By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

“I’ve been a cancer survivor for 32 years,” Judy Bissen said. “Everybody’s story is different, but for me, I do better when I talk. I was in college and I missed a class, and it was literally an instructor who had said, ‘You need to have an excuse if you’re going to miss this class, and it better be something medical...’ 

“I had been diagnosed with bronchitis and it had gotten better, so I took my 13-month old to the person who was watching her, and then went back to the doctor...  It was then that I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”

Relay for Life co-chair Ryan Henry reports that Bissen has been named honorary chairperson for this year’s Houston County event. “She works for the La Crescent/Hokah School District in the early childhood/family education department,” he added. “She’s a great lady and a great person to have as our relay chairman, because she feels good about speaking about her journey. I think that she wants to use what she went through as an inspiration to other people, telling her story and telling others that in your toughest moments there are ways to get through it.” 

After the diagnoses, “I started treatment right away,” Bissen recalled. “I had six months of both IV and oral chemotherapy, and then six weeks of radiation treatment. It was a lot.”

The cancer went away, but about two and a half years later, some complications from the battle arose. Then, “At five years, my thyroid started to go...” Bissen noted. “Since then I have had a host of medical things that have been traced back to the cancer and cancer treatments. Thirty two years ago they were doing the best they could and I’m here to talk about it. So they saved my life, but the treatment wasn’t as precise as it is now.

“It really is a very unique and individual experience that everyone has with their type of cancer or cancers... There’s some reason - I just haven’t figured out what it is – why I’m still here, alive and kicking. I was reading on one of the heart blogs about ‘Everyone’s survivorship is there to have an impact on  somebody, somewhere.’

“For me, I’ve met people that have survived longer, or survived less, that have impacted me. I’ve had other people tell me the same things.  So, somewhere along the line we’re all here for a reason.”

Relay For Life is a series of fund raisers for the American Cancer Society. But it’s also more than that for Bissen.

“It really is a chance for me to continue to thank the people who supported me, who went with me to treatments, who were just incredible in terms of being a resource,” she stated. “It was those people that were past survivors who went with me to my first set of treatments...    

“The community and the support is just incredible. Just to know that you’re not alone. To know there are other people out there to support you in whatever way you want or you choose.  A survivor you don’t know or a survivor that you do. They are wonderful.

“They (the ACA) are always funding research to look for better treatments, as well as cures or preventions. But one aspect continues to be patient support. Driving patients to treatments, helping to cover the cost of certain medications. Helping patients with realistic wigs, makeup, to make you feel a little more like yourself when you are going through it...

“And there are volunteers who can just talk to those who are going through it. That can help.

Why should folks get involved with relay? 

“One in three people will be touched by cancer. So, just because it affects so many people. To support the people going through it. To read the luminaries, see the impact. You’re never too old, you’re never too young, and there’s something in it for everybody. It’s  a way of  showing support for caregivers, and acknowledging their help. And funds also go towards cancer research...”

What do you see in the future? 

“There are things that are happening every day. Look at the treatments that I received versus the treatments that they can provide today. Less radiation, more pinpointed, targeted treatments. Advances continue... 

“And there’s more to come, and it’s exciting to see. It would be great to say someday that we aren’t going to need to worry about this disease anymore...


So someday cancer could go away?    

“That would be lovely.”

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