Langley woman’s cancer started as chest pains

Cancer can strike in any family.

Debbie Froese already knew that – she’d lost a brother-in-law to the disease.

And her family, including her husband, Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese, has been supporting the Canadian Cancer Society’s Langley Relay for Life for some time.

Yet at first, she didn’t realize what was happening.

Debbie had been suffering from chest pains for a while. She’d had an unrelated illness and had been coughing, and at first put it down to that.

On the night of May 18 last year, she woke up with chest pains.

“The first thing that goes through your mind is a heart attack,” Debbie said.

She was rushed to the hospital emergency room, where a doctor saw something on a CT scan.

It wasn’t a heart attack.

It was a tumour growing along her spine, pressing on nerves and causing the pains.

Her first thought was total shock, Debbie said.

“You’re really scared, because cancer is such a scary word,” Debbie said.

She was thinking, “How could this happen?” she said.

At the same time, she was relieved to be diagnosed now, as opposed to 20 years ago.

The treatments available in the 21st century are considerably better than the ones for many cancers available just a few decades ago.

A round of hospital visits followed, from a biopsy in Surrey to a PET scan at Vancouver General, and for treatments at the Abbotsford Cancer Centre.

“The health system is fantastic,” said Jack.

“They just jumped on it,” Debbie said.

She suffered from non-Hodgkins large B-cell lymphoma. Debbie needed a series of chemotherapy treatments to attack the tumour. She was reassured when she was told that it was a very treatable cancer.

Jack said the family tried to keep things personal and close, but once word got out, there was a huge amount of support from friends and the community at large. People sent flowers and offered their prayers.

The support helped, as the side-effects from the chemotherapy weren’t much fun. Debbie developed mouth sores and stomach cramps at various times, and she had to be very careful not to take even certain herbal remedies, in case they conflicted with her various prescribed medications.

Jack had to take some time off from mayoral duties over the early fall, and the rest of the council stepped up to help him out.

Many councillors and Township staffers mentioned they had either been through cancer treatment, or had seen a loved one through it, Jack said.

Perspective

Having cancer changed the way she saw the world, Debbie said.

“Boy, the trees sure were green, the skies sure were blue,” she said. “Everything was a little brighter.”

She said it made her in awe of nature around her.

“I was grateful that it was me, not one my children, not one of my elderly parents,” she said.

Debbie’s last treatment was at the end of October, and things are looking up.

“I’m doing very well,” said Debbie. “My back doesn’t hurt anymore, which is just amazing.”

A PET scan earlier this spring showed that the tumour is almost gone.

Relay for Life

This will be Debbie and Jack Froese’s first year back at the Langley Relay for Life since the diagnosis and treatment.

Debbie has already signed up for the J.D. Farms team, and will be relaying along with the people she’s worked with for years.

She got to check the “survivor” box this year, and will be sporting a bright yellow T-shirt at the annual event.

Every June, hundreds of people descend on Langley’s MacLeod Athletic Park and undertake a 12-hour relay to raise money for cancer.

Teams spend the months of the spring raising funds through everything from pub nights to garage sales, and they take it in turns to circle the track from 7 p.m. on Friday to 7 a.m. the following day.

The event draws teams composed of friends, families, businesses, church groups, and schools.

Debbie said for her, Relay means “knowing how much hope there is out there.”

She hopes she’ll be up to staying for most of the night, though she’s still in recovery.

“I will do the best I can,” said Debbie.

The Froeses are encouraging people to join this year.

For more information, visit relayforlife.ca/langley or call 604-533-0822.

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