The road to a cancer diagnosis can require time and patience.
By Jeanene Dunn, OHM Staff
Is it Flu, Pneumonia … or Something Else?
Linda Osterhaus didn’t feel any better, no matter how many rounds of antibiotics she took for the bronchitis and pneumonia that she had been diagnosed with. She had spent years working around young children in a daycare, so she already knew that it was not uncommon to catch colds or other “bugs.” All Osterhaus knew was that she was unwell. “Despite all of the treatment, I felt worse and I also started feeling pain in my body,” she explains. This went on for almost a year until Osterhaus landed in the hospital suffering from debilitating pain along with the persistent bronchitis and pneumonia symptoms. “When I first got to the hospital, the doctors thought I was suffering from congestive heart failure,” she says. Despite the early diagnosis, doctors ran extensive tests.
The test results uncovered abnormally high levels of protein in her urine, and further testing confirmed a diagnosis of multiple myeloma – a cancer that affects plasma cells in the bone marrow.
According to the American Cancer Society, multiple myeloma is a difficult cancer to diagnose early because vague symptoms can at first seem to be caused by other diseases.
Disbelief, Relief, Then Fighting Mode
One emotion Osterhaus did not expect to feel after her diagnosis was relief. “I was finally glad that the doctors pinpointed exactly what was wrong with me,” she says. “I then wanted to know what it would take to treat and beat this cancer.”
What lay ahead for Osterhaus was a fight for her life that lasted seven years. Her cancer was at stage 3. “I was first diagnosed in 2005,” she explains. “Once I was diagnosed, I was referred to an oncologist who worked to determine the stage of cancer and how the disease would be treated.”
Over the course of her treatment, Osterhaus underwent chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. She endured three stem cell transplants, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, as well as the accompanying side effects. The stem cell transplant involved taking her own cells and transplanting the healthy cells back into her body. “I am still fascinated at the way that doctors can treat cancer today,” Osterhaus says. “As sick as I was, I knew that I had a strong will to live. Some days were better than others, and I fought through the harrowing side effects, the weight and hair loss and the nausea,” she says.
Lots of Prayers and Family Support
During her lengthy battle, Osterhaus relied on her family and faith to get her through. “I have five children and a husband, and they were all there for me,” Osterhaus explains. “I have a strong faith and I prayed constantly,” she continues. “I was not alone in this battle. I had my faith and my family to help and guide me.”
Osterhaus has been cancer free since 2011, but she sees her doctor every three months to ensure that the cancer has not returned. She is also happy to report that she is back to her fighting weight and that her hair has grown back. “When my hair grew back in, it was white,” she says. “I think it was a testament to all I went through.”
Osterhaus says she knows that there is no cure for multiple myeloma, and that it could return. If it does, she will be ready for the fight.