December 15, 2010

Unbowed by cancer

Cancer survivor Candie St. Onge, left, and her biggest fan, husband Mike.
Union Leader Correspondent
David Cheng plays carols during Tuesday's annual dinner for
cancer survivors -- his wife, Alice, was among the honored guests.
DERRY -- Today is the two-year anniversary of the day the two lumps in Candie St.
Onge’s breast were diagnosed as stage 3 cancer. What came next, as she tells her story, was the “summer of radiation” followed by the “year of surgeries.”
In between she worked through the pain, the fear, the discomfort, the uncertainty, relying heavily on her husband, Mike St. Onge, for comic relief, pep talks and occasional attitude adjustments.
In June, her body was realigned, and her doctor prepared her for breast implants.
Now, she is cancer free and sharing not only her bliss, but
 the lessons she learned on the long journey from there to here. 

During last night’s Lahey Institute of Oncology and Hematology at Parkland Medical Center Cancer Survivors Celebration at Promises to Keep, the seventh-grade teacher and mother of two from Litchfield stood boldly and tearfully before her husband and 100 of their peers — survivors of cancer and those companions who’d seen them through. The annual dinner is meant simply to bring everyone together for a moment of celebration for another day of life, laughter and love. 
St. Onge knew that some of those in the room were still in the thick of treatment, still facing their fears and fighting the demons that keep hope at bay, and so she spoke to them, as well. 
“My message to you is that cancer is long — it’s long. Once chemo’s done everyone says, ‘aren’t you happy?’ but you find out that it keeps going. All that we do, in all the decisions we make, it’s always in the back of your mind,” St. Onge said “Two years later, I’ve discovered the two most important things about surviving cancer are laughter and a positive attitude. Instead of framing it as poisoning my body with chemicals, I thought of it as killing cancer. Every week on our way to the clinic, my husband and I would stop at Wendy’s for some junk food, pick up a low-brow movie full of ‘f-bombs’ and we’d laugh together while we were killing the cancer.” 
They eventually had to bring their own headphones, since St. Onge was being treated in a PG-13 environment. 
She said she made the conscious decision to keep working throughout her treatment, to keep talking about her ups and downs, to lean on her friends and coworkers, as needed, and to live her life, every day, to its fullest. 
“I was 36 when I was diagnosed, so my first realization was that I wasn’t going to live forever after all — facing your mortality is tough — especially with two little kids asking you if you’re going to die. I told them that wasn’t in my plans. What I’ve learned is to avoid all the negative stuff. Ask for help if you need it, and stay strong and positive,” St. Onge said. 

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