Courage, inspiration, hope, strength, love. It’s Sunday and the theme of The Sunday Series is to share a story which should make you think, gain perspective, perhaps bring a smile,or a tear, but with every story to speak from the heart.
The Sunday Series (11): All in for Life
You’ve heard the expression what are you willing to die for? Well what are you willing to live for? Debbie Fink can tell you because she’s going all in to try and do just that… to simply live.
Debbie’s story was first brought to my attention by her stepmom Becky, who sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago:
“Your blog has motivated me to bring my stepdaughter’s plight to the attention of your readers. My stepdaughter, Debbie has been struggling for almost three years with the life changes of having appendix cancer and the uncertainty of one’s life expectancy. The reason I am submitting my stepdaughter’s blog is to educate the public of some of the rare types of cancers that fortunately do not affect a vast number of innocent people, but unfortunately impacts the availability of funds for any clinical trials to begin to find a cure. As Debbie’s stepmother I equate her cancer as the step-cancer not always getting the attention it truly deserves. Debbie deals with this misfortunate roll of the dice with strength, which by the way is tattooed on the side of her foot, in that she gets up every day to live for today and not dwell on tomorrow.”
Debbie Fink deserves attention, as does her fight and her strength. It’s true, her cancer is rare, only 1,000 people a year are diagnosed with appendiceal cancer. In Debbie’s case it also comes along with poorly differentiated signet ring cells. They say G-d doesn’t deal you more than you can handle, so maybe a rare cancer happens only to certain people… those who have the incredible strength and fortitude greater than many could muster. Debbie is proving to be a rare individual indeed.
Her journey began just a short time after her marriage to David Green.
David and Debbie met at a Camp Saginaw reunion in 2008. They didn’t remember each other from the camp days, but at the reunion they connected and it wasn’t too long before they were ready to make new memories they would remember, together. Debbie and David were married at the same camp site in May of 2011. But the honeymoon didn’t last long. Three months after the wedding, Debbie went to the doctor to get checked for an enlarged ovary. Her goal was to get pregnant in the near future and the gynecologist assured her she could do that with just one ovary, but what was supposed to be a 45-minute laprascopic procedure took a nasty turn, because two hours later Debbie’s right ovary and her appendix were removed. Both had questionable masses on them.
Questionable soon turned to devastating.
Tests on the masses showed stage-4 appendiceal cancer. Debbie says she was, “overwhelmed and sad”. Treatment options were few. But Debbie decided to get aggressive. “When it’s your own life, you do anything it takes to keep going.” Her first surgery was January 2012, a controversial procedure called HIPEC, (Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy). “I was on the operating table for almost 10 hours”, says Debbie. “Basically once they cut me open my organs were given a heated chemotherapy bath for 90 minutes.” I had a full hysterectomy and minor resections of my bladder, rectum and vagina. My surgery was deemed a success, and it was determined that I was cancer-free.”
Debbie says that diagnosis did not quell her fear. “Fear ruled my life for a year after the surgery and it’s not healthy, it put a strain on my marriage and my friends didn’t want to be around me.” Unfortunately those fears were not unwarranted. This past summer the cancer returned and tomorrow, January 6th, Debbie will undergo a massive operation at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas which might be her only shot at survival. “I was told my best chance for the longest possible life would be a full pelvic exenteration, which would leave me with no bladder, rectum or vagina. At least, the doctor rationalized, it will buy me a few years before the cancer returns again.”
Debbie says the cancer, her cancer-free days and the eventual return of the beast has made her understand you can’t control everything, but you can control your reactions to everything and you really do have to count your blessings. She says her husband David has been her rock and her two stepdaughters, Zoe and Alex are taking it in stride, though not too much is spoken in their presence. Social media is also making a difference. Sometimes an internet connection can be a life-saver. Debbie says she feels like she has the support of thousands, not just her close family and friends. There is a closed Facebook group of about a thousand people who share the same cancer diagnosis and offer mental and emotional support and hope. There are stories of many in that group with 12-15 year survival rates.
Debbie has shared her journey in a few blog posts which have been picked up by Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/debbie-fink/) and she has a Caringbridge page where she shares updates and thoughts on the journey, (http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/debbiefinkgreen). She says post surgery she would love to get back in shape, run a 10-K, write a memoir, maybe do some more traveling. But there is no big bucket list.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, those are the words from the Kelly Clarkson song Debbie says she finds inspiring. The lyrics ring true. She is scared and there are still a ton of questions about post-surgery prognosis because of the rarity of the cancer, but she appreciates everyone’s thoughts and prayers as she battles back from one of life’s greatest challenges.
Life and survival – being there for David and the girls is the ultimate goal. The challenge Debbie is facing puts life in perspective for all of us. We all face challenges, if there isn’t a road bump or obstacle in your journey through this life you probably aren’t really living. But some road blocks are bigger than others, they simply take your breath away, they try to take you down for the count. That’s when you show what you are really made of. How do you rise up and fight? How do you show what you are willing to live for? Debbie Fink is facing the challenge head on, by choosing to sacrifice to save her life. The outcome is not in her hands, perhaps not really in the hands of the doctors and surgeons, though they will do all they can to get this right and to prolong Debbie’s days on this earth. Maybe there could even be another miracle on the horizon…cancer-free. But like Debbie says she has learned you can’t focus on what you can’t control. Cancer, any type of cancer has its own agenda, its own plan and the focus needs to be on how you will react, not on the outcome.
As author of this blog I can control one thing as well. With surgery set for tomorrow, I would make a simple request. Keep Debbie in your thoughts and prayers. She is a warrior on the front lines and sometimes the positive thoughts of many can create the good karma Debbie deserves to see this through.
After all Debbie is all in… for life.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
Mark Brodinsky: Author, Blogger, Speaker, Emmy Winner, Financial Services
It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
#1 Amazon Best-Seller
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