Supporting breast cancer research in memory of a beloved wife and mother

By Stuart Baskin

Organizer of the “Shave to Save” fundraiser to benefit breast cancer research at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute

I’d like to tell you about my wife, Janet. 

The first time I saw her was amazing — seeing her long flowing blonde hair, her beautiful green eyes and her smile. I think my heart truly skipped a beat.  We sat together at dinner at our five-year high school reunion and soon after started dating. 

One thing led to another and before I knew it, we were married and expecting our first child, Robert Andrew.  Life was good. We had a beautiful home, good jobs and the start of an amazing family.

Janet Baskin

Janet Baskin

Like almost every fairy tale though, things changed drastically – and it was not from a poison apple. It was from a lump Jan found in her left breast.  Sometimes I think a poison apple would have been easier to deal with. 

At the time, Jan was a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. She knew what the lump could mean.  She made an appointment with her doctor and he told her it couldn’t be anything to worry about, that she was only 30 years old. The doctor advised her to wait 45 days and see if the lump dissipated on its own.

Like most people, we heard what we wanted to hear and followed doctor’s orders. Forty-five days went by and Jan went back to her doctor.  The lump had not dissipated, so he scheduled a needle biopsy, with the continued assurance that it couldn’t be anything serious, that Jan was too young.

So the day of the needle biopsy arrives. We thought, no big deal – it’s just a needle being stuck into a growth in her breast. If you’ve ever been through this type of procedure, I don’t need to tell you the hardest part is waiting for results. Her doctor took a sample of her cells and we waited a week to receive the results. 

We stayed positive and just waited. After all, we had nothing to worry about — Jan was only 30.  Time passed and we went back to the doctor to receive the results. The information was not the most positive — the needle biopsy came back as “highly suspect.” 

So what does that mean?  Since conclusions weren’t definite, Jan’s doctor recommended a lumpectomy.  Again, he said that he could perform this easily, that just a small amount of material would be cut away — out with the bad and in with the good.  So we scheduled the procedure and life went on. 

The procedure day arrived.  We got there and everything went just as planned.  Jan did well and we headed home.  Again, more waiting occurred and that was tough. 

Test results finally came in and we found out that the lump was not something we could let dissipate, that in actuality, it was breast cancer. 

I don’t know how many of you have heard those words or listened to the ominous tone of the doctor’s voice when he or she tells you or someone you love that they have cancer.  It’s devastating.  Everything hits you at once and your life changes in an instant. 

From there, Jan underwent a mastectomy and removal of her lymph nodes.  She was a practical woman and asked to have both breasts removed. Doctors told her no, that there was no need for something so drastic, that her suggestion was ‘silly talk.’ 

Today, I believe a radical mastectomy is standard protocol to treat the type of breast cancer Jan had.  We scheduled the surgery and realized that this procedure is much more serious than the other procedures, that it’s meant to treat a serious problem and could turn out to be very bad. 

The surgery went well.  Jan’s breast was removed and they found three out of her nine lymph nodes had been compromised.  The good news, however, was her disease was still considered Stage I breast cancer and her prognosis was good. 

Jan took time to heal and I kept telling her that it’s a walk in the park, we have this disease under control, that we caught it early and everything is going to be fine. I told her to stay positive and reassured her that life was good. 

I read a saying once:  “Cancer may leave your body but it never leaves your mind.”  It is such a scary thing hearing those terrible words — that you have cancer — that you are always watching and looking for signs that it may have returned, always hoping that it does not come back. 

The good news is our life moved forward. Things seemed back to normal and we made it past the five year mark.  That’s the big number — five years and we made it! 

Jan returned to school and became a nurse anesthetist.  She worked so diligently, studied so hard and graduated with honors.  It then came time to consider having more children. We already had a wonderful baby boy and wanted more kids. Unfortunately, Jan’s hormonal receptors tested positive. What that meant was no more kids. The doctors did not want her hormones to become elevated. 

