Defying long odds, these women are defeating disease and embracing healthy lives
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Laurie Dangler hasn't let brain cancer get the best of her. After her diagnosis in 2007, she founded ROC On!, an organization that coordinates Columbus marathon runners to raise funds for Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.
No woman invites illness into her life. There is no chitchat about a heart attack while sipping vanilla lattes or blasé tweeting about cancer. But for those who push beyond a diagnosis and soar upward into fulfilling lives, there is this remarkable and relentless common strength. When blended with compassionate medical care and nurturing emotional support, these patients do what needs to be done.
Despite its life-altering power, this drive to survive has no medical term. But, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center team sees it in action — every day.
The spirit to survive leads patients toward triumph at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, one of the nation's premier cancer centers for the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, with one vision: to create a cancer-free world. The OSUCCC – James is the Midwest's first and Ohio's only fully dedicated cancer hospital. The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of only 40 centers in the United States designated by the National Cancer Institute.
This dedication to recovery beats strong at Ohio State's Women's Cardiovascular Health Clinic as well, an integral part of the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital and a recognized leader in heart health and heart surgery.
While this remarkable strength defies definition, there are countless stories that embody this spirit. Here are four such journeys about women who moved beyond recovery to embrace survival.
READY TO ROC
If you call Laurie Dangler on the phone, she'll likely quip about her two children's antics and chuckle over her hectic schedule — Dangler laughs easily — but before long, she'll need to hang up. Dangler is busy. This 40-year-old wife and mother is also a practicing physician and founder of ROC On!, which stands for Run Over Cancer, a non-profit organization that coordinates Columbus marathon runners and walkers to raise research funds for Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.
The idea for ROC On! came soon after Dangler was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2007. Following two surgeries to remove as much of the tumor as possible and during subsequent radiation treatments and chemotherapy, Dangler decided to combine her love for running and her desire to raise money for brain cancer research. "There's no cure for brain cancer," she says. "I'm raising research dollars to change that."
ROC On! has raised serious funds for the OSUCCC – James. In its first year, the ROC On! team included 32 runners who raised nearly $13,000. "We more than doubled my hopes," Dangler remarks. "And last year we more than doubled again. Now my hope is to host our own ROC On! 5K."
Running ROC On! certainly fed her drive to survive after diagnosis, although she's quick to give her husband a lot of credit, as well as her "glass half full" philosophy. "I tell myself that so many people have gone through worse. And I know that a bad day usually gets better tomorrow."
Dangler also draws strength from knowing that she's helping future brain cancer patients. As she posted on her website, www.roconnow.com, "I've been lucky to have had many friends and family members support me throughout this time, and now I'd like to help give back to The James."
After having a heart attack in 1998, the now 72-year-old Hat O'Toole is staying healthy by eating a well-balanced diet and keeping to her regular workout schedule of cardio and weight training.
YOUNG AT HEART
Harriett O'Toole is typical of today's younger generation. She works out several days a week, eats a well-balanced diet, looks great and feels even better. Except O'Toole, who prefers that you call her Hat, isn't really part of today's youth movement. Hat's 72 years young, and she's a pistol.
It wasn't always this way. In 1998, O'Toole suffered what she calls a classic male heart attack. Rushed to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, she received lifesaving treatment and got a therapy schedule from Ohio State's Center for Wellness and Prevention before even being discharged. The plan was to put O'Toole on a heart-healthy diet and through exercise, increase her upper body and core strength.
While her road to recovery was filled with "fantastically helpful" specialists, it took O'Toole a moment to get on board. "I was running marathons when I had my heart attack. I thought, 'My body failed me. I'll never feel secure in my body again!' But I said, 'Come on, Hat! Get up off that couch.' And I did. Of course I had support — from a wonderful husband, my five children and all these grandkids."
O'Toole's cardiologists concluded that her heart attack was linked to genetics, since she has a family history of heart disease. However, O'Toole assumed she was off the hook, as this pattern had only affected male relatives. Today, because heart disease is no longer seen as a "man's disease" — it is the number one killer of women — Ohio State's Women's Cardiovascular Health Clinic remains dedicated to educating women about heart disease risks, prevention and recovery.
