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I Got Cancer… and I Rang the Bell

LCCN JOURNALIST Laurie Hanson with her  blue engineers hat ringing the bell upon completion of all her cancer treatments including chemo and radiation therapies. With her is the Radiation Oncology personnel at City of Hope in Irvine. 

October 5, 2023

By Laurie Hanson, LCCN Journalist

It’s a dream come true to reach our goals in life, and such is true with cancer when ringing the final bell of treatment completion.

When my cancer journey began over a year and a half ago, I longed, hoped, and prayed for the day I would see the other side of it all. Finally, that day arrived at the City of Hope Lennar Cancer Foundation in Irvine.

It all started with UCI discovering and surgically treating my endometrial cancer. Not long after, I found out I also had breast cancer. To battle it, I had surgery, a partial lumpectomy, then underwent both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

With three months and four rounds of chemotherapy followed by a month of daily radiation therapy, I wondered if I would ever survive, to see the other side of all this and be given back my life.

But survive, I did, and back to my life I am.

Having had cancer twice in a year does change one’s perspective on life. I came away with a deep sense of gratitude and knowing I was given a second, possibly a third chance to do my life better. You see, I also have battled bipolar disorder, and in a way both are related to one another.

For over 35 years, I’ve taken powerful medications to control my mental illness that eventually gave me a better chance at a “normal” life but caused morbid obesity. My endometrial and breast cancers were not genetically based, but relatively caused by high estrogen levels stored in adipose (fat) tissue.

With ringing the bell that my cancer treatment is complete, it is but a beginning in so many ways …

I will now take medication to block the estrogen in my body to keep cancer from coming back. I’ll also be taking a new neuroleptic, Lybalvi, to help not only my bipolar but my weight loss as well. 

It will help reduce my chances of getting “metabolic syndrome” caused by years of neuroleptic meds, thus saving my life again. Metabolic Syndrome is a group of conditions that include high blood sugars, high blood pressure and high lipids in the bloodstream, all of which can hasten one’s life prematurely by 15 to 25 years.

And, I have plans to be on the planet a very long time …

Besides battling all this for myself, I did it for the next generation of my family, to see my great nephew and niece grown. It was a year ago this month, I traveled back to Lynchburg, Virginia to celebrate my great nephew’s 3rd birthday, meeting him for the first time along with his baby sister. 

They are the closest to me having my own children, and I want to always be their beloved auntie who is near and dear to them as I watch them grow up. 

In all my health struggles, they and their parents became my inspiration, getting me through tough, long nights of chemo reactions and arduous days of getting back and forth for daily radiation treatments. And get me through, they did!

I think every cancer survivor needs to keep their eyes on the bell, that day when they ring out to the world that, “It is finished!” I did that exactly, especially for Ollie and Opal, but also for myself and others who might find themselves on a similar path with both mental illness and cancer.

It is not rare or uncommon to have both bipolar and breast cancer. In fact, it is becoming more known that both can occur together at the same time, with bipolar treatments (especially neuroleptics) and their associated weight gain leading to cancer. 

In all this, I hope the world will learn that the mind and body are connected. I have thought that bipolar disorder, with its symptoms also affecting one physically with their energy levels, sleep, and appetite will one day be classified as a neurological disorder. 

In my 38 years of having it, we’ve come a long way and yet we have farther to go. Thank goodness, we are all now talking about mental health concerns in our society, hopefully reducing the stigma that was once associated with them.

In desiring to see my great nephew and niece raised, I hope they live in a society and world that is more educated, less prejudiced, and has greater tolerance for what is different. Someday, when they are grown, I hope they will understand how they became my inspiration to “fight the good fight” in having both bipolar disorder and cancer. In another 30 years, I know our world will come even farther with understanding both. I will keep that hope alive for them as their auntie.

And, for it being more than all but a dream, I will keep that hope alive for myself as well for others.

Ring the bell!