So what options did we have?  We decided to adopt. My son wanted a brother and I wanted a daughter, so we started the paperwork to adopt two children from Russia. 

Life was grand. Jan had started her new job and our house was full of children and love.  And then it happened. I will never forget that day. Jan called me home from work to talk.  She was having some vision troubles and had made an appointment with her eye doctor.  She sat me down and proceeded to explain her vision difficulties were from cancer tumors on her optic nerves. 

We were devastated. We knew the cancer was back and we suspected it had metastasized. We cried, we hugged and we hoped for the best.

Jan’s doctors tested, they scanned, they poked and what they found was not good.  Her cancer had spread. It was now in the meninges of her brain, in her lungs, in her bones and in her eyes. 

Jan, 36 at the time of her cancer recurrence, was a strong woman. She didn’t want to know a prognosis because it didn’t matter to her. She was going to stay and fight as long as she could.  I would like to tell you that she wanted to fight to be with me, but I know that she had her kids and that they were her driving force. 

I was not as strong as Janet. I wanted to know what was going on and I needed to hear how good or bad her situation was.  Her oncologist was amazing. All I had to do was call and he would give me an update. I did not have to ask.  What I can tell you is that my wife’s situation was bad. Her oncologist told me she had anywhere from two months to two years to live, but sooner or later, the cancer would get ahead of the chemotherapy. 

As I mentioned, Jan was a fighter. Over the next six years, she had full and focused brain radiation, radiation to her eyes, a second mastectomy, a bone marrow transplant, which was performed at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, and chemotherapy every week, which lasted for the full six years. To top it all off, the drugs put her into early menopause. 

I am sorry to say that we lost a perfect soul, a caring mother and a courageous woman, but she did not go without leaving all of us an example to follow. Jan, who was 42 when she passed, she taught me how to cherish each and every moment and how to enjoy each breath. Most of all, she taught me how to live!

I found myself a widowed father of three kids who had just lost his wife after a long and difficult battle with a terrible disease. At first I was lost. I had a full plate with three kids to raise. I also had this helpless feeling. 

It’s hard to put it into words, but mostly I felt defeated.  I had to watch my love — my wife and life partner — fight this terrible disease and I knew one day it would win. 

Each week, doctors put poison into her veins, hoping it would keep her cancer at bay. I knew that I could only offer comfort and support. I could not fix her, nor could I heal her. 

Jan and I used to participate in the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure, which we would both walk together. One year I decided I was going to run in honor of Janet.  I had never been a runner but had a goal and a passion from within. 

I started like most novice athletes and ran a block, then two, and finally worked up to running my first 5K race. So many nights I would go off for a few-mile run to clear my mind. Running became my therapy, my saving grace, and I found my mission — raising funds to honor my wife.  For the last 11 years, I have been raising funds in her memory through my “Shave to Save” fundraising event.

Detroit Iron Team

Detroit Iron Team

This year, the “Shave to Save” event will take place from 5-9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 24 , at Black Finn in Royal Oak and is being put on with my Detroit Iron Triathlon Team. There is a $20 donation entrance fee at the door, which will include drink specials, free appetizers and a silent auction. Detroit Iron team members, myself included, will shave their heads as part of the event. Aiding in those shaving efforts are two young ladies who are also cancer survivors. One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit breast cancer research at Karmanos. The team chose Karmanos as a beneficiary because of the wonderful experience Jan had undergoing her bone marrow transplant at the center.

My hope is that one day, by supporting breast cancer research and the commitment to finding a cure, a father will not have to look into the eyes of his children and tell them their mother has passed away from cancer.

Taking inspiration from a friend to fight breast cancer

Liz Wright with a "friend" at the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure

Liz Wright with a “friend” at the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure

By Liz Wright, Member, Communications Committee, Komen Detroit Race for the Cure

As a runner of half marathons and the occasional full marathon, I consider myself to be a healthy person.  I sneak an extra cookie (or three) every now and again, but overall I feel like I make good choices. 

