Loris Vander Velde - Lung Cancer

Loris Vander Velde - Lung Cancer
“I had one grandchild when all of this started, today I have six.  I’m getting to see them grow up. That’s what it’s about. That’s what it is ALL about.”

Loris Vandervelde was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2006 and has lived as a survivor ever since.   Soon after her diagnosis, she had surgery to remove the tumor, followed that with radiation, and months of chemo. For the next decade, she thrived as a real estate professional, a sales rep, her first grand child was born, Loris and her husband became “empty nesters” and made plans for enjoying retirement.

Then in 2016, Loris received news that shook her to the core. She was told that once again she had cancer. This time, it was Lung Cancer. Loris was in shock. “I didn’t know what to do, I was a deer in headlights for the first year, I had never smoked a day in my life, but I felt embarrassed. I felt like I must have brought this on myself”. Loris agonized about sharing the news with her husband and did not want to tell her children. With the support of a close friend, a fellow cancer survivor, Loris told her husband and together they shared the news with her children and immediate family.

Loris’ primary care doctor recommended she see Dr. Kassar at Northwest Cancer Centers. Loris did a ton of research and met with Dr. Kassar, as well as meeting with an oncologist at a university hospital in Chicago. Dr. Kassar’s manner, knowledge, and his willingness to work with oncologists from other hospitals, led to Loris beginning treatment at Northwest Cancer Centers.   Loris recalls making the decision to be treated by Dr. Kassar. She described Dr. Kassar asking her, “What do you want?” She said that resonated with her, “The other doctor I went to see was more direct and told me what he would do. Dr. Kassar asked me what I wanted. I told him I want to see my grandkids grow up.” Dr. Kassar then presented that he would be treating Loris with the same formula that the doctor in Chicago would use, she would be close to home, they would work around her schedule, and available 24 hours a day for her.   Mostly, he described that he would help her meet her goals.   Loris began treatment soon after and has continues to be treated up to today.    

For that first year of treatment, she continued to keep her diagnosis from co-workers because she felt that they may see her as different, uncapable, or treat her with pity. A former schoolteacher, Loris had always worked speaking in public, but had kept her personal life private.   Over that year, Loris struggled with these feelings of self-blame. Eventually, she came to terms with within herself that she was not to blame, but it still was uncomfortable speaking to coworkers and acquaintances about it. She felt she’d have to answer their questions about the disease, treatment, and how she was feeling. But the truth was that she still had questions of her own!   “Why?” She did not deserve this; it wasn’t her fault! Why was it happening? Why had her younger brother gotten the same type of cancer, but other siblings had not? “What if…what if…what if?”    

When speaking of a conversation with a friend who had been newly diagnosed with Lung Cancer, Loris stated, “There’s hope, and that’s what I went on, the hope that they’ll find that pill or treatment (that cures you)”. She continued, “At year 5 (of treatment) we were hesitant because we had reached that goal, so we said, let’s get us another 5 and see what we can do”.

Eight years after diagnosis Loris’ story is one hope and survival, but it has not been a linear process of healing. She has faced cancer spreading to her brain, emergency surgeries, and memory loss. How she feels fluctuates depending on the day, the time, or what treatment she is currently on.

Today, Loris considers herself lucky. Loris described that through her treatment journey, she gained another family, “Everyone here, from the receptionists to the lab, to the nurses, are my family. I’ve known them for eight years.   I learn when they buy a new car, how their kids are doing, and what they’re going to name their expecting baby.”   Loris and her husband are both now retired and sharing time she feared she would never have, “He’s my rock and he’s here for me. I don’t know what life would be like if we weren’t together and he wasn’t my home nurse.” She added, “He’s a fantastic nurse, but a lousy patient”.

Loris summarized being a survivor simply as living her life. “I had one grandchild when all of this started, today I have six. Last year we had a family reunion and all the grandchildren got to be together with their cousins at the same time. I’m getting to see them grow up. That’s what it’s about. That’s what it is ALL about.”