Wensel credits active lifestyle with saving her life
The moment someone is diagnosed with cancer, their fight for life begins. It's a lengthy and often dismal battle, but it was a battle one local woman decided to face directly, and it ended up helping save her life.
Lori Wensel is an administrative assistant at National Park Medical Center and a six-year breast cancer survivor. Wensel had always been very active, so when she was diagnosed with cancer she decided it wasn't going to break her stride.
In February 2011, Wensel was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma in the left breast. She found the lump herself after a tote fell from a shelf in her closet, hitting her in the chest.
After she continued to feel discomfort in her breast, she decided to visit her doctor. The first visit was devoted to her doctor assuring her that it was just a small hematoma and nothing to worry about, but Wensel knew it was not something to be brushed off.
She made three more appointments and insisted on having an ultrasound done at the last one. During her ultrasound, Wensel said she saw a small “Q” shaped spot on the monitor and knew immediately the supposed hematoma was actually a cluster of cancerous cells beginning to form in her breast.
“At first you're in denial then you begin to worry, and it's things like `Am I going to lose a breast?' `What am I going to do and how am I going to do it?'” said Wensel.
Wensel recalls her grandmother dying from breast cancer when she was 7 years old, but outside of that, she has no family history of cancer.
Shortly after receiving her initial diagnosis, the possible tumor was biopsied and confirmed as the very early stages of lobular carcinoma. Nearly a month after her ultrasound, she underwent a lumpectomy and began chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Wensel completed 33-straight days of radiation treatments, only taking breaks when the treatment center was closed on the weekends, and five rounds of chemotherapy treatment all while maintaining her exercise routine.
“I'm very into fitness. I go to the gym, I run, I'm overall a very active person. I knew in my mind if I sat down, I wasn't going to be here anymore. I had to move,” said Wensel.
“I did not skip many days from the gym. I would go to chemo, go back to work, go to the gym and then finally, I'd go home,” she said.
Wensel stayed active up until the point her body no longer permitted. After she received Neupogen injections, the medication began to attack her bone marrow due to the lack of fat on her body. This part of the treatment process weakened her to the point where she could no longer walk.
She decided to transfer her treatment program to Dr. Issam Makhoul at UAMS, and continued a rigorous approach until November when she received a clean bill of health.
In a proactive effort to keep on top of her clean bill of health, Wensel has blood work done every six months where doctors monitor cells in her body, looking for the possibility of a recurrence of cancer cells. She has a PET scan scheduled for November. “I know it's going to be good,” she said. During treatment, Wensel found it increasingly difficult to interact with her family and friends. She reached a point where she wanted to be left alone as much as possible.
“I became a loner. I still went to the gym, but that was about it outside of necessary trips to the store. I didn't even want my family to come over,” she said.
At the time of her diagnosis, Wensel's mother was turning 90. She opted to not tell her mother about her cancer and focused her energy on getting better. It wasn't until after she died that Wensel told her mother.
“I knew that if I told her, it would have literally killed her. She wouldn't have been able to take it at 90 years old,” she said.
Although Wensel has beaten her breast cancer diagnosis, she has become very active in supporting cancer foundations and research. She participates in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure each year and recently walked on stage for Runway for the Cure fashion show.
“Getting the news that I had beaten cancer was amazing. I wasn't a statistic, but one that beat it. I was also one of the lucky ones because I found it early. Now, I'm dedicated to doing my part in eliminating cancer,” she said.