We runners surround ourselves with other like-minded individuals, swapping homemade granola recipes and debating just how many servings of leafy green vegetables one needs in a 24-hour period.  It can border on silly at times but as a runner, I’ve become very aware of what I put inside my body. The level of exercise I put my body through has a huge effect on my race training. 

Sometimes you feel like you have all the answers. That is, until reality decides to surprise you. 

A 35-year-old friend of mine, a personal trainer and marathoner who ran at least one mile every single day in the first half of 2012, has breast cancer. In my mind, she shouldn’t. The math doesn’t add up. She runs races year-round. She motivates and promotes health and wellness to her dedicated and loyal client base. She exercises for a living, for goodness sake!  But life happens and cancer happens. 

People who don’t have a reason to get cancer sometimes end up with cancer.  Let’s be honest – no one who is diagnosed with cancer has a good reason for having the disease.  People don’t hear about a friend or family member with a recent diagnosis and say, “Yeah, I saw that one coming.  Doesn’t surprise me.” 

July will be the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis.  Her treatment menu by the summer will be as follows – a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, tissue expansion, radiation, breast reconstruction and a hysterectomy.  And through all of this, she’s continued to work and be a mom, wife, loving friend and supporter to all her clients. 

She’s a hero and she doesn’t even need a cape.

She’s kept a Tumblr (a social media Web site) of her struggles and victories since the first day of her diagnosis.  With wit, grace, sadness and gratitude, she writes about her journey through every treatment and surgery.  She guides us through the disgusting parts and the hopeful parts and the intimate parts.  She is sharply funny, constantly finding humor in the most unlikely places while being brutally honest about the harshness of her treatments. 

Through all of this, she fights and stays positive. She even had the phrase ‘stay positive’ tattooed on her wrist post-diagnosis.  She fights every day with a sense of purpose.  Physically and mentally, she gets stronger with each passing week.  She recently posted about getting back to her old activities with her friends – “Every day, in every way, I am closer to being me.” 

Breast cancer can make you feel like less of a woman and can steal parts of your identity away from you. She’s taught me that opening yourself up and sharing the deepest parts of yourself is a difficult but important part of the healing process. Watching my friend climb out of this pit of self-doubt and uncertainty into the light of her full life is inspiring. 

Her journey is the reason why I choose to support the fight against this disease. It’s up to all of us to make a choice to fight alongside our friends, mothers, sisters and daughters as we envision a world without breast cancer!

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute is the presenting sponsor of the 22nd Annual Komen Detroit Race for the Cure. To learn more about the Race and to register, visit karmanoscancer.org/KomenDetroit. You may also e-mail raceforthecure@karmanos.org or call 248-304-2080 or 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266).  

Doing her part to promote breast cancer research at Komen Detroit Race for the Cure

Liz Wright

Liz Wright

By Liz Wright
Member, Communications Committee, Komen Detroit Race for the Cure

Many times in life, where you start isn’t always where you end up.

This couldn’t be truer when it comes to my involvement with the Susan G. Komen Detroit Race for the Cure, scheduled for May 18 at Comerica Park. As a young adult just graduating from college, cancer had never touched my life. Sure, I knew of people who knew people who had a sister or a father with the disease. I listened quietly, lending a friendly ear and nothing more.

It wasn’t until breast cancer touched my life personally that I felt a responsibility to do what I could to fight this disease. I learned that my boyfriend’s mother (now my mother-in-law) was a cancer survivor and watched first-hand as my aunt fought breast cancer and won. I was, however, not so blind as to believe everyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer survives his or her struggle.

It was then that my boyfriend (now my husband) and I decided to participate in our first Komen Detroit Race for the Cure in 2006. Not only was it a 5K through the city we love, we knew that the money we raised was going to local screening programs, research and education.

When we arrived at Comerica Park, I was blown away by the energy and the buzz in the air — tens of thousands of men and women in a sea of pink laughing, dancing, alive with the promise of a cure. It was also a time to reflect and never forget those that we lost too soon. We ran our hearts out and I made the decision then and there to make this an annual event.

