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Fran Stanhope

Team Captain Fran's Army Dempsey Challenge 2021

Thank you for visiting my personal fundraising page for Dempsey Challenge 2021…Here is my story…

In October 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Bladder Cancer.  I thought my life was over. My oncologist told me he felt I was curable and that if I only had a few months to live he would not spend it beating me up.   11:11 has a special meaning to Bob and I and I was scheduled for a second opinion visit with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute on Nov 11. Bob wanted to try to get an appointment sooner but I felt like it was a good omen to stay with 11/11. At Dana Farber we met with 2 oncologists who told us that they had found 10% of a second type of cancer, an aggressive form of small cell carcinoma.  This would change the course of my treatments. We learned early on that with cancer things are always changing.  On Nov 16, I began the first of 6 rounds of chemo. I would spend 3 days having chemo and then have 18 days off.  At first I wondered, why are they waiting so long in between?  After the first couple rounds, it became apparent that I would need that much time to recover, not only physically but mentally, to stay the course. I’d always had long hair.  I asked my oncologist if I would lose my hair.  It wasn’t that I cared that much about my hair…compared to living…I just figured, if I were going to lose it, I might as well donate it.  No sense wasting it!  What little hair I had left began falling out just 2 weeks into chemo.  What I thought would be no big deal turned out to be very traumatic.  I would shower and the hair would wash over my skin.  Someone described it as if it were bugs crawling on you.  Indeed!  This is when you truly know you are sick. My husband Bob wanted to shave his head but I asked him to grow it out instead and donate it.  After 3 rounds of chemo I had another cat scan.   I was in full remission!  I continued to have treatments followed by a shot of Neulasta and weekly blood draws.  Neulasta is a medicine used to stimulate the growth of white blood cells and decrease the incidence of infection.  At an astounding cost of $12,000 per shot.  Once treatments were over, I needed to wait 6 weeks to have surgery.   You see, when you are stage 4, they do chemo first, then surgery, because you don’t have 6 weeks to spare.  Between chemo and surgery we traveled to FL to see my great niece who had just been born.  I held this tiny human when she was just one day old.  Her very existence in the womb kept me going throughout chemo.   My first goal of living was to be able to see her.  It was the perfect preparation for surgery.  April 24th…the day of surgery had arrived.  I would spend the next 9 days at Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston. Surgery entailed a full hysterectomy, removal of my bladder and removal of my pelvic lymph nodes.  Then a portion of my intestine was used to build a new internal bladder.  It is a very serious surgery in which 60% of patients return to the hospital often times for infections. Now the waiting began…what would the pathology report show.  When the pathology report came back it showed no cancer!  My surgeon looked me in the eye and said “You are a miracle”!  Only 10% of people have no cancer in their pathology after this type of surgery.  On May 25, I returned to the hospital for another 6 day stay.  My body was fighting an infection and at one point my temp reached 103.9.  I thought perhaps I had survived cancer only to die from a serious kidney infection.  Dempsey Center literally helped me to get back on my feet with fitness classes.   I was gaining strength and starting to feel back to my old self.  Then my CT Scan in November 2018 showed spots in the lymph nodes on the left side of my neck.   A needle biopsy was done…my cancer had returned.  A new plan of attack was put into place.  I would have chemotherapy treatments again for 3/3 week cycles and then another scan to see how things looked.  If things were improving, then the plan was to begin radiation 5 days a week for a total of 28 treatments and chemo every Monday during the radiation treatments.  The first round of chemo kicked my ass! I spent 5 days at Mercy Hospital because I could not keep down any solid food.   My treatments had to be delayed and they reduced the amount of chemo they gave me after this.  Things went along fairly smooth and after 3 rounds of chemo, I had another CT Scan.  The results were not what they expected.  Some spots had gone away while new ones had appeared.  The decision was made to proceed with radiation.  I began my 28 days on March 11. I would go into the room, lay on the table and a mask made just for me was placed over my face, neck and shoulders and was locked to the table. Not a great feeling for someone prone to panic attacks in small spaces.  I had to take anti-anxiety drugs to manage it.  I was supposed to have chemo that first day as well but my platelet counts were too low.   The first week of radiation proceeded with no issues.  On Monday, March 18 I went in for my radiation treatment then headed over to Dr. Inhorn’s office to have my chemo treatment.  About 1/3 of the way through I broke out in hives all over my body.   Chemo was stopped immediately and I was given two vials of Benadryl along with other drugs to counter the effects.   Dr. Inhorn had never had a patient have an allergic reaction to chemo before.  I proved on numerous occasions to be the patient of unknowns and unusual results.  This is never a good thing because then they are never sure how to proceed.  Radiation continued through the week until Friday when the machine broke and I was unable to have a treatment.  Due to the allergic reaction it was decided that further chemo treatments would be done at Maine Medical Center where I would have a nurse who would “desensitize” me and be on continued watch for any reactions.  This meant they doped me up with Benadryl, prednisone and other drugs before proceeding with the chemo.  Then the chemo was given at an extremely slow rate.  We were at the hospital for the entire day.  Thankfully…NO REACTION!  I continued to have the daily (M-F) radiation and my skin was handling it really well.  I was getting more and more puffed up from the steroids and the mask was getting tighter. On day 25 of radiation, I was unable to have chemo due to low platelets once again.  On Friday, April 19, I completed radiation!  No more chemo was scheduled.  My skin was still doing very well…but…radiation keeps cooking you after you’ve finished.  A week after I completed radiation the radiation burns appeared. A nurse friend said it looked like I had 3rd degree burns.  I would have to wait until July for a scan because they have to let all that inflammation settle down.  As I healed, I began taking fitness classes again, thanks to Dempsey Center.  I also participated in yoga classes.  Again, Dempsey Center was helping me get back on my feet.  You see, Dempsey Center isn’t about treatment, it’s about healing from treatment…mentally and physically.   When the July scan came around it showed No Evidence of Disease! (NED) Hallelujah!!  Once again, I had beat cancer!!!   I began massage treatments at Dempsey Center to relieve my body of the pain from treatments.   ALL SERVICES AT DEMPSEY CENTER ARE FREE! You can’t imagine what a relief that is.  No matter how good your insurance is, Cancer is a financial burden.  No matter how good your mind is, Cancer is a mental burden.   I’ve finally graduated to 6 months scans.  Just last week, my latest scan showed NED.  I will be monitored every 6 months until I have 5 years clear.  2 years down!  I feel great…and I’m grateful. Grateful for life...Grateful for beautiful friendships...Grateful for so much love in my life...GRATEFUL THAT DEMPSEY CENTER EXISTS!  So, where am I going with all this?  I am trying to make you understand why I'm passionate about raising money for the Dempsey Center.   (A Maine-based nonprofit organization with locations in Lewiston and South Portland, as well as a virtual Center called Dempsey Connects which provides cancer programs and services for people beyond the borders of Maine.)  Please support me in my fundraising efforts by making a donation. Any amount you can give makes a difference! Every dollar of your donation directly benefits cancer patients, survivors and their families.  My personal goal is at least $11,111.  

Thank you for your support!  Peace, Love and NED...Fran


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