September 3, 2009
RUN ANNA RUN!!!!
Today I would like you to welcome Anna Strazzante! Anna has been gracious enough to share her story - her battle with cancer - it is our hope that you will find strength to help. If you are dealing with your own battles, know that you can make it.
She is an inspiration and I thank her for her courage!!! All photos courtesy of Scott Strazzante ~ THANK YOU, Scott!!
Please tell us a bit about you before your life was changed.
Before my cancer, my life was like any other working mother of four - crazy.
My husband Scott and I had just moved into a new home in Yorkville, Illinois with our blended family of six. My two daughters Sophie and Caroline and Scott’s children Betsy and Cameron who were working their way through life in a new town, finding new friends and living full-time with new siblings.
I was working 4 days a week as a home health physical therapist and then taking care of the children after that while my husband worked an evening shift as a photographer for the Chicago Tribune.
Daily life was quite exhausting but slowly things seemed to be improving.
How did you see yourself and what was your vision for your life before your diagnosis.
I had always considered myself a very healthy, physically fit person. I ate well and exercised regularly. I worked very hard at my career and even harder at creating a stable and healthy home life for my children.
There is no history of cancer in my family so I never imagined that I would become a victim.
How were you diagnosed.
During early 2008, I had a series of urinary tract infections that despite treatment with a wide variety of antibiotics wouldn’t go away. Despite the presence of blood in my urine, my urologist was still convinced that it was still just an infection.
Later in 2008, after a week of visible blood in my urine I was encouraged by a girlfriend to demand a cystoscopy. It was discovered that I had a tumor in my bladder.
After a biopsy, I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, a very rare form of bladder cancer that makes up only 2% of bladder cancer cases. In addition, the rareness of a woman my age being stricken with this cancer only made my case that much more statistically improbable.
What was the impact.
I was devastated. At the time of my diagnosis, my husband Scott was in Beijing photographing the Summer Olympics. Luckily, my mother was visiting from Sweden at the time but not having my husband next to me lending his support made the news even harder to take.
At first, I was in shock and couldn’t bear to even read about the cancer. At my request, my mother started researching bladder cancer and its survivability.
After my husband returned from China, I started doing my own research. My urologist referred me to University of Chicago’s Dr. Gary Steinberg, an expert on bladder cancer. Steinberg’s advice was a radical cystectomy and the construction of a neo bladder made from my small intestine.
At the same time, a second opinion painted a rosier picture. This doctor said that I would only have to have a partial cystectomy.
After several difficult days of going back and forth, the knowledge that bladder cancer has one of the highest frequencies of recurrence led me to follow Dr. Steinberg’s advice.
My procedure was scheduled for September 10th.
Were there others in your life before you who had been challenged by disease? Did you know what to expect, and if so was that helpful in coping?
No one that I knew had ever had bladder cancer. Every day was a new experience and each day brought new challenges both physically and psychologically.
What were the reactions of those close to you?
My husband took on the role of cheerleader. He kept saying that everything would turn out all right. My children were very scared and didn’t want to talk too much about my cancer. Several of my friends stepped up big time and gave me a ton of support.
My mother was a rock. She stayed an extra month and took care of the daily responsibilities around the house.
In situations such as these, do you feel you must be strong for those who love you? What emotions were you feeling? Responsibilities?
My theory was that the most important thing that I could do for my family and friends was to concentrate all my effort on surviving. I was very scared and despite the healing of surgery’s physical scars, I still struggle daily with the incredible emotional scars that cancer has caused.
How did you choose what course to take with your diagnosis?
I chose what I thought gave me the best chance of long term survival. I wasn’t too concerned about the change in lifestyle that not having a bladder would have, I was just intent on living.
Were your treatments presented to you in a supporting manner?
Dr. Steinberg was very forthright in his explanation of what the surgery would entail and what my chances of living a long and healthy life would be. It helped that I was 100% on board with his plan and the reasoning behind it.
What were you treatments? Surgeries? Were you informed on what to expect?
My cancer was so rare and with so few studies on it that there are no follow up treatments after the radical cystectomy and the reconstruction of the bladder. I have had to learn how to empty my bladder every three to four hours by using my stomach muscles and to change some of my daily habits.
How did you come to run?
Around the time of my diagnosis, my children started participating in a local running club. I used to be an avid runner but some nagging injuries dampened my enthusiasm for the activity.
I had always had a thought in the back of my mind about running a marathon but I lacked the needed motivation.
Now I have the motivation.
Running with the goal of finishing the Chicago Marathon has helped me create a mental picture of myself completely healthy. When I am feeling down, I visualize myself completing the marathon and the great joy that will come with that accomplishment - and I feel better.
Tell us about the fundraiser?
After my surgery, I started being very active in the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN). I participate daily with BCAN’s online community of those who have had or are now confronting bladder cancer. I answer people’s questions, try to alleviate their fears and also lean on others for support as I continue my recovery.
When I decided to run the Chicago Marathon, I figured that it would be a great opportunity to increase awareness about bladder cancer and support BCAN.
What are your goals post-bladder cancer?
Of course, I want to remain cancer free and live a long productive life but I also want to help as many other people stricken with bladder cancer. I was very fortunate to have my cancer detected before it was too late so if I can at least make people realize that cancer can strike anyone at anytime, maybe they will get checked before it is too late.
You have specifically empowered a family member of mine, do you feel the love and appreciation the universe throws out as you give to others?
Definitely. So, many people have helped me and still are helping me through this ordeal that I feel that the least I can do is pay it forward. Helping others helps me feel a connection to the world. A feeling that we are one.
Let us all wish Anna the best.
Feel moved? Donate through the secure network just to your left, or directly at the site here : GIVE FORWARD
The Chicago Marathon is a few weeks away! Get involved. Anna helped my family member get through her bout and I am forever grateful.
Please do what you can to support this endeavor!