By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN With two separate cancer diagnoses a month apart, 39-year-old Sarah Anderson of Delano has had more than her share of shocks lately.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that phone call,” Anderson said, recalling the moment she found out she had cervical cancer.
The second unhappy surprise came a month later, when she found a lump in her leg that turned out to be Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Despite having two unrelated types of cancer, Anderson felt perfectly healthy, with no symptoms whatsoever.
“That was one of my frustrations when I had to go through chemo,” she said. “I felt healthy, but the chemo would make me sick.”
Anderson’s cervical cancer was detected through a routine annual checkup.
“It was really a fluke how they found out,” Anderson said. “Pap smears are so important.”
If she hadn’t gone in for regular exams, the cancer probably would have spread, she added.
“It can be very deadly if you don’t catch it,” she said.
Because Anderson’s cancers were caught early, she was given a good prognosis, however.
“I was under the impression that everyone who has cancer dies,” she said. “It was a huge awakening.”
Anderson will be done with treatment at the end of May, and will undergo follow-up testing every six months.
Looking back over the past year, however, Anderson admits that the journey hasn’t been easy.
The cancer has been tough for her four children, Lili, 14; Abi, 12; and twins Jac and Scotlyn, 8.
“In November, I thought, we’re never going to make it,” she said.
The treatments caused Anderson to develop a temporary heart condition, lung condition, and blood clot.
“My heart started racing and beating irregularly from the chemo,” she said, adding that she had to wear a heart monitor for about a month.
The blood clot came because Anderson didn’t want to get a port, which is a small medical appliance installed beneath the skin. It is typically used to distribute chemotherapy through the circulatory system.
“I didn’t want to have that thing in my body,” she said. “I was a little stubborn.” Instead, she chose to receive treatment through a vein.
“It was very painful,” she said. “Because I had that, I got a blood clot.”
Fortunately, the clot has since dissolved, and is gone now.
The problem with Anderson’s lungs was a result of bleomycin, a chemotherapy drug that stops the growth of cancer cells.
She developed a persistent cough, which was thought to be simply a cold. Soon, however, the doctors determined that there was something else going on.
“If they hadn’t stopped the bleomycin, it could have been fatal,” Anderson said. Through the use of steroids, inhalers, and antibiotics, the lung problem was corrected, and Anderson doesn’t have any permanent damage.
The prospect of losing her hair was one of the emotional struggles Anderson went through. Before she started chemo, she found a place called It’s Still Me, a private wig studio in St. Louis Park owned by breast cancer survivor Jan Strassburg.
“She was wonderful,” Anderson said. “She just changes your whole perspective of the whole thing.”
Thankfully, however, Anderson ended up not needing a wig.
“I had super thick hair,” she said. The treatments thinned it out, but she is still able to go out in public without a wig.
“I’m so thankful I didn’t lose my hair,” she said. “I will never complain about my hair again.”
Generosity and support
Anderson said the support of her family and friends has been amazing. One of her neighbors, Susan Welch, organized a six-month meal rotation.
“The only problem with it was, everybody brought dessert!” Anderson laughed.
Anderson’s fiancé, Scott, has also been a source of joy.
“He’s been there for everything for me,” Anderson said. “He’s so strong and so supportive.”
Anderson’s sister, Jennifer, and parents, Dennis and Joyce, have also been a huge help, she said.
“It’s been long, but summer is coming,” Anderson said.
Now that the cancer struggle is almost behind her, Anderson is looking to the future. She’s hoping to become involved in a cancer organization so that she can help others who are struggling.
Having cancer has made Anderson more aware of other people’s needs, and has made her more compassionate, she said.
“It will definitely change the way I look at people,” she said. “You don’t know what they’re going through.”