Cynthia Reed’s experience with cancer goes far beyond her own battle with cervical cancer. It’s something that has touched many people in her life. Amidst all of the upheaval and emotions that come with the diagnosis and loss around her, she’s stayed positive and given back where she could.
“I found out I had cancer in May of 2001 and within three days I found out that I had cervical cancer, my mother had intestinal cancer, my brother-in-law had prostate cancer and my brothers girlfriend had some very rare type of blood cancer.”
Cynthia was diagnosed with stage II cervical cancer and she decided, initially, that she wanted to travel to Chicago for treatment. Some insurance issues meant that she couldn’t travel out of state so she then set her sights on Indianapolis.
“I knew that I wanted to go somewhere where they dealt with this all the time, every day,” Cynthia said. “I wanted it to just be another normal day for them. That’s what I just felt most comfortable with.”
She ended up travelling to IUPUI’s medical facilities in Indianapolis for treatment, and eventually surgery.
“When you find out you have cancer, for me, it was like, ‘get this out of me right now!’” Cynthia said. “I wanted it gone immediately so they couldn’t do things fast enough. I pushed and pushed, and would call every day and say, ‘do you have any openings because I will come in right now!’”
In August, Cynthia had surgery to remove the cancer which meant that she would also be having what’s called a radical hysterectomy.
“I’ve learned that anytime they put ‘radical’ in front of any medical procedure that it was not going to be good!” said Cynthia. “I remember them telling me that, ‘you probably know women who have had a hysterectomy and they’re not the same as what you’re going to have.’”
Cynthia was in for a long recovery that was, potentially, going to be quite a painful, uphill battle.
“Some women are up in a day or a week with a regular procedure but with a radical hysterectomy they scrape as close to your organs as they can from hip to hip, all the way around,” Cynthia said. “The term ‘radical’ became a significant word to me because it was a heck of a recovery.”
“It was very painful and it took me until around December to be able to walk up any stairs at all. Then I could only get up a few but by January I was back to normal.”
During the experience, Cynthia had lost her job but was lucky in that she had caring people around her who built up a support system which helped her to stay afloat, stay positive and remain optimistic in the face of what was to come.
“My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, took care of all of my bills,” said Cynthia. “I had nothing and I was a single mom so it got incredibly tough. I was paycheck to paycheck anyway and he literally paid for everything - NIPSCO, phone, food - it was pretty incredible.”
“It was months of recovery at home and my mother was a huge, huge supporter. I had my surgery three months after my mother did and she took care of me the whole time after having her own surgery. My sisters and my whole family was just wonderful. They gave me so much support.”
Cynthia has learned a great deal about illness, loss, life and staying positive through her and her family’s experiences. She spoke about some of those lessons and the hard truths that she was forced to face during her battle.
“Stay calm and write down all of the questions that you have, or that other people might have that, maybe at first, you don’t give any merit to,” Cynthia said. “They’re probably good questions that you’re not thinking about, or you simply don’t want to face. Do research on your doctors too before you go and even ask around. The people that you know and love might be able to help.”
“Always have somebody with you. I tried to brave it on my own but my sisters just walked into the doctor’s office. They wouldn’t let me do it alone and they stayed with me. And they were absolutely right to do it because you just kind of shut down when you get the results. You think you can handle it and then they start talking about what’s going to happen even before surgery.”
“I missed a lot and my sister, who had been a nurse, knew exactly what was going on. That support system was huge.You need people that you can trust to help you through it. Even when you think you don’t need help, no. You need people around you because it also helps you family to accept things. One big thing that I learned is that you are not in control. With that in mind you just have to go forward and help yourself, and allow those around you to help.”
Cynthia’s son, Perry Fishel, played a big part in her keeping a positive outlook. Of Perry, she said, ”He was a huge part of my support system at 16 years old. I call him ‘the calm in my storm.’ His loving ways, sympathetic heart and calm spirit have helped me rise above many things in my life.”
Though Cynthia has been cancer-free for several years, she still celebrates her family, and specifically, her sister’s battle with breast cancer every year through a local breast cancer walk that raises money to help find a cure for this illness that everyone has been impacted by in one way or another.
For Cynthia, the breast cancer walk is, “How I can give back. It’s something that I can do and it’s something that is the closest to my heart.”
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