Lisa’s Story: Spreading Hope as a Volunteer and Survivor

Post by Lisa Decker. Lisa is a 4-year cancer survivor and Cancer Center volunteer at the Rex Patient & Family Resource Center in Raleigh.

Survivor is my Favorite TV show! They take 16 people and drop them off on a tropical island somewhere, with nothing but the few clothes on their backs and a few select personal items. The contestants are of various backgrounds, sexes and ages. None of them have any idea of what they are getting themselves into. For the next 40 days, they participate in various competitions, hoping to win the coveted prize of immunity. Along the way, some of their ‘teammates’ won’t make it—they get voted off, blindsided…some get sick or injured. All of this, on their way to the finale, to win the coveted prize of $1,000,000. It’s kind of weird, but the TV show Survivor, can be compared to surviving cancer. Think about it—you go to the doctor, who tells you, “you have cancer”- it’s like being dropped off in the middle of no where (yes, granted, I would definitely prefer being dropped off on a deserted island, but, hey, go with me here)…with nothing but a bunch of doctors names, and a few select books and the internet to read. For the next months (or years) you, your family and doctors scheme using surgery, drugs and radiation…praying and hoping that you won’t be the one who is blindsided by some weird side effect or worse…battling all for the hope to win the prize at the end: to defeat the scourge of this disease called CANCER.

My name is Lisa Decker and I am a cancer survivor. Four years ago, in April of 2008, at the age of 46, after having a colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with Rectal Cancer. My world, as with most folks diagnosed with cancer, was turned upside down. It came as such a surprise, I became only the second family member to be diagnosed- just 6 months before, my great nephew, only 18 months old, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor! He had surgery and today is a happy and healthy 6 year old!! Two cancer diagnosis’ in less than a year?!? Crazy! But, as with anything in my life, my faith in God, my family and especially my friends, helped pull me through what could have been a very difficult time in my life.

Within 2 weeks, I had that colonoscopy, a ct scan, then surgery. Before the ct scan, I met Kay Yow in the waiting room—which was pretty neat. We talked about what flavor ‘ct shake’ we liked best and of course basketball (I played college b-ball back in the day). After these procedures, they found the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, or stage III. Dr. Moore told me I would have 12 rounds of chemotherapy, split with 35 treatments of chemo/radiation. Someone who became a very dear friend over time and helped me immensely at the beginning of my journey, was Peggy Scott, the GI Patient Navigator at Rex Cancer Center. Peggy was there when I went into surgery, holding my hand until I went into the OR. She was there when I woke up, as well. She came and visited me every day I was in the hospital—though I don’t remember that…boy, did my surgeon give me some good pain drugs or what!?! Before I was discharged she even took me on a tour of the Cancer Center, helping me get over some of the anxiety of what I was about to face.

I began my chemotherapy in June. Every two weeks, one of my girlfriends and I would connect up and head on down to Rex Cancer Center to spend the next 5 hours or so, hooked up to those dreaded pumps at the cancer center. I highly recommend taking a girlfriend/best friend with you when you go for chemo, it makes all the more ‘fun’ (if you can call it that). Then I was attached to another pump for 48 hours at home. My favorite partner was my BFF, Linda. We would watch a Matthew McConaughey movie; and nothing keeps your mind off deathly, nauseating chemicals than…well, you ladies out there know where I’m going with that one ;). Needless to say, we had the chemo nurses running whenever Matthew appeared on the screen. Then there was my friend, Sharon, who taught me how to play Farkle, a dice game and Canasta, a card game. The nurses were waiting for us to pull out the beer and chips, since we were playing cards and shooting dice…!

I survived chemo, I tolerated radiation—but I definitely wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemies. Next to my faith in God, my family and friends, it was Friday night Holly Springs Football that kept me strong. One day, when I had an appointment with Dr. Lee down in Radiation Oncology, her nurse walked in and looked at me. She said, “I know you from somewhere?!?” I rattled off the usual, work, church, then I got to my son’s high school…ah ha- her daughter was a cheerleader, and I had been down with them the week before cheering!! Now we had a connection. She kept an eye on me when I barely made it through the homecoming game near the end of radiation treatments, so weak, I couldn’t cheer “Go Hawks” for fear I would pass out! But I made it through the weekend, and I made it through the rest of my treatments. It wasn’t a cakewalk; I really hated the radiation. It was tough. It was painful and uncomfortable near the end, but you know what…you do what you have to do to get better. Dr. Lee is the best, and she helped me through it. You need someone to talk to, she is there for you!

When I completed the treatments in January 2009, I talked to Peggy Scott about the possibility of volunteering in the Cancer Center. She explained to me about how to go about it, I filled out the application and sent it in. Soon after, I was interviewing with Volunteer Services and attending Orientation. I was assigned to the Resource Center. There I would be assisting and providing patients diagnosed with cancer information about their diagnosis, hats, scarves and wigs. Many patients would come through the doors of the Resource Center, nervous and apprehensive— looking for information on a certain cancer, looking for a wig or just looking to talk to a stranger about something very personal. Sometimes I would take hats or handmade quilts into the chemotherapy rooms for patients to try on. But most of all I helped them have a positive outlook on what is one of the most horrible life changing events that can happen to someone. I, too, was a cancer survivor. With that, their eyes would brighten in assurance that I, too, had been in their shoes! I had gone through what they were going through, and had come out the other side, with a smile on my face, giving them hope. 🙂

A cancer diagnosis is a difficult time. But having a positive outlook, and keeping your friends and family close helps you to come through on the other side. This is why I love volunteering at Rex Cancer Center…to give hope to other cancer patients, to bring a smile to their face (and my own) during a difficult time in their lives.