THEY ARE THREE WORDS that canturn a person’s world upside down. “You have cancer.” For Sandpoint resident Dani Deschanel, they were the last words she had expected to hear. After all, she did not have any symptoms that would lead her to believe she had a life-threatening illness.
Dani had been off work as a checker at Super 1 Foods for a few months awaiting approval for carpal tunnel surgery. “I was still in the diagnostic stage [for carpal tunnel]. They did a lot of different scans and in those scans they found something suspicious, which turned out to be endometrial cancer,” said Dani.
Difficult to diagnose in the early stages, it was nothing short of a miracle that Dani’s cancer turned out to be stage 1. Although when she was first told of the diagnosis, it was not yet known if the cancer had spread. It was a frightening time.
“It was just before my 44th birthday,” said Dani. “It brings to light your mortality. Material things did not matter much anymore.”
Dani learned of her diagnosis shortly before Christmas in 2015, but she waited until after the holidays to share the news with her two sons, ages 18 and 21 at the time.
She had a hysterectomy, and the surgeon also removed seven of her lymph nodes to determine if the cancer had spread. While the good news is she no longer has any sign of cancer in her body, the removal of so many lymph nodes caused Dani to suffer from lymphedema in her leg—an issue she will have to deal with the rest of her life.
Lymphedema is a condition that occurs when the lymphatic system’s ability to transport fluid is impaired. Fluid, cells and protein accumulate in the tissues resulting in an area of swelling. Symptoms include inflammation, swelling, discomfort and a full and heavy feeling.
But for anyone who knows Dani, and many do as she won the Best Grocery Store Checker in Bonner County for three years in a row during her time with Super 1, they know that her bright smile and dimples continued to shine even through her struggles.
“I was not going to let this get me down,” said Dani, whose faith never wavered. “God is in everything. If I had seen it any other way, I would have been in a deep depression.”
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Dani was very active. She enjoyed running, hiking, swimming and biking. Today, she has learned a new way of doing the things she enjoyed. “It’s my life before cancer and after cancer,” she said.
She now does a light jog and will hike along small trails instead of the more challenging ones she previously conquered. “I feel a constant heaviness in my leg and often feel lopsided and unbalanced,” shared Dani. “In the beginning, I tried to do too much. Now I know my limitations and learned that I can still enjoy my life, just not in the same way I did before cancer.”
One thing that Dani wants to share with the rest of the community is that for anyone going through something like this, there is help available—and it does not mean one has to travel out of town to get it.
Yes, the reality is that you really don’t know about specific resources until you need them, but when Dani needed them they proved invaluable.
She is especially grateful for the ongoing care she received from two women who specialize in lymphedema massage therapy: Laurie Myers, who has her master’s degree in Physical Therapy and specializes in lymphedema and practices with Laurie Ottenbreit, MSPT. Both women work for Performance Therapy Services, which is affiliated with Bonner General Health.
“Laurie Ottenbreit was a very strong motivator for me,” said Dani, who adds that both women’s skills as massage therapists provide tremendous relief for her.
Physical therapy treatments for lymphedema include manual lymphatic drainage, multi-component bandaging, measurement and fitting of a compression garment and instruction on appropriate exercises and self-management. With proper management, therapists such as Laurie Myers and Laurie Ottenbreit can help control swelling and loss of function in the area affected by lymphedema.
Dani said she is also thankful for the assistance she received from Community Cancer Services, a local nonprofit that provides financial and emotional support for cancer patients and their families. “I wanted and needed an independent person to talk to who understood the emotional aspects of what I was going through,” said Dani. She cites one-on-one counseling and the yoga classes offered through Community Cancer Services as particularly helpful.
Another important person in Dani’s journey was Susie Majeski, LCSW, ACADC, LCCC. Majeski is a faith-based therapist who provided Dani with the spiritual support as well as clinical support that she says was instrumental in dealing with her cancer.
It was Dani’s experience that at the initial meetings with medical providers there was not enough information presented to her about the road ahead of her with her diagnosis. She encourages people to always take another person to appointments to help take notes, ask questions and be a patient advocate. “Make sure you take someone who is positive. And don’t take the whole family; just have one person. And remember, you are never alone,” she said, adding that in the beginning she did not tell anyone, and it was a decision she later regretted.
In the end, Dani said one important thing this journey has taught her is that she is much stronger than she thought she was. As she continues to receive treatment for her lymphedema, a life long affliction, she hopes she can be a light for others who travel the same journey and guide them to the help and resources that she found so helpful.