Survivor Stories: 2018


Neil Cochran // husband to Candy (married 52 years!); father to Kim, Kelly, & Bryan (& now grandfather, too)// brother to (identical twins) Shields, Mack & Alan (who passed away to glioblastoma Aug, 2, 2018) // Furman (psychology) & Southern Seminary (divinity) grad // retired chaplain @ GHS Children's Hospital // currently surviving Stage III colon cancer (diagnosed Feb. 24, 2018) 

“I was diagnosed [with Stage III colon cancer] in January. They actually removed 12 inches of my colon, and they took out 20 lymphnodes and found one [that tested positive]. That bought me the chemo, unfortunately, so I joined that society. I started treatment April 10.

“But after 6 months, I did a CT scan, which showed [the cancer] hasn’t grown anymore, which is great! On Nov. 13, I had a surgery laparoscopically to remove a hernia, and I said, ‘Well while we’re doing that, can we just take my port out?’ So they did! I still have some pain and some neuropathy from my immunotherapy treatments, but that’s my journey now. They’re monitoring me, and I have to go back in 3 months.

“During this journey, I was a caregiver -- along with my sister-in-law -- of my brother, Alan. His wife allowed me in that sacred place with him. He was 9 years younger. I held him when he was born, and rocked him to sleep. I was holding his hand 65 years later when he took his last breath, and his wife was there on the other side of him. We are very close. That’s the circle of life.

“Wasn’t my mother blessed, with four ‘laidback’ boys? [Laughs.] We all thought we would die young from heart attacks. That’s what our uncle died from, and our dad died at 57. It was ironic that Alan was diagnosed Nov. 13, 2016 with [brain cancer]. I was diagnosed a year and a month after he was, and on Nov. 13 of this year -- 2 years to the day -- is when they did my [most recent] surgery. I was thinking, ‘Do I want to go on the 13th?’ But I went, and decided I wasn’t going to be superstitious. I’m still sore from that, and will be for a while, but I’m doing great.

“With my brother, he just stopped breathing. It was a smooth transition from one life to another. When I cared for him, he wanted me to shower him and all, and we would laugh, because we grew up 4 boys without any money on a small farm -- and we would use the same water anyway, especially when it was a cold day! We found a way to have fun. You have to laugh. You have to have a sense of humor. But sometimes it just stinks all the way to Georgia.

“I retired from the hospital in 2010. To be a chaplain, you do a year of clinical pastoral education. It’s kind of like bootcamp for the mind! It’s a clinical practice in the hospital, and you make your rounds like doctors do. I’ve spent a lot of time with pediatric doctors. We’ve had a lot of conversations. They would say, ‘You know, you seem to handle death so well.’ I would say, ‘Well what happens is that as a doctor, you’re doing everything you can do to keep someone alive. So when a person doesn’t make it, you consider yourself a failure; but if you do that every time, you’re going to be beating up on yourself a lot. As a chaplain, we see that every thing as a living organism is going to experience death; so we should see death as a stage of life.'

“Unfortunately, what’s happened is that we’ve demonized death -- with the devil and his pitchfork, and our talk about ghosts and skeletons and all. So we’ve really done society a disservice with demonizing death, and making it seem like such a bad thing. I’m not afraid of death. I’m not ready to hop on the next train, but when I was diagnosed, I knew the reality of it. I’ve seen plenty of people die. I’ve done a lot of funerals, but I’ve gone to a lot of high school graduations for those who did well, too. All the time, I go out to eat and someone will come up and say, ‘Do you remember me? I was 5 years old…’ That happened to me today in the elevator!

“Even the word we use in the Christian faith -- ‘salvation’ -- it’s in the continuous. We are BEING saved, is really what the translation of the word says. It’s not something you do, and then it’s over with. It’s a process. Life is a process. Understanding it is a process. When we are able to honor other beliefs, it is a process.

“Chaplains can do that. That’s why we are chaplains, and our goal isn’t to make someone believe like we do. If my faith is so threatened that everyone has to believe like me, because I have the corner on all the faith, then what about all these other people that haven’t been exposed to my faith? Does that make them doomed?

“I don’t see science and religion in conflict, either. I’ve never been frightened by science. When I was in seminary, I had a cousin -- a very brilliant scientist -- ask me, 'How would you handle it if you found out there was life on another planet?’ You know, because we hear that Jesus came to THIS planet and so forth. I asked how he’d feel, and he said, ‘It would just validate my view of God! That God is omnipresent everywhere, and not limited!’

“We have limited Him to a small planet. But God is not limited. Just our views, understanding, and our love of God are limited.

“If you are a follower of Christ, you knock. You don’t knock the door down. You knock and you enter. I don’t have a problem honoring those with no faith, either. They are deserving of my care. Maybe along the way, they will see what keeps me buoyant. But when I enter a patient’s room, I knock; because when I enter their room, I enter their house. It’s a sacred and holy place. That’s where they have to live. And along the way, I love what I’ve learned.”

