Aroostook County – July of 2013 was difficult for Louise Dionne of Fort Kent for many reasons: it was the one year anniversary of her mother’s passing and it was when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 appendiceal cancer.
“On Sunday I woke up with terrible pain that I had never felt before,” said Louise. “I thought it might be a bladder infection, but as the day went on, I knew it was something worse.”
Louise did not ignore what her body was telling her and she went to the emergency room at Northern Maine Medical Center where they ran multiple imaging tests and blood work. The ER physicians could see that it was cancer, but needed a few more tests to confirm exactly what type.
“The doctor came into the room and told me it was cancer and perhaps it was on my ovaries,” remembers Louise. “I thought: I’m in trouble now.”
Though the doctors knew they had more tests to run and fellow doctors to consult, Louise already knew she was going to fight it.
“I looked at my 8 year-old son who was in the exam room with me and I said, ‘Mommy’s going to be okay,’” said Louise. “He had seen my mother fight lung cancer and I knew he would be concerned.”
Four days later, Louise was having surgery at Maine Medical Center in Portland. The surgical team took her appendix and cancer spots from around her uterus, bladder, and the outside of her colon but they were not able to get it all.
“I remember coming out of anesthesia and the doctor telling me that they couldn’t get it all,” said Louise. “But I have a lot of faith – I told myself it’s in God’s hands.”
Louise still went to Boston for a second opinion as she had been told her cancer was very fast growing. The physicians in Boston worked with Dr. Naveed Kahn, of NMMC, to determine her plan of care. She would begin with 12 chemotherapy treatments with intermittent imaging studies.
“On first day of chemo I received a call telling me my cancer was actually a slow-growing type instead of fast-growing as they initially thought,” said Louise.
In the third month of treatment, Louise had a CAT scan to determine if she was responding to treatment. The results showed that she was rapidly improving. She was then sent to Portland for a special type of heated chemo, called HIPEC, as she now qualified as a candidate for it.
“I had a second surgery this past January and I no longer have any cancer on my colon,” said Louise, “but I will continue my last two chemo treatments.”
Louise is now cancer-free and feels that her faith is stronger than ever. Through the entire experience, she felt as though she was being watched over.
“I never felt angry or questioned why I had this disease,” said Louise. “I know there are people who have it worse than me and I’m thankful for where I am now.”
Overall, Louise lost some hair and occasionally felt nauseous but mostly she felt tired. She marvels at the help, strength, and prayers her family, friends, and community provided her with during the difficult months of treatment.
“I could not have gotten through this without the love and support from everyone,” said Louise. “People came out of the woodwork to offer support and help. It was amazing!”
Just like many other survivors, Louise feels that cancer alters your perspective on life.
“It changes how you perceive things, including your fight with cancer,” said Louise. “I didn’t want to be angry and resentful – I’m not an angry person.”
“As difficult as it is to remember, don’t give up,” advises Louise. “Believe that there is hope and try not to be angry – it doesn’t change anything.”