Continue reading ‘Doing her part to promote breast cancer research at Komen Detroit Race for the Cure’

‘Sticking it to Cancer’ to benefit Karmanos

Mike Costello

Mike Costello

By Michael Costello, coordinator of the “Stick it to Cancer” fundraiser and lacrosse coach at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor

Lacrosse is more than a game – it’s a tradition.

It’s a warm spring afternoon.

It’s trying to hit corners.

It’s moving the ball quickly and crisply.

It’s a ground ball that leads to a transition opportunity.

It’s a dodge – then a dish.

It’s an amazing reaction save.

It’s saying to a friend, “Did I just see that???” when you’ve witnessed yet another unbelievable play.

The game is beautiful, graceful, powerful, fast and aggressive.

Those of us who love lacrosse share these feelings – it’s a common bond. We have a fantastic lacrosse community in Michigan. Unfortunately, cancer intrudes on that community. Figuratively, it extends its bony, skeletal finger and touches someone that we know…that we love.  It can even touch us — literally.

Cancer doesn’t care if we are an 18-year-old attackman with a bright future or a 52-year-old coach with lessons on life that he wants to share.  

Cancer doesn’t care if you are a parent or an official or an athletic director or a friend of a friend of a friend.

I started “Stick it to Cancer” because I was angry, to be honest. I was angry at cancer for taking the lives of friends, for making them go through the sometimes torturous rounds of chemo, for putting patients through the roller coaster of getting a clean bill of health only to hear the words, “your cancer is back.”

What can you do when you are angry? After I cried, after I shouted, I decided to do something.

I was familiar with the “Movember” activities to promote prostate cancer awareness and the breast cancer awareness program through the National Football League – those are great efforts on a national level. But I wanted to do something here in Michigan.

The Karmanos Cancer Institute seemed like a good fit. They are well known, they do good work and they are based in Michigan. A friend of mine had treatment there.  I thought it would be a way to give back – to say thanks for all that they have done and continue to do.  The people at Karmanos have been very supportive as we, the community, try to get this initiative up and running. The lacrosse community is a tight-knit family. It’s my prayer that what we do during this “Stick it to Cancer” program will make a difference.

We have to take it day by day. If what we donate helps us get closer to finding a cure for any one of the many types of cancer, we will all celebrate. But, if we can bring a smile to a patient by donating a poster or a get well card, or even some hair for a wig – that’s a major milestone too.

I truly believe that the lacrosse community in Michigan will make a difference – and will “Stick it to Cancer.”

To make donations to the “Stick it to Cancer” campaign, click: https://www.karmanos.org/donations/?fund=lacrosse. If you need pledge sheets, a Special Event Form or Proposal Form, or to just get information about donating to Karmanos, please click http://www.karmanos.org/friendsraisingfunds

About our blogger:

Mike Costello lives in Plymouth with his wife Gail and 10-year-old daughter Rachel. He’s a three-season coach, coaching tennis, basketball and of course, lacrosse. He was introduced to the game in summer camp back in 1977. Mike played at Michigan State for two years when they were a Division I school. The siren song of lax brought him back in 2002 when he began coaching the Canton Warriors High School Club team. From there he coached the Plymouth-Canton-Salem unified team and then the Plymouth Wildcats until 2009. He moved to Greenhills School in Ann Arbor in 2010 and is beginning his fourth year there.  Mike also writes for the Ann Arbor Lacrosse Examiner.

 

Gaining strength, courage and compassion while caring for cancer patients

Carri Black

By Carri Black, RN, coordinator of the Head and Neck Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center

I have been an oncology nurse for 21 years. When I started at the Detroit Medical Center as a new graduate from nursing school, I really had no idea what area I wanted to specialize in.  I was offered a position in oncology and since then, I’ve never left. 

