The fight of their lives

10/5/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Garden City residents Joanne Harder and Ron Schwartz have gotten to know each other while getting cancer treatments at the Central Care Cancer Center in Garden City.

Both continue to fight their respective cancers while maintaining a positive attitude.

"I sit beside Ron Schwartz. He's really something else," Harder said with a laugh. "He's really a nice guy. The staff at the cancer center is amazing. They're always upbeat, and that makes everybody else upbeat."

Harder, who was diagnosed with breast cancer more than a year ago, said having a positive attitude helps.

"People laugh about it and why not? When you first find out you have cancer, probably it runs through your mind at some point, 'why me?' Then you say, 'why not me?' Things happen to everybody. You just take care of it and know that God will get you through it," she said.

For Schwartz, plans for early retirement and traveling with wife, Janie, across the country were shaken in July 2012 after he experienced the first symptoms of something not quite right.

During a trip to the restroom, Schwartz experienced a stream of blood instead of urine. He immediately contacted his physician and was seen the next morning. But there was no pain and nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so it was assumed to be a potential kidney stone.

Schwartz spent the weekend preparing for a golf tournament and had no pain or blood in his urine. The following Monday, however, was a different story. He returned to the doctor and brought a urine specimen.

"Other than in emergency situations on TV or in the movies, I had never seen medical procedures scheduled and performed so quickly," he said.

Over the next few days, Schwartz had a multitude of tests, scans, biopsies and consultations with doctors, which ended with a diagnosis of Stage 4 renal cell cancer in his right kidney, which was subsequently surgically removed.

"At that point in my life, I had several options to choose from in life's menu that was put in front of me," Schwartz said. "I could choose to say that I had a good life but it's over, or I could choose to be a survivor. Needless to say, I chose the survival route."

Harder, 78, is a retired Community Day Care Center director who has been married to Ace Harder for 60 years this year. They have four grown children. Harder's cancer was discovered during an annual checkup in March 2012.

"I had a little lump under my arm. It felt about pea size, and it had been there for several months. But I'm not very big on running to the doctor. It didn't hurt, it wasn't growing or doing anything. My blood work was good," she said.

After Harder mentioned the lump to her doctor, he ordered a mammogram but it didn't show anything. Undeterred, the doctor ordered a biopsy and a multitude of other tests and then concluded Harder had a very aggressive cancer.

Harder had a mastectomy and removal of 26 lymph nodes. She has had some swelling in her arm and lost her hair, but otherwise feels good. She never felt sick after chemo treatments, either, something other cancer patients experience. Her doctor asked her if she noticed being more tired.

"I said, 'Listen, I was tired before I ever started this,'" Harder said.

Schwartz' kidney removal was performed in Kansas City in September 2012. It was successful, but doctors discovered the cancer had moved into his lungs, and a growth was found in his bladder. For the lung cancer, Schwartz took 10 injections of Interleukin 2, and had another surgery to remove the bladder tumor in December 2012.

Since then, Schwartz has been receiving treatment at the Central Care Cancer Center in Garden City.

"I have always felt that I was a strong person and could handle about anything, but when the Interleukin 2 did not give us the results we had hoped for, and with the additional cancer in the bladder, I have to admit that it set me back a bit," Schwartz said. "I had to dig deep to fight on."

Harder said she really never felt afraid about the diagnosis, something she thinks may have been a result of all the tests that preceded the diagnosis preparing her for the worst.

"I just don't dwell on it. I just do what they tell me to do, and take what they tell me to take. I feel fine," she said.

Harder has received 25 radiation treatments and has a port implanted in her chest through, which she receives her treatment, and has blood work done through every three weeks. All her tests looked good at her last doctor visit, and she expects to finish her current round of therapy in December. She will continue to take a pill for five to 10 years.

Harder said she also can't praise the local medical community enough for their skill and support. Harder has been pleased she could get treatment in Garden City instead of driving to a bigger city. Her husband, Ace, has macular degeneration and can't drive, and she takes care of a disabled daughter at home.

"First of all, I'm very thankful. God's been very good to me. I have not been sick at all. None. People keep asking me, 'How are you? How are you doing?' Really, I'm fine," she said. "I concluded God knew I had to take care of Ace and Barbara, so he's blessed me with good health."

Harder said she hopes others going through cancer treatment or those newly diagnosed take heart in the stories of others who have fought the disease. She wants them to know it's not a death sentence.

"The more I talk to people, the more survivors I meet. Be encouraged. There's new research all the time," she said.

Harder said the best advice she received was from her doctor, who told her she would hear lots of different things about cancer from other people, and she should listen politely but understand that every person is different.

"It depends on your age, the type of cancer, where it is, your lifestyle. Don't try to compare your situation with anybody else. That was good advice because otherwise you could get down listening to other people," she said.

Schwartz said he was skeptical anything could be accomplished in Garden City that hadn't been done with the supposedly latest and greatest at KU Medical Center. But he has since changed his mind.

"With the excellent staff at the Cancer Center in Garden City, along with my faith in God, we are going forward and beginning to see progress in the lungs," he said. "The physicians and staff at the Cancer Center are amazing."

Schwartz said he has received exceptional care at the center, and staff make his weekly visits for chemotherapy and blood work as pleasant as possible.

Schwartz said cancer was detected in his bladder again during a recent bladder check, performed every three months, and had to be removed in another procedure on Sept. 6. Schwartz said it was a simple procedure that didn't require an overnight hospital stay.

"I am now back in Garden City living a good and happy life with my new normal way of living," he said. "It is true, I can't do everything that I was able to do in the past, but thanks to Central Care Cancer Center and God, I am able to live a happy and wonderful life with my wife and family."

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