About year ago, country vocalist Martina McBride released "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," a song about breast cancer and the need for support from loved ones. A few months later, in October 2011, Lindsay Vanderveen of rural Tiffin learned of her own breast cancer. The song has provided the theme of a fundraiser for Vanderveen at 5 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church, Attica.
A 2001 graduate of Columbian High School and 2004 graduate of Heidelberg University, Vanderveen is a kindergarten teacher at Hayes Elementary School and an instructor for the summer migrant education program, both in Fremont.
She recalled the events that led to a diagnosis of stage II breast cancer at the age of 28.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
The Vanderveen family includes husband Shane, Ellie and Blaise, ages 3 and 1, and Lindsay.
"Last summer, I was just working out. I came home one night and was having pain and didn't know what it was from," Vanderveen said.
Shane Vanderveen, her husband of eight years, advised her to see a doctor about the large lump in her right breast, but she put it off for about three weeks. Because of her youth, her family physician said she was not a likely candidate for breast cancer, but he wanted her to have it checked further.
When a needle biopsy came back negative, the surgeon advised a second, deeper biopsy. It revealed a growth the size of a lime.
If you go
Lindsay Vanderveen's cancer fundraiser, at 5 p.m. Saturday, is to be catered by Uncle Dudley's Restaurant in Willard. The choices include lasagna or chicken Alfredo, salad, bread sticks donated by Village Pizza House, dessert and beverage.
The cost is $ for adults and $4 for children 10 and younger.
At 7 p.m., auctioneer Bill Jones is to auction a variety of donated items, including themed baskets, gift cards and certificates, event tickets, furniture and other items.The evening continues with a 50/50 drawing, DJ, cornhole tournament and children's activities.
Proceeds are to offset Vanderveen's cancer-related expenses.
The lyrics of McBride's song about what cancer takes from a person stirred a realization for Lindsay.
"I remember listening to it on the radio, and I remember starting to cry, and in my heart I knew. I didn't need the results. I knew," she said.
Once the diagnosis of stage II breast cancer was confirmed, Lindsay requested treatment at the Stefanie Spielman Breast Cancer Center at the Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus. With two young children depending on her, she wanted only the best care from top experts.
Lindsay said her female doctors, who are only a few years older than herself, were incredulous to have such a young patient.
"I had a right mastectomy back in November, and I'm opting to have the left removed also, because there's a pretty high chance it will come back on the other side," she said.
At the time of this interview, she was planning to meet with a reconstruction specialist this week. Lindsay was able to have follow-up radiation treatments at the Mercy Cancer Center in Tiffin. Those have ended, but she still has scars from the blisters.
Tests at OSU showed Lindsay has an unusual type of cancer called triple-negative breast cancer which has not been responsive to treatment with hormones. Her doctors asked her to participate in a study involving a new hormone chemotherapy. The study requires weekly treatments in Columbus.
"The trial is to see if they can find ways to keep it from coming back," Lindsay said.
She also is enrolled in a trial with genetic testing. At the conclusion of her treatment, she has agreed to complete a survey to look at environmental factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and exposure to other substances. Many people have told her not to read articles about triple negative breast cancer, but Lindsay has felt a need to learn more and get a realistic picture of her disease.
Sharon Nedolast, Lindsay's mother, is impressed with her daughter's perseverance and upbeat attitude.
Nedolast said she had worked at Community Hospice for nine years, which gave her insights on the effects of cancer. Her family had suffered from heart ailments but no one had been afflicted with cancer; however, Lindsay is not her biological child.
"She's adopted, and her mother was also adopted. ... They did genetic testing for cancer and Lindsay does not have the gene for cancer. They told her it's kind of a fluke she has it," Nedolast said. "She's hung in there, going to school as much as she could."
Just traveling to and from Columbus has been a challenge for Lindsay, in addition to the effects of chemotherapy.
Nedolast said the first round was the most aggressive and most difficult. Lindsay needed an extra day after the treatment to stay home from school and recover. During the second round, she was able to teach the day after treatment.
Nedolast said Lindsay is not charged for the experimental therapy, but the study does not include travel reimbursement. Lindsay did receive help from Financial Assistance for Cancer Treatment for travel expenses.
There is no guarantee the treatment will help her.
"She knew going into the study she's in down at OSU, that it would prolong everything six months, and she said 'But I have to do it. It's going to help people, it's going to help me and it's probably going to help my daughter someday.' It was something she felt she needed to do," Nedolast said.
Shane works with Attica Fire and EMS. During his training sessions, he already was aware of special precautions for cancer patients because of his wife's condition. She is not allowed to have an IV or blood pressure screening in her right arm because of the risk of lymphedema.
Her cancer has made him more aware of needs in the community.
"I see a lot more of it in EMT now than I did before. At least once or twice a week," Shane said. "It's been a learning experience."
Shane and Lindsay said they first met at Attica Raceway Park when they were 5 and 6 years old. They went to homecoming together their senior year of high school.
Although Lindsay hasn't been to the track for awhile, Shane is the fire team director at the park. She appreciates the support her husband has given her.
"I can't imagine life without him. I can just give him a look and he knows what I mean. I don't even have to say anything," Lindsay said.
Like many other cancer patients, Lindsay lost most of her hair earlier this year.
Daughter Ellie told her mother, "Mommy, I'll give you my hair." Lindsay thanked her and told her about Locks For Love. Ellie needs her hair to grow about one more inch before she can donate it for some other person in need.
Shane shaved his own head the same day Lindsay did, telling her, "As long as you're bald, I'm bald,"
"It was funny because he shaved with me. He shaved mine and then I shaved his."
"I'm not letting mine grow back," Shane said.
At first, Lindsay wore a wig at school for several months. She did tell her students but asked them not to tell anyone else at school until she was ready to share the news herself.
"It was our secret in my room. Everybody in my room knew before that. They kept it pretty good," Nedolast said. "Then I thought, 'Why am I doing this? ... If my kids can love me and my husband can love me, if people can't accept me for who I am, then I don't need them. So I took the wig off and I went to school."
Students at Hayes had many questions because many had not been exposed to people who had lost their hair due to medical conditions.
Lindsay saw her illness as a means of educating the children about cancer, the effects of treatment, and the need to show compassion and tolerance for others they might encounter. Chances are, someone they know will be diagnosed with cancer at some point.
Lindsay said she has experienced some dark moments, but she is determined to maintain a positive attitude, especially around her children and her students. At the end of March, Lindsay's hair started to grow back. The current form of chemotherapy is not causing hair loss, and it is to continue until Blaise's birthday.
"My last day of chemo is Jan. 14, his birthday. His big No. 2 will be my last day of treatment, so that will be a special day," Lindsay said.
Nedolast said she, a friend and Lindsay attended a Financial Assistance for Cancer Treatment benefit together and met some of the volunteers in the organization. When the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure takes place Sept. 30 in Toledo, Lindsay is hoping to participate. The event raises money for research and for cancer-related services.
"I think it's just great that they help fund things. There's a lot of people I know who say, 'I don't want to go get tested because I can't afford it.' Well, your life is worth it. It doesn't matter how long it takes to pay it off. Life is more important than that," Lindsay said.
Cancer has taught her to appreciate every day and not to waste energy on unimportant things. Something good that emerged from her cancer is more awareness among people she knows. At Lindsay's urging, two co-workers have been checked themselves.
"If you ever think it's something, you need to get it checked out and just know," she said. "Knowing is more powerful than not knowing."