Read more from the Survivor Series Photo by Patrick Cox. Interview by Emily Price. #survivorspark



Abigail Ordonez, wife to Rosendo, mother to Isaí (age 10), Adrián (age 7) & Aaron (6 weeks)

Abigail left this life Oct. 20th 2018 shortly after this interview - her wish was to publish and share her story 

English and Spanish provided:

“My husband and I had decided to celebrate Father’s Day this year as a family with our two boys in Florida. At that time, I was 23 weeks pregnant. During our vacation, I noticed a lump in my breast. As a woman who has taken care of herself with routine physicals, I felt fairly confident that it was nothing more than a normal breast change that comes along with pregnancy. To be safe, I scheduled an appointment to see my OB as soon as I arrived home.”

“I received the news of my diagnosis of advanced breast cancer on my birthday. I was then faced with the critical decision of having aggressive chemotherapy or carrying my son to term. This would require taking my baby early – and the outcome of a baby born at 25 weeks gestation was going to bring a great risk to my unborn child, including a possibility that he wouldn’t survive. I was informed that should I choose the aggressive chemo and I would likely have several years to be with my family. My waiting on my unborn child would most likely result in the spreading of this cancer in other organs and this would decrease my life expectancy.”

“My husband and I chose the path of light chemotherapy until our son reached 36 weeks. We were informed that any delay in treatment could shorten my life span.”

“The rest of the summer, I fought the complications of being pregnant along with the side effects of the small amounts of chemo therapy. I lost weight. The pregnancy was very risky and very draining, but I was determined to stay strong in my faith and never stop fighting.”

“On September 19th, I was induced and gave birth to a healthy 4 lb 7 oz baby boy, who we named Aaron. I was able to briefly hold him. I exclaimed, ‘Well, God gave him all the hair that I have lost!’”

“The cancer continued to spread throughout my body, but as I held true to my faith, I tried to find a positive somewhere in this horrible battle. For example, I would never have reconnected with my interpreter, Maria Johnson, who has remained by side since Aaron was born. Cancer isn’t all bad. I would not have met all of the wonderful people who have taken care of me.”

“Always trust your instinct. Take care of yourself. If your heart tells you something is wrong, then seek help. It is important for us to take care of ourselves. Hug your children every day and remind those for whom you care that you love them. Enjoy life, for small things become big things. Finally, look for the positive in EVERYTHING.”
“If I can see a positive in my cancer diagnosis at 35, knowing that I am leaving my family, then YOU can find something to make you smile – under any circumstance.”

Immediately following the delivery of Aaron, Abigail was rushed for a blood transfusion. Her blood had thinned due to the chemo. For the following month, Abigail fought hard. She started aggressive chemo. Abigail never left the hospital. She took her final breath on this earth on October 20th. Fortunately, she fought long enough to experience one milestone with her newborn son…his turning one month old. She remained strong in her faith, and always quoted her favorite Bible verse:
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Photos by Patrick Cox. Interview by María Johnson & Amy Doser


Abigaíl Ordoñez, esposa de Rosendo, madre de Isaí (10 años), Adrián (7 años) & Aaron (6 semanas)

"Mi esposo y yo habíamos decidido celebrar el Día del Padre en familia con nuestros dos hijos en Florida. En ese momento, yo tenía 23 semanas de embarazo. Durante nuestras vacaciones, noté un bulto en mi seno. Como siempre he sido una mujer que se ha cuidado con los exámenes físicos de rutina, me sentí bastante confiada de que eso no era más que un cambio normal en los senos debido al embarazo. Para estar segura, programé una cita para ver a mi ginecóloga tan pronto como volvimos a casa”.

"Recibí la noticia de mi diagnóstico de cáncer de mama avanzado el día de mi cumpleaños. Luego me enfrenté a la decisión crítica de recibir quimioterapia agresiva o llevar mi embarazo a término completo. Esto requeriría tener a mi bebé antes de tiempo, y el resultado de que un bebé nazca a las 25 semanas de gestación supondría un gran riesgo para mi hijo por nacer, incluyendo la posibilidad de que no sobreviviera. Me informaron que si elegía la quimioterapia agresiva tal vez tendría varios años para estar con mi familia. Mientras que esperar a que mi hijo naciera probablemente resultaría en la propagación de este cáncer a otros órganos y esto disminuiría mi expectativa de vida".

“Mi esposo y yo elegimos el camino de la quimioterapia ligera hasta que nuestro hijo cumpliera las 36 semanas. Nos informaron que cualquier retraso en el tratamiento podría acortar mi tiempo de vida”.

“El resto del verano, luché contra las complicaciones de estar embarazada junto con los efectos secundarios de las pequeñas cantidades de quimioterapia. Perdí peso. El embarazo fue muy arriesgado y muy agotador, pero estaba decidida a mantenerme fuerte en mi fe y nunca dejar de luchar”.

