Relay For Life: It’s all about the futureTerri Wilcox and Dick Shager are the honorary chairmen of the 10th annual Hudson Relay For Life, which begins Friday night (June 26) at Newton Field. Like so many that have preceded them in the task, their personal stories are more about what they have gained as cancer survivors than anything they’ve lost.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Terri Wilcox and Dick Shager are the honorary chairmen of the 10th annual Hudson Relay For Life, which begins Friday night (June 26) at Newton Field. Like so many that have preceded them in the task, their personal stories are more about what they have gained as cancer survivors than anything they’ve lost.
Wilcox and her husband, Steve, are familiar to many in Hudson for their involvement in a variety of professional and civic activities. Together they run the consulting firm Resultants For Business Inc. They have two grown children, Chris, 26, and Kiira, 22, who live close by their parents.
But in the spring of 2008, life for the Wilcox family changed forever when Terri, 55, was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer.
Her biography for this year’s Relay program gives a brief description of what happened:
“In April of 2008, a routine mammogram uncovered something suspicious. Further tests prior to surgery indicated the cancer most likely had spread, involved lymph nodes, and also uncovered a tumor in the second breast. This created a change in strategies which led to a bilateral mastectomy followed by 15 months of treatment including cycles of chemotherapy, radiation, Herceptin, and an experimental drug trial. Today, Terri is nearing the end of her treatment journey.”
Wilcox was interviewed by the Star-Observer as she was receiving a Herceptin treatment at the Infusion Center at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater. She says she is in the “last leg” of a 15-month plan of treatment that she will complete in August and she is ready – not to resume her old life, but to take up her next life, the one following cancer, wherever it leads her.
Wilcox was one of the unlucky people who seemed to experience every adverse side effect and complication from her stage 3C cancer surgery and treatment. She was able to make one lap around the track for last year’s relay but that was only the beginning of a long, difficult road that left her sick and tired.
“That was the most frustrating part of it – the total lack of energy. By January of this year I was just so tired of being tired. I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. But then I started feeling a little more energy and I knew I could do it again, that I had to keep going.”
As one-half of the business partnership with Steve, Terri said she tried to keep working but knew she couldn’t and felt the weight of that as well.
“Steve was with me every step of the way but we had the business as well. He had to get back to work and I found I just couldn’t concentrate on things the way I used to.”
Terri describes her husband as a rock through it all, never far from her side. “He’s been there no matter what. He just kind of rode it all out. And he has a great network of friends who helped him through it.”
The Wilcox children handled her condition differently. Both shaken by the news, son Chris told his parents he wanted to know everything and to hold nothing back. Kiira, who was in college at the time, didn’t want details but felt more comfortable with general information, according to her mother.
Terri is more concerned these days about what lies ahead for her than the ordeal she has been through. She knows her life has been forever changed by her experience with cancer but she isn’t certain what that will mean long term. She does have a new appreciation for her family and friends.
A phone call from Steve brought Nini Milbrath, another cancer survivor, to her side to help her cope with the initial shock and stay by her throughout what followed. She has reconnected with old friends from high school and will be attending a sleepover with some of them in her hometown of Mauston this summer. She has developed a much closer bond with her younger sister Kristi, who has stepped up and taken on the big sister role to help Terri.
She received countless cards and messages from family, friends and strangers, many of them cancer survivors themselves. “We all take people we know for granted. Everybody does. I don’t anymore.”
But Terri says the biggest change in her life is still something of a mystery. “I know I’m different because of all this. I just don’t know what that means yet. It’s kind of like that extreme makeover show, the cancer edition. I may not have a lot of time so I want to figure out what I am here on earth to do.”
It is a journey she seems anxious to begin.
Dick Shager’s colon cancer was discovered during a routine colonoscopy in March 2007. After surgery, he underwent treatment through Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He is currently participating in an international 10-year colon cancer research project through Northwestern University in Chicago to determine why some colon cancer reoccurs. The research is also looking at the benefits of treating colon cancer with chemotherapy used to treat other cancers.
Shager, 64, and his wife, Kay, moved to Hudson 10 years ago, and he works for MML Investor Services in the Twin Cities. He says colon cancer is the second leading cause of death from the disease following lung cancer, and among the most common-occurring cancers for people ages 61-64. There is no history of colon cancer in his family but his mother died of stomach cancer as did his grandfather.
Shager had none of the problems with chemotherapy that Wilcox did. “I tolerated it all pretty good with very few side effects.” He believes he had help from a variety of sources including his guardian angel, a large painting that he took with him to the hospital and all his treatments. Kay remembers the nurses putting the angel in the window. “They said they would be glad to. It couldn’t hurt.”
In addition Shager says he had people praying for him all over town from prayer groups at his church, Bethel Lutheran, to the nuns at the Carmelite Monastery.
He has also become a certified speaker for the American Cancer Society and plans to give more talks like the one he has planned for Friday night. His speech is entitled “When a Cancer Comes to Call Us,” and he has written a hymn for the event that he will sing with the audience.
Shager has dedicated the hymn to his family for all their love and support and says saying thank you to them and others is something he regularly plans to do from now on.
“Life has changed for me. I am living for a reason, and every day I have to figure out what is my purpose, look at whatever is put in front of me and do what I can to help. That is what I’m living for now.”
A complete schedule of events for the Relay For Life appears with this story.
Wilcox will speak at the opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. on Friday. Shager will speak at the luminaria ceremony at 10 p.m. Friday.