For the last 17 years, I have been the coordinator for the Head & Neck Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center. The Head & Neck MDT was one of the first groups to pioneer the multidisciplinary team approach to patient care, back in the 1980s, when Karmanos was known as the Michigan Cancer Foundation.  

Our team is comprised of surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical residents, a speech and swallowing therapist, an endocrinologist, dentists, staff nurses, research nurses, social workers, dieticians and ambulatory care associates.  It’s a very big team, with a lot of consultants, for a group of patients who have very special needs.  Together, we develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient and provide them with the education and support to afford them the best possible outcomes.

Our clinic nurses have a vital role in patients’ care, beginning with the very first time we meet them. Collaborating with the physician, nurses help coordinate all details of a patient’s treatment plan.  Cancer patients face so many different challenges during the process of receiving their diagnosis and then choosing treatment for their cancer.  Compassion, empathy and expertise from our nursing team help to guide our patients through a most difficult time.

Continue reading ‘Gaining strength, courage and compassion while caring for cancer patients’

Highly-skilled Karmanos radiation oncologists make the real difference at Monroe Cancer Center

Dr. Andre Konski

By Andre Konski, M.D, MBA, FACR, chief of Radiation Oncology at the Karmanos Cancer Center

At the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, we know that having the right tools to fight disease is important. However, it’s more important that doctors be highly skilled in using those tools. We believe it’s that skill that makes all the difference to those fighting cancer.

We have radiation oncologists at Karmanos who are highly trained to deliver radiation to cancer patients with pin-point accuracy. Radiation, which is much like the ultraviolet wavelength in sunlight, only at a higher frequency, kills cancer cells and stops them from spreading. It can also relieve symptoms in patients who cannot be cured. Radiation treatment is safe and very effective on many cancers, including lymphoma as well as breast, head and neck, prostate and gastrointestinal cancers.

Cancer patients can schedule appointments themselves with specially-trained, certified Karmanos radiation oncologists at the Monroe Cancer Center, a recent joint venture between Karmanos, Mercy Memorial Hospital System and ProMedica of Toledo. Our radiation oncologists are leaders in education and clinical training. They are also actively involved in national efforts to assure safety and accuracy in radiotherapy delivery.

The beautiful new Monroe Cancer Center, located at 800 Stewart Road, has brought world-renowned radiation oncology cancer care to Monroe and the surrounding communities. The $5 million, 12,700-square-foot facility houses radiation oncology services provided by Karmanos; medical oncology by the Toledo Clinic; and clinical trials and Cancer Connection supportive services through Mercy Memorial Hospital.

Continue reading ‘Highly-skilled Karmanos radiation oncologists make the real difference at Monroe Cancer Center’

Karmanos guides the future for one budding medical research student

Andreana Holowatyj

By Andreana Holowatyj

Student in the Undergraduate Summer Fellowship Program in Cancer Biology at Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine.

My connection with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute started about two months ago as a participant of the Undergraduate Summer Fellowship Program in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at Karmanos and Wayne State University School of Medicine (WSU SOM). I am presently an undergraduate student at Benedictine University in Illinois, majoring in Medical Humanities and Mathematics, and will be applying to graduate programs to commence in the fall of 2013.

For 10 weeks this summer, I have the unique opportunity and privilege to be working in the lab of Dr. Zeng-quan Yang, Ph.D., assistant professor in Breast Cancer Biology in the Department of Oncology at Karmanos and WSU SOM.

The impetus for selecting this summer fellowship opportunity in Detroit is mainly because of my family history with cancer. My grandfather lost his long battle with lymph node cancer roughly 10 years ago, and watching that experience as a child motivated me to pursue a career in the medical field that would make a difference.

Of all my research experiences, my time at Karmanos has been the experience that has had the greatest impact on me and my educational career. Under the superb mentorship of Dr. Yang, I have had the opportunity to participate in a clinical laboratory and work towards his various research goals that focus on developing new and better treatments for esophageal, breast and prostate cancers.

Continue reading ‘Karmanos guides the future for one budding medical research student’



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