“El 19 de septiembre, me indujeron el parto y di a luz a un bebé saludable de 4 lb 7 oz, al que llamamos Aaron. Pude sostenerlo brevemente. Exclamé: '¡Bueno, Dios le dio al bebé todo el cabello que yo he perdido!' ".

“El cáncer continuó extendiéndose por todo mi cuerpo, pero manteniéndome fiel a mi fe, traté de encontrar lo positivo en esta horrible batalla. Por ejemplo, nunca me habría reconectado con mi amiga María Johnson, quien ha estado a mi lado desde que Aaron nació. El cáncer no quiere decir que todo sea malo. No hubiera conocido a todas las personas maravillosas—los doctores, las enfermeras, y los interpretes-- que me han cuidado”.

“Confíe siempre en su instinto. Cuídese. Si su corazón le dice que algo está mal, busque ayuda. Es importante que nos cuidemos a nosotros mismos. Abrace a sus hijos todos los días y recuérdele a aquellos por quienes se preocupa que los ama. Disfrute de la vida, porque las cosas pequeñas se convierten en cosas grandes. Finalmente, busque lo positivo en TODO”.
"Si yo puedo ver un el lado positivo en mi diagnóstico de cáncer a los 35 años, sabiendo que estoy dejando a mi familia, entonces USTED puede encontrar algo que lo haga sonreír, bajo cualquier circunstancia".

Inmediatamente después de dar a luz a Aaron, Abigail fue llevada con urgencia a recibir una transfusión de sangre. Su sangre se había diluido mucho debido a la quimioterapia. Durante el mes siguiente, Abigail luchó bastante. Ella comenzó una quimioterapia agresiva. Abigail nunca salió del hospital. Abigaíl exhaló su último aliento de vida el 20 de octubre. Afortunadamente, ella luchó el tiempo suficiente para alcanzar una meta con su hijo recién nacido... su primer mes de vida. Ella se mantuvo fuerte en su fe y siempre citaba su versículo bíblico favorito:
Isaías 41:10 (NIV)
“Así que no temas, porque yo estoy contigo;
no te angusties, porque yo soy tu Dios.
Te fortaleceré y te ayudaré;
te sostendré con mi diestra victoriosa.”

Fotografía: Patrick Cox. Entrevista: María Johnson & Amy Doser



Christina Laurel/wife and mother/artist/survivor of breast cancer/Survivor Series Curator

“Cancer feels like a silent creature lurking in the shadows, everywhere, all the time. Fear of a return is an emotion I acknowledge, but do not dwell on.”

“In 2015, my diagnosis was stage 2 breast cancer. I am in remission, entering the fourth year of my five-year cancer journey. In year two, when I began to feel better, I decided to begin giving back. A newspaper article about the fledgling Cancer Survivors Park Alliance and Kay Roper – she and I held the same job at an earlier time – appeared at just the right time.”

“I had just returned from my first artist residency in Paducah, Kentucky, when I discovered a definitive lump during a self-exam around Thanksgiving. It was difficult to enjoy the holidays while waiting for the test results.”

“My response to hearing the word “cancer”, as my diagnosis, surprised me. Everything about my life changed in that instant.”

“After first hearing my diagnosis, I remember the nurse saying, “You are already a survivor.” This made little sense to me at the time, but I am a survivor…of the treatments and of the time it takes. I cannot speed up the process; the journey takes as long as it takes.”

“When people would say, ‘You look good,’ their eyes focused on my hair. I realized there is a cancer stereotype: bald and weak. Because I participated in an NIH study where my treatment was intramuscular endocrine therapy (injections) rather than chemotherapy. My hair was unaffected. I wasn’t bald, but I was weak, especially following two years of injections, multiple biopsies, a lumpectomy, and radiation.”

“Because I am still on the journey, I can better share “what advice, wisdom or insight” in two years. I can say that in the beginning, support groups and yoga and communicating via Caring Bridge were helpful.”

“During my first year of treatments, I created a collage, 82 x 24 inches on a wood panel, titled ‘Pushed to the Periphery’ where the colored collage elements were only on the edges of a large neutral space. I felt as though my life had been pushed to the periphery because of cancer. Within the past year, I changed that wood panel into a working table in my studio. It is a fitting transformation and reflective of my survivorship.”

“My husband and adult son, as well as siblings and friends, were supportive throughout and continue to be supportive. I am a private person, so I journaled through the first year to process my emotions when the treatments became my consuming ‘job.’ I am also an optimist.”

“I am one of 14 men and women who participated in an exhibit titled ‘Direct Experience.’ What we have in common is that we are artists and we have (or have had) cancer. I am encouraged by the survivors who are two decades out, and I have great empathy for those who are just beginning their journey. Strength and vulnerability go hand and hand with cancer.”

Photos by Jose Zurita. Interview by Amy Doser. #survivorspark

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