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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Cancer survivor says she would not let cancer define her

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  •     LAKE REGION - Janet Nolan’s instinct that something was wrong nearly three years ago, probably saved her life. After discovering a dimple in one of her breasts, Nolan embarked on an expedition that tested her will, as she had to complete countless treatments and surgeries. Today, Nolan uses her experience and acquired knowledge to help others as they battle the horrifying, “C word.”
        The only exposure Nolan had with breast cancer before her diagnosis, was watching a colleague's battle. After she was diagnosed, every two weeks, Nolan had aggressive treatments, with the chemotherapy occurring first because her tumor was 5.1 centimeters.
        When she first lost her hair, Nolan says it was the end of the world. But then, she felt it was "cool being bald," despite the cold temperatures during the winter months.
        Following the treatment, the doctor saw something in Nolan’s other breast and because it could spread, she decided to have a mastectomy. Also though, Nolan says with a smile, “I wanted to match.” Before the surgery, Nolan thought she was prepared. But, when she awoke, Nolan says she felt like she was five-years-old again. The trying year was 2011, when she went through everything from the treatments, surgery and physical therapy.
        An essential element to the success of her treatment, Nolan says is that she had the right medical care because she did her research. June 10 marks Nolan’s victory because that is when she had surgery nearly three years ago. Despite beating cancer, Nolan says it has been, “one thing after another,” because her ovaries had to be removed and now she has osteoporosis. With the effects of the treatments that affected her heart and the scars that remain from her surgeries, Nolan acknowledges that she is not the same person she was before her diagnosis. But, the cancer doesn’t define her because, “I’m still me.” To live a normal life with her young children, Nolan says it was important that she got the reconstructive surgery so she could participate in activities like swimming with her family and wear whatever she pleases.
        The internet, Nolan says is the worst because while everyone was working, she was stuck at home and half of what she read on the computer never happened to her. Chemotherapy, Nolan says could probably be compared to death because of the extreme fatigue she experienced.
        Nolan was 29 when her mother passed from lung cancer. That however, was not a surprise, she says because her mother was a smoker. To be diagnosed with breast cancer was a shock, especially since Nolan learned that she does not have the gene for breast cancer. The only answer, Nolan feels is that her cancer was the result of the toxins in the environment. Today, Nolan says she tries to eat healthier, but it’s expensive and so she exercises more and participates in Zumba at the Wallenpaupack North Intermediate School, where she is a fourth grade teacher.
    Page 2 of 2 -     Looking back at the doctor visits, cat scans and other parts, Nolan questions how she did it. But ultimately Nolan knows that she conquered cancer for her kids, because she lost her mom when she too young. Her mom was 54. Every six months she has checkups, and at some point they will be once a year. Having overcome everything, Nolan says she doesn’t let cancer rule her life because, “why waste the good moments in my life worried about the bad stuff,” that is “beyond my control.”
        It was after losing her mom, Nolan says she realized the significance of time and enjoying life. There are times when Nolan has survivor’s guilt. But, she feels that her purpose is to help others who are going through treatments and need that support that only a survivor can provide. To date, Nolan has helped about a dozen women as they fought the disease. Nolan says that, unless a person has gone through the fight, the understanding just isn’t there. Of the women she has helped, most have been under 40 or just over.
        Today, Nolan looks back and it seems like it didn’t happen, because everything is normal again, except for her short hair. The support from her friends and family were important, and the community, Nolan says have been amazing because when in treatment she never had to worry about feeding her family as meals were delivered to her home. The support, she says was, “very overwhelming and humbling,” because it made her realize how much people cared.
        After beating cancer, Nolan says the biggest thing she has learned is that people need to enjoy life because although she didn’t die from cancer, something else could kill her. Life, she says, is fragile.
        For the most part, Nolan says she doesn’t think about cancer too much, except when it’s time for her checkup. That feeling, she doubts will ever go away. But Nolan has realized that it’s out of her control and she didn’t give herself cancer. As her hair grew back, Nolan says she was excited that it wasn’t gray or a different color.
        May 17 will be the Lake Region Relay for Life at Wallenpaupack Area High School. Although Nolan will not be on a team, she plans to be at the event, where she will support everyone and walk her survivor’s lap. For more information visit: http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY14EC?pg=entry&fr_id=57960.
        Throughout her entire ordeal, Nolan says she kept telling herself that what she was experiencing was only temporary and after everything, today Nolan says cancer doesn’t mean death. Instead, she sees it is a, “bump in the road in somebody’s life.”
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