One breast cancer survivor’s journey in learning attitude is everything and healing her battle wounds by helping others
Janice Zuege exudes positivity. Her zest for life seems to perpetually propel her ahead.
Picture bicycle tires circling round and round, a kayak maneuvering through clear waters, a pair of skis gliding across freshly fallen powder. Her passion is getting out and getting active, oftentimes with her husband, Roy, who has hiked the Grand Canyon – twice – right alongside his wife of nearly 30 years.
But two years ago, all that forward momentum came screeching to a halt.
"I felt like a freight train hit me," she recalls, voice quivering with emotion.
It had been 10 years since her first bout with breast cancer in 2003. A lumpectomy, six weeks of daily radiation, five years of Tamoxifen, and regular check-ups finally gave way to a sense of normalcy.
The former teacher and long-time associate principal of Hortonville Elementary and Middle Schools felt like she had beaten the cancer that had turned her world upside down.
"Everything was fine," she says. "I was doing great. No concerns whatsoever."
But as soon as she received the phone call asking her to return for a follow-up mammogram, the same swirl of feelings – fear, uncertainty, anger – came flooding back all over again.
"At that point, my heart sank," she says.
The emotional element – not the physical – was a larger challenge to overcome the first time around, she says, and the news that cancer had returned sent her reeling all over again.
"When you hear that diagnosis, it is shock and disbelief," Zuege says, "because I looked at myself and I thought, wait a minute. I’m living a healthy lifestyle, I’m watching what I eat, I’m exercising, I’m doing everything right, and there’s no history in the family. It was kind of the almighty question of, why me?"
She came to the realization that there’s no answer. There are no guarantees in life. You can do everything possible to live a healthy lifestyle, but sometimes that’s not enough.
Though she was left powerless in that sense, Zuege did realize she had control of one element, and it would turn out to be the fiercest weapon in her battle to overcome cancer.
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Published November 2015