Jennifer Dyer isn’t about to call her cancer diagnosis a blessing. But she admits the disease has changed her life, in some ways for the better. “I was raised a Christian but only occasionally attended church,” she says. “Now my faith is stronger than ever. Since this experience, when I am physically able to get to church, I’m there.” The 48-year-old Denver resident (no relation to Lake Norman Magazine editor Leigh Dyer) was diagnosed in September 2008 with stage IV appendix cancer, a very rare type of the disease. A midnight trip to the emergency room for exhaustion and persistent abdominal discomfort led to the diagnosis and emergency surgery for a hysterectomy and removal of her appendix. An oncologist who met with Dyer after the procedure gave her a grim six-month prognosis and recommendation to get her affairs in order. Dyer’s family didn’t take the suggestion lying down. “Everyone went to work making phone calls and researching the internet for options,” she recalls. “My mom’s mantra was ‘Whatever it takes,’ and to this day I live by that philosophy.” Her family’s persistence led Dyer to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. She met Dr. Perry Shen, one of only a handful of surgeons across the country performing an innovative therapy giving patients like Dyer hope where before there was none. “After the consult with Dr. Shen I met with the previous oncologist who suggested getting my affairs in order and told him he would no longer be treating me,” Dyer says with a laugh. “If there’s any lesson to learn here, it’s that patients should seek several opinions before making any decisions.” In December 2008 Dyer underwent another surgery to remove the spleen and rid the abdominal cavity of as many cancer cells as could be seen. Dr. Shen also performed the progressive procedure called hypothermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, which kills the hidden cancer cells. The treatment allows surgeons the ability to apply high doses of chemotherapy directly to the abdominal area. Chemotherapy and a heated sterile solution are continuously circulated throughout the abdominal cavity for 90 minutes to destroy any residual tumor cells. The surgery lasted over 10 hours. At Dr. Shen’s recommendation, Dyer began traditional intravenous chemotherapy treatments at Lake Norman Oncology in Mooresville. To regain her strength, she enrolled in the Lowe’s YMCA’s Livestrong Program, an eight-week strength and cardiovascular workout program designed specifically for cancer survivors. “This program is wonderful!” says Dyer. “It teaches cardio, strength training, nutrition, and well-being guidelines. But equally important, it’s a way for cancer survivors to meet each other.”Dyer returned to her job at Bank of America in October 2009, but not for long. A CT scan in January 2010 showed a recurrence of cancer, and Dr. Shen scheduled surgery and a HIPEC treatment in February. The surgery and procedure was successful and Dyer’s six-month CT scan checkup in August of last year showed no issues. But her latest CT scan this past February revealed a mass behind her liver. At this point, Dyer and her doctor are in a “watchful waiting” mode to see how large the tumor grows. Dyer knows she’s facing another tough surgery in the future. Many wonder how she endures. “I know everything is in God’s hands,” she replies. “When I first heard the word ‘cancer’ I didn’t cry, I prayed. I knew I wasn’t alone and that whatever the outcome I would be fine.” She also credits her family and friends for helping her cope. “My granddaughter Caroline, who was born shortly after my diagnosis, has been the light that keeps me going. Through all the surgeries I’d think of her.” Others attribute her recovery to her positive mindset. “I believe (a positive attitude) is essential to healing,” Dyer says. “I wake up to watch the sunrise every day. Life is a gift and every day is precious.”At the end of this month Dyer will participate in the Relay for Life of East Lincoln County being held April 29 and 30 at East Lincoln High School football stadium in Denver. The Relay for Life is the primary fundraising event of the American Cancer Society. Volunteer teams come together to walk or run the overnight relay event to raise money and awareness for the fight to find a cure for all cancers. Dyer became involved in the event after her diagnosis and serves this year as a planning committee member. “Denver is a wonderful community that really supports this cause,” she says. “It’s so inspiring to see so many people come together and celebrate life, give back, and fight this terrible disease.” Dyer is back at work and recently enjoyed a vacation to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. She still suffers side effects of her chemotherapy treatments, including peripheral neuropathy, or numbness in her hands and feet, and knows her future holds more surgeries and procedures. “I live one CT scan to the next but I don’t dwell on it,” Dyer says. “The battle continues but I’m stronger than I ever thought possible. All cancer patients have bad days, but even the worst of days is a day to embrace life.”
Want to go?Relay for Life of East Lincoln CountyWhen: Friday April 29, 6 p.m. – Saturday April 30, 9 a.m. Where: East Lincoln High School football stadium, 6471 Hwy. 73, DenverDetails: Visit http://events.cancer.org/ELRelayforlife for event, volunteer and registration details.