on with life. Once the first post treatment scan was done, showing good results, the long slow uphill climb to our new lives began. We scheduled a trip to Puerto Rico to make up for the 25th anniversary celebration we missed while in the middle of diagnosis and treatments. This was the turnaround that Kathy needed…seven days of sun, beaches, and new experiences every day (and it didn’t hurt that we were on a tropical island in January!). Life was worth living again, and we started making new plans. We bought land in southwest Puerto Rico and built a small home so we could go more often. Now the first thing we do when we return to Wisconsin is to plan the next visit!
This life-changing experience of renewed hope is what we now want to offer to others. While the whole journey has been ups and downs, it has led us to a new path that we could never have conceived without going through those trying times. Hope is what we have now, and plans for the future. We want to share that hope and offer a similar experience to other survivors.
More about Dennis:
Dennis’s work experience includes engineering, building, and design. As staff engineer in a small manufacturing plant from 1977 to 1986, his duties included product design, estimating, production and quality control, purchasing, and sales assistance. From 1986 to the present he has operated a cabinet shop and construction business, building custom homes, cabinetry and fine furniture. In recent years he designed the Polyurt, an easy to assemble full circle shelter building for disaster relief and small homes or cabins. Dennis’s work as a general contractor managing all aspects of building and maintaining houses is well suited to operating the Esperanza Renovada lodge.