Cancer doesn’t mean end of world, say survivorsCancer. It’s a word no one wants to hear. “When they say that word, cancer, you swear that the whole world is coming to an end,” Tom Steinfeld said. But for Steinfeld, a Mitchell resident, the world did not come to an end after his diagnosis.
By: Jennifer Jungwirth, The Daily Republic
Cancer. It’s a word no one wants to hear.
“When they say that word, cancer, you swear that the whole world is coming to an end,” Tom Steinfeld said.
But for Steinfeld, a Mitchell resident, the world did not come to an end after his diagnosis.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early March 2004. He immediately had surgery and is currently in remission.
His story will be told as he is one of two cancer survivors that were selected as honorary chairmen for this year’s Davison County Relay for Life.
The Davison County Relay for Life begins at 6 p.m. Friday at the Corn Palace. The event is in its fourth year in Mitchell.
Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s leading fundraiser. The relay event celebrates the lives of those who have fought cancer and remembers those that have died from the disease. It is an internationally recognized event, held all over the world, and along with celebrating cancer survivors, the organization hopes to raise money to support future cancer research.
Each year, the Davison County event selects honorary chairmen to lead a survivor lap at the beginning of the walk. Steinfeld, 60, along with 40-year-old Lisa Heckenlaible of Mitchell and the middle school’s assistant principla, will lead the first lap.
Heckenlaible was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2009. Although it is common in her family, the news was still a shock.
“You always wonder what the outcome is going to be,” Heckenlaible said. “I have two children. And that’s the first thing I thought about.”
She was faithful about her annual checkups, but when she was 38, the doctors found a lump in her right breast. Because cancer was so common in her family, she took a BRACA test, which is a gene test that would show Heckenlaible her chances of attracting other forms of cancer. The results showed a BRACA1, meaning she had an 80 percent chance or higher of being diagnosed with other types of cancers.
A month later she opted for a bilateral mastectomy, and during the procedure, doctors found cancer cells in the tissue of her left breast.
She opted to have surgery on her ovaries, too, to decrease the chances of ovarian cancer.
Although both Heckenlaible and Steinfeld are in remission, there are constant checkups and other medical procedures that need to be done to ensure they stay healthy.
Steinfeld goes in for checkups every four months and receives shots to keep his PSA count low. He also takes extra doses of calcium to keep his bones strong. The first place for cancer cells to develop outside the prostate is the bones, Steinfeld said.
It’s a long process and he still worries about the disease resurfacing.
“(But) with a good bunch of family and friends, they help you pull through it,” he said.
Heckenlaible has checkups every three months and she takes Zometa infusions to restore calcium that was sucked from her bones during chemotherapy treatments. Her students also help her keep strong, she said.
“I have 575 wonderful kids that keep me going,” Heckenlaible said. “That and my family. They just keep me motivated to keep going.”
Because of the support he’s received, Steinfeld wants to pay it forward, and offer support for others that have been diagnosed with cancer. He hasn’t missed a Relay for Life event in Mitchell, yet.
Sue Walters, who is in her second year of chairing the Davison County Relay for Life, is a cancer survivor herself. She was diagnosed in 1992. She lost her husband to cancer. Since her diagnosis, she’s participated in Relay for Life events in South Dakota.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when you all know you’re here for this common goal, that one day cancer can be cured. We’re here to support each other,” Walters said.
The event begins at 6 p.m. with a survivor celebration meal. The meal is free for all cancer survivors and one guest. Others that attend can do so for a freewill donation.
At 7 p.m. Mitchell Mayor Lou Sebert will give a welcome proclamation and an opening ceremony will be held. The Luminaria ceremony is at 9:15 p.m. Attendees can still submit names for the luminarias until 8:45 p.m. at the Corn Palace. Luminarias are $10 apiece and can be bought in advance by calling the American Cancer Society office at 996-0121.
After Heckenlaible and Steinfeld lead the survivor lap, the second lap will be cancer survivors and their caregivers and family.
Throughout the rest of the evening, various teams will take turns walking; other entertainment and activities will take place as well.
Walters said the goal is to have someone walking at all times until the closing ceremony at 5 a.m.
“It symbolizes what cancer patients go through. It’s daylight when we learn we have cancer,” Walters said. “We go into darkness not knowing what our life will bring and then we go into daylight with hope, hope to survive and that others survive.”
And for those that are fighting cancer, to keep that hope, the key is staying positive, according to Steinfeld.
“Just keep your head up,” he said. “Have a good outlook and don’t let it get you down.”