“Don’t call these women victims . they’re survivors.”
These survivors – three students from the College – came together on March 5 for “Cancer Stories: TCNJ Women and Cancer,” an event organized by senior health and exercise major Megan Hueter.
The event, which took place at the beginning of Women’s History Month, sought to inform the campus of the risks of cancer. According to Hueter, there is a one-in-three chance that a woman will develop some form of cancer during her lifetime.
“I completed an internship over the summer at the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance in Washington, D.C., and they have a program called Survivors Teaching Students,” Hueter said. “They go into medical schools and teach doctors about their signs and symptoms, but I wanted to bring that to the undergraduate level.”
Tanya DeRegnaucourt, junior nursing major; Heather Measley, junior elementary education major; and Carisa Solomon, 2006 alumna, told of their experiences as young cancer survivors.
For some in the audience, the fact that cancer could affect college students came as a shock.
“They’re only a couple of years older than us,” Kim Milan, freshman psychology major, said. “I’ve lost a lot of people to cancer and it never hit home that it could happen to me at any time.”
DeRegnaucourt told her story beginning in her freshman year. After experiencing severe stomach pains, she visited a doctor for tests. Soon, she was told that she had a rare form of pancreatic cancer.
The cancer, which was fully encapsulated in a tumor, could be removed without the use of chemotherapy. An operation to take out the tumor was successful, but resulted in the loss of DeRegnaucourt’s spleen.
“I was terrified, actually, when I first heard (about the tumor), but I did some research,” she said. “This is actually a very curable cancer. . I’ll be here for a while, so get used to it.”
DeRegnaucourt is currently studying nursing at the College and working as a nurse extern at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She hopes to have a career working with and helping cancer patients.
Measley’s story also began during her freshman year at the College. Over her fall break, she went for an ultrasound and was told that her uterus was enlarged and that she had ovarian cancer. Surgery was necessary immediately.
“I remember I was crying to my mom because I wanted to postpone (the surgery) until after the semester,” Measley said. “I didn’t want to get behind in my classes.”
Fortunately, like DeRegnaucourt, Measley did not need chemotherapy or radiation to remove the cancer.
“I definitely had a very positive attitude during the whole thing, which I think helped a lot with the recovery,” she said.
Unlike DeRegnaucourt and Measley, Solomon experienced cancer twice. It began in 2002, when she noticed an unfamiliar mole on her leg. She visited a dermatologist, who told her “it’s no big deal. It’s nothing. You don’t need to get it off.”
Solomon decided to have the mole removed anyway. After tests on the removed mole, it was discovered that Solomon had stage-2 malignant melanoma.
There was a 50-50 chance that the cancer had spread to other areas of her body, but, fortunately, this was not the case.
Then, last year, following a biopsy, it was confirmed that Solomon had cervical cancer. She was told that she would need a hysterectomy.
Solomon, who is getting married in October, has decided to postpone the operation until she has tried to have a child.
She has to have a checkup every three months and if the cancer spreads, she will have to have the surgery immediately.
Despite facing cancer twice during the past five years, Solomon remains positive.
“This experience has made me such a strong woman,” she said.
Jennifer Ascher, a graduate of the College and the director of Special Events for the Lawrenceville chapter of the American Cancer Society, also spoke at the event.
She is actively involved in spreading awareness about cancer and getting local schools and businesses to take part in events that raise money for cancer research. One of these events is the College’s Relay for Life, which will take place on April 13.
“My mother had breast cancer when I was 9 years old,” Ascher said. “When I was looking for a job, the American Cancer Society seemed like the right fit.”
According to Hueter, the event was just as successful as she had hoped.
“It’s definitely a great experience,” she said. “It’s good to see someone my age so strong and willing to tell their stories.”