These days O'Toole is making her mark in the weight room, lifting weights as well as her spirit. "I feel wonderful today!" she remarks, adding her gratitude for the expert care she received, "I was in very good hands from the start."
Since losing her leg to a rare soft tissue cancer, Daphne Hegreness found a new passion — running. She's currently training in hopes of qualifying for the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Read more about Daphne's story and watch her in action.
ON THE FAST TRACK
Daphne Hegreness loves to sprint. In fact, this quick-witted, 23-year-old, with an angelic, childlike voice and the instincts of an old soul, likes to do anything that involves speed. In addition to racing after children as a summer camp head counselor, she also wakeboards, bikes, rock climbs and skis. "I only have one speed and that's fast," Hegreness says. "I love the freedom I feel when I go fast."
What gives Hegreness's story a twist is that she does it all on one leg.
In 2008, she lost her left leg to epithelioid sarcoma, a very rare soft tissue cancer that had settled in her ankle. "Everyone thought I had a stubborn infection and after a short hospital stay with IV antibiotics, I'd be fine. No one expected the 'C' word."
But it was indeed cancer, aggressively attacking her foot and lower leg. After the amputation six inches below her knee and nine grueling months in physical therapy, she was finally able to walk with a prosthetic leg. That's when Hegreness faced another decision: Would she give up and let her amputated leg destroy her or would she stand up and refuse to let anything hold her back? Hegreness chose the latter. "Now I tell myself two things every morning: I'm an amputee and I can do anything I want to do."
While Hegreness owes much of her recovery to being a remarkably strong, determined and, yes, sometimes stubborn woman, she's quick to credit her husband Jeff, her parents, a medical dream team and God. Her faith, she says, helped her find peace, and she never looked back.
Hegreness recently underwent surgery at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute to remove bone spurs from the amputation area. As she recovers in her new city of Cleveland, her sights are already set on a new goal. "My hope is to be at the Paralympics Center in California next summer, training for the 100- and 200-meter dashes. I want to compete in the 2012 Paralympics in London."
A diagnosis of heart disease put Quovardis Lawrence on the track to better health. She now eats well and makes working out a regular part of her schedule. A side benefit — looking gorgeous in the dress she wore to her goddaughter's wedding.
"I've tried to diet and exercise before, but I always failed because I was too busy looking for the end result and then getting frustrated. So now, it's not about dieting. This is about a healthy lifestyle." —Quovardis Lawrence
DRESSED TO CELEBRATE
After Quovardis Lawrence zips up her stunning satin ball gown, she does a gentle pirouette before the mirror and smiles. She likes what she sees.
Just five months ago, the custom-made dress, created for a goddaughter's wedding, was two sizes too small. And this attractive, 40-year-old woman was not looking at a healthy future. Lawrence suffered frequent chest pains, heart palpitations and generally felt lousy. She chalked the symptoms up to weight gain and rheumatoid arthritis. But when the pain became unbearable, she scheduled an appointment with Laxmi Mehta, MD, FACC, director of Ohio State's Women's Cardiovascular Health Clinic.
Dr. Mehta discovered that Lawrence suffers from Raynaud's disease, a condition that limits blood circulation, and prescribed medication to manage the symptoms. However, the doctor added, medication alone wasn't going to be enough. Lawrence needed to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthier. Vascular and heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, diet and exercise are modifiable; working to change these can reduce a woman's risks and improve overall health.
"Before meeting Dr. Mehta, I thought I was dying," Lawrence recalls. "And when she said that my disease was quite manageable, I felt like I'd been given a second chance. I was determined to do what I had to do."
She gave her diet a healthy overhaul and began early morning walks on the treadmill, at first for 20 minutes and now sometimes for an hour. Then she added a rigorous evening workout. To stay on course, Lawrence schedules workout time into her daily planner. "I had to learn how to make room for myself."
Another important lesson, Lawrence says, is setting realistic goals and focusing on one day at a time. "I've tried to diet and exercise before, but I always failed because I was too busy looking for the end result and then getting frustrated. So now, it's not about dieting. This is about a healthy lifestyle."
Today, Lawrence's life is looking good. She was thrilled to take her handsome husband's arm and waltz onto the dance floor at her goddaughter's wedding — wearing a beautiful new ball gown that fit like a dream.