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Surviving cancer is a family affair

Serving as honorary chairmen at tomorrow night’s Hudson Relay For Life are from left, Christy Simon, her sister Sandy Dodge and her mother-in-law Florence Simon. All three are cancer survivors and caregivers. (Submitted photo)

Families like to do things together but getting cancer isn’t one of them.

Nonetheless that’s what happened to Christy Simon, her sister Sandy Dodge and her mother-in-law Florence Simon. The three were all diagnosed with different types of cancer within months of each other six years ago. The three are now all cancer survivors and honorary chairmen of Friday night’s Hudson Relay For Life at the Hudson Middle School.

Christy and Sandy are the daughters of Rich and Lois Jordahl of Hudson. Christy was the first of the three to be diagnosed in May 2008.

She found a lump in her breast during a self-examination. It was an aggressive cancer and after a trip to see daughter Rachel graduate from law school in Washington, D.C., she had a mastectomy followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy and 37 radiation treatments.

By her side throughout her treatment were her husband Joe, her daughters and son-in-laws, her sister and her mother-in-law.

Sandy was still one of Christy’s caregivers when in November of 2008 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her symptoms seemed to point to a gall bladder problem but doctors found a tumor in her abdomen. What followed was surgery and chemotherapy.

Sister Christy was by her side every step of the way, ready to return the favor along with Sandy's other caregivers including her husband Greg, her nieces and their families, friends and more.

It was just a few months later that Florence, 93, was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma. She was 88 at the time.

When the doctor asked her if she wanted to undergo chemotherapy at her age, she didn’t hesitate. “I wanted it. If it killed me so be it. But I have always looked toward tomorrow and that has always served me well. Besides I had some grandchildren’s weddings coming up and I wanted to be there.”

Florence recalls that Christy was a constant presence while she underwent her treatment as were her other children and their families.

“That was so important. It made all the difference,” said Florence.

Sandy had a recurrence of her cancer last summer as did Florence who was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Sandy underwent chemotherapy again but this time Florence decided to forgo any additional treatment. She isn’t worried, though, because she is a “fighter” right along with Christy and Sandy.

That’s why they are called the “Family of Fighters” in the program for this year’s Hudson Relay For Life which takes place tomorrow night at Hudson Middle School.

All of the women say getting three diagnoses of cancer so close together in the same family seems an unlucky coincidence but no one really wondered “why us?”

“The facts are that one in every eight people get cancer and I just thought what the heck, if I get it, that means someone else I know or love won’t,” said Christy.

Sandy, 57, is the younger sister, and her point of view, “My sister had it and made it through. I’ll show her.”

She believes it was actually harder on Christy, especially having just gone through it all herself.

And the sisters know having both their children struck by cancer was very hard on their parents, Lois and Rich.

But, bottom line, the cancer confirmed for all three women something they have known all along -- that family means everything.

That support includes Christy and Joe’s children and their husbands, Rachel and Zach Miller, Molly and Adam Hesselroth and their children Mallory and Neil, and Jenny Simon.

Florence’s family includes Joe Simon, Michael Simon, Teresa Sadrakula, Mary Joan Sutton and Kay Stinebrink.

“We have always been a close family but something like this makes you think about your life and those people you love so much. And this, I mean, first my sister, then me. I don’t know what it’s like for people who don’t have the support we did,” said Sandy.

For Florence, who had never had a serious illness before, the experience reinforced the bond she had with her children and grandchildren.

“They came by every day and my daughter who couldn’t made sure I had Meals on Wheels. I felt fortunate if you can believe it.”

The women have participated in the Hudson Relay For Life since June 2009. It was so soon after her treatment that first year that Christy said she didn’t “feel like a survivor yet.”

But Team Simon has been at every relay since and this year they are leading in fundraising with $7,000 in pledges. The team has dedicated their efforts at this relay to the memory of another extended family member, David Hesselroth of Hudson, the father of Rachel’s husband Adam, who recently died of oral cancer at age 57.

The Family of Fighters will speak at the opening ceremony for the Hudson Relay For Life tomorrow starting at 6 p.m. at the Hudson Middle School athletic field. See the schedule of events in this week’s Star-Observer.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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