'Attitude goes a long way'
Groveland resident, cancer survivor to speak at Relay for Life
April 20, 2011 - Groveland Twp.- Last May, Danell Duff had an annual physical and was deemed in great health. Less than three months later, she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.
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In between those two events, Duff signed up for the Cancer Prevention Study-3 during the Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville, unaware she was about to fight the disease herself. On June 11, the township resident will once again be at the Relay, this time as a featured guest speaker and a cancer survivor.
"I will tell my story and talk about the services I utilized through the American Cancer Society," said Duff. "The most important thing is reaching out to others. One good thing about Relay is you make connections with other survivors and fighters. There is no reason to feel isolated, there are all these avenues available to you. Look at what I've been through in less than a year."
Duff's cancer battle began early in July with a sore throat and a lump she felt on her neck upon awakening one morning. The sore throat went away, but the lump, which was also visible in the mirror, did not. She asked her doctor to look at it July 21, and the doctor, who knew the lump had not been there at Duff's physical in May, scheduled her for a biopsy.
"I wasn't worried at all, I thought it was goiter— I have a family history of thyroid issues, so I thought it was that," she said.
Two days later, while relaxing at home, Duff thought maybe she would just check the rest of her glands. She found a lump on her right breast that was the size of a pea and the next morning she was on the phone with the doctor, who took her as the first appointment of the day.
"At that point, we moved everything up," said Duff. "We suspected cancer, but were trying to figure out where it started."
Believing that it was breast cancer that was caught very early because of the clear physical in May, she was still fairly calm, but on Aug. 11, she received the official diagnosis, for which she was unprepared. Duff had Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma— a very aggressive cancer, and she was at stage IV of the disease, with spots on her liver, pancreas, breast, thyroid, lymph nodes— "all over."
Duff was comforted to know that there were drugs to treat it. There would be no surgery. Her family, which includes husband Gary and their children, Shelby, 17, and Zach, 15, both students at Brandon High School, handled the diagnosis with optimism. On Aug. 26, she began her first round of chemotherapy, spending nine hours at the Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute in Flint, receiving four drugs intravenously and one by mouth.
For the next few months, she would go to the Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute in Flint every 21 days, but subsequent visits averaged about six hours. She cut her long, blond hair before the first round, having been warned that her hair would start falling out about 16 days after treatment began (it did).
After being diagnosed with cancer, Duff, a runner, wondered what the point had been of her healthy lifestyle.
"My initial reaction was, 'Why the heck have I been eating healthy and exercising if I'm going to get cancer?'" she said. "But the reason you do it is, chemo is hard enough, but if you are healthy going in, you come out a lot better than if you are unhealthy going in. I improved my own odds. I can control my own health to some degree, and your attitude goes a long way."
A nurse who knew that people who are wrapped up in a negative attitude don't do as well as people who are positive, encouraged Duff to run the races she had registered for prior to diagnosis if she felt well enough, and two days after her first chemo treatment, Duff ran the Crim, a 10-mile race in Flint. About five weeks later, just before her third chemo round and while bald, she ran the Brooksie Way, a half-marathon in Rochester.
The most difficult times for Duff were the 10-14 days after receiving each chemo treatment. Then she would start feeling really good the week before the next round, "just in time to start feeling really bad again."
Still, she just kept telling herself, 'It's all good, until it isn't anymore.' She walked her dog, Duffy, a schnoodle (schnauzer-poodle mix) for 30 minutes or more per day.
"If I had stayed in the house thinking, 'I'm going to throw up,' I probably would have," she said. "Instead, I walked every day through my treatment."
Duff's last chemo round was Dec. 9. A scan at the end of December showed no signs of disease. Last week, her bloodwork came back clean. She is still tired from the effects of chemo and it may take her body a year to adjust, but she is working on a couch to 5K running program, hopes to be running longer races by the fall, and is looking forward to helping other cancer patients by continuing her participation in the cancer study and speaking at the Relay.
"It's a really fun day," said Duff. "You don't have to be on a team to be there. Come out and support the cause."
The fourth annual Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville will be 10 a.m., June 11 to 10 a.m., June 12 at the Brandon Schools Athletic Complex on Varsity Drive. Relay for Life is a 24-hour walk and the American Cancer Society's signature event to raise funds and awareness for all types of cancer.
For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/brandonmi or contact Beth Collins at 248-663-3421 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville