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Pink Party honors, supports

Editor's note: The Ninth Annual Pink Street Party is honoring, celebrating and supporting those who have experienced cancer.  The Oct. 5 "party with a purpose" provides inspiration and hope, and we present the following stories about local cancer survivors with that purpose in mind.  See you at the party in downtown Buffalo.


Survivor for 13 years, Joy Klein is grateful for every day, and for those who provide support

By Ed DuBois

After finding a lump in her breast in February 2004, Joy Klein has been a cancer survivor over the past 13 years.  She said she has lost her hair four times, and each time, "my eyebrows get thinner," she laughed.  Living "one day at a time," she now has stage-four cancer.

"It can't be cured, but it can be managed," she said.

She was struggling with some pain that day, and she mentioned undergoing an MRI in the previous week.

"It showed little fractures in my pelvis," Joy said.  "The bones are the best place to have it (cancer), as opposed to the organs, but it's more painful."

Pain medications are a bit helpful.  She is looking into medical marijuana to find out if that might help her deal with the pain without needing to take narcotics.


Jan Heyerdahl's cousin

A native of Buffalo, Joy has been living in Big Lake about 18 years.  She and her husband, Keith, have been married 21 years.  Soon after they were married, they lived in Delano about two-and-a-half years, and then they moved to Big Lake.

Joy's last name was Bjorklund before she got married, and one of her first cousins is Jan (Bjorklund) Heyerdahl, a fellow cancer survivor.

Joy and Keith have two children.  Their son, Morgan, is a senior at Big Lake High School.  Their daughter, Madison, lives in Winona.

Through a cousin, Joy met Keith on a blind date.  Keith now runs a business in Becker, Manufacturing Partners, Inc.  Joy has been a paralegal 26 years.  She decided to leave the company she was working for when it moved farther away from her home, which would have significantly increased her commute.  She said she loves to read, and she also enjoys volunteering at the library and at the food shelf.


Family has been great

After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, she underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, and reconstructive surgery.  The cancer was gone five years, and then her back began to hurt.  A bone scan in 2009 led to more cancer treatments.  More recently, she has been taking a pill form of chemotherapy, she said.

A spot on her liver was found, but after chemotherapy, the spot was gone.

Later, a scan of her neck showed a spot near her spinal cord.  It was better after radiation, Joy said.

Through it all, her family has been great, she stated.

"The kids were very young in the beginning.  They didn't get it then," she mentioned.

Now, they are very supportive.


'Well, you look great!'

"Sometimes people say weird stuff," she commented.

For example, they tell her stories about someone else with cancer.

Joy understands it is hard to know what to say to someone with cancer.  She is grateful for attempts to say something.  After all, "It's better to say something (than nothing at all)."

She smiled and recalled sometimes people say, "Well, you look great!"

She knows they care and are trying to cheer her up.

On Facebook, people suggest, "Try this."  She is careful about alternative treatments.

"If it worked, everybody would be on it," she says to herself.

"They have good intentions," Joy said.  She is glad for those who have "been there for me."


Good information

Support groups have been helpful.

"It helps to be with others in the same situation.  You can share information and compare notes," Joy said.

The support group gatherings are often positive.

"I liked it best when all the members of the group had breast cancer," Joy mentioned.  That way, the conversation and the helpful information stayed related to her condition.

Taking part in a support group on Facebook, she has read about happenings all over the world.  For example, she has read, "This is what we're doing in Australia."  She has also read comments from other places, such as Europe and the Middle East.

The cost of her medical care has not been overwhelming.  Insurance coverage has mostly taken care of the costs beyond the deductible.  After Joy left her paralegal job, she switched to her husband's insurance plan at his company.


Pink Street Party

She is looking forward to the Pink Street Party in Buffalo on Oct. 5.  She said it is fun to see the way people dress up for the annual event.  Joy met Karla Heeter, a founder of the Pink Street Party, at the annual Connect Retreat for cancer survivors.  Joy said she has been going to the retreat about eight years.

She would like to see efforts to promote more awareness about stage-four metastatic cancer (cancer that has metastasized to another place in the body).  More funds are needed for research, she said.  Medical scientists have made good progress.

"As someone who has survived cancer 13 years, I am a living example," Joy stated.


Still managing

"I am just grateful to have every day," she commented.

Asked how she has managed to stay strong, she said, "I have no choice.  If it happened to you, you would probably be just as strong."

There was a time not so long ago when a diagnosis of stage-four cancer left very little hope for survival.

It can't be cured yet, but it can be managed, Joy said.  She has been managing for 13 years.


Five-year survivor Dee-Dee Wood helping others, says maybe that's why she is here

By Ed DuBois

A five-year cancer survivor, Dee-Dee Wood said, "The first time you feel something wrong, go get it checked, don't wait.  There is nothing more important than your health."  She also endorses eating healthy and not smoking or drinking.

Originally from Hanover, Dee-Dee now lives in Buffalo and is a Buffalo High School graduate.  She has two children, Chad, 40, of St. Paul, and Bridget, 39, of Hanover, and she has four grandchildren.


Quite a caregiver

Her first marriage lasted 20 years, and now she has been married to Dave Balk for 20 years and counting.  "Quite a caregiver," Dave had lived down the road from Dee-Dee.  After his first wife passed away, a closer relationship began to develop between Dave and Dee-Dee.

"Our daughters were friends," Dave explained.

They are both retired now.  Dave had worked in coal sales.  Dee-Dee was an administrative assistant for about 25 years at companies in the Plymouth area.


'Thriver and survivor'

Dee-Dee was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2011 and underwent a double mastectomy.

In January 2012, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and in March 2012, she underwent a radical hysterectomy.

Over the years since then, she has undergone approximately 13-15 medical procedures due to infections, hematomas, sepsis, blocked intestines, and many complications.

Describing herself as a "thriver and survivor," Dee-Dee said she is still on chemotherapy.  She enjoyed a 12-month break from chemotherapy from 2013 to 2014.

"That was the longest I have gone without chemotherapy.  I had other breaks, but that was the longest," she said.

Concerned that sometimes treatment can lead to leukemia, she said her immune system needs to be strong.


Not cured, but managed

She is battling cancer in the lungs, liver, chest wall, back, and pectoral muscle area.  A stage-four cancer patient, she said surgery at this point is not advised because it is likely cancer would show up elsewhere afterward because it is in her blood.

Her cancer is now being managed with medications.


Mayor Clinic treatments

She mentioned that immune therapy, which involves altering cells and returning them to the body so they can go after and destroy cancer cells, is in the trial stage of development and approval.  She might be interested in trying it, but insurance companies are not covering it yet.

"I still have options," she said.

She is not yet at a point where she would try alternative treatments.

Her current treatments are provided through the Mayo Clinic and administered at the Monticello Cancer Center.


Faith in God

"The Monticello Cancer Center is the most professional cancer center.  They have wonderful people.  They become your family," Dee-Dee said.  "We are very blessed to have that cancer center."

Facing the future one day at a time with faith in God, she commented, "I don't know how I would get through this without that."

She likes to join others in the fight against cancer at the annual Pink Street Party in Buffalo.  She went for the first time in 2011 and comes back each time the weather is nice.  In her condition, she cannot afford to catch a cold.


'Why I'm still here'

Meanwhile, support provided by family and friends is very much appreciated.  People bring lunches.  They help clean the house.

A very good friend, Mary Hillstrom, has brought vegetables from her garden and has taken Dee-Dee to tea and to her Bible class.  Many other friends have "been there for me," as well.

"You need people you can depend on; it's nice to have that security," Dee-Dee said.

"I have met other people who I have helped," she added.  "I have helped with their concerns and fears.  Maybe that's my purpose.  I feel like I can help others get through cancer.  Maybe that's why I am still here.  Yes, I believe that's it."


Get it checked

Her chief advice to others is to get checked the first time you feel something is wrong.  Don't wait.

"There is nothing more important than your health," Dee-Dee said.


The Drummer aims to feature interesting stories each week. Stories about unique
people or happenings within our circulation borders in Drummerland.
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