TELLING OUR STORIES: Jeff and Deb Stauffer

CANCER SURVIVAL TEAM: Jeff and Deb Stauffer worked together as a team to fight Deb's diagnosis with a rare form of cancer called urachal cancer. Today, Deb is cancer-free and her outlook is positive. (Courtesy photo)

CANCER SURVIVAL TEAM: Jeff and Deb Stauffer worked together as a team to fight Deb’s diagnosis with a rare form of cancer called urachal cancer. Today, Deb is cancer-free and her outlook is positive. (Courtesy photo)

This article is the final story in a series promoting awareness for the Paint Big Rapids Pink campaign. Several area residents whose lives have been touched by cancer shared their stories every Tuesday and Friday in the Pioneer during October to bring awareness to cancer prevention and wellness. This series was made possible through the Big Rapids Hospital Foundation.

Our cancer story began … with what I thought was an abnormal symptom, blood in my urine – medically known as hematuria, Deb explained. I initially thought that I had a urinary tract infection (UTI) that could be taken care of with an antibiotic. Testing at my doctor’s office ruled out a UTI. An analysis of the cells in my urine was ordered to determine if I had bladder cancer. Fortunately my results came back as normal and I was told that I did not have cancer. At that time, I informed the nurse that I was still urinating blood, which prompted a referral to an urologist. Fast forward through more testing to when I received a phone call one Monday evening in 2012 from the urologist stating I had urachal cancer.

He explained what it was, but all I heard was cancer. My husband was out of town when I learned the news so I called him and tried to spell urachal and recall the information the doctor had told me.

Deb’s call telling me that she had been diagnosed with urachal cancer, an extremely rare form of the disease – less than 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses – prompted me to immediately go online and started researching, Jeff said. I found that there was very little information available. It seemed like the best places for treatment were at the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic or in Chicago. In the morning, I called the Mayo Clinic and left a message. They called back and said, “We have an appointment for you tomorrow.” This response told us just how serious the situation was. I returned home from my trip immediately so that we could keep the appointment.

We learned that … there are many types of cancers and many treatment options. Do not ignore your symptoms and if symptoms continue to be persistent in further follow-up. Patients and their families must do their own research to find their best course of action. Finding a good doctor is key. Good doctors and effective treatment leads to good outcomes.

The greatest challenge during our cancer journey was … explaining the situation to our two sons who were then 11 and 13 years old, said Jeff.

If you are a cancer survivor, you will likely understand that I had some very dark moments and feelings of hopelessness, Deb said. The first stages of diagnosis were the easiest for me, as I didn’t allow myself time to process what was truly happening. As my journey continued however, thoughts of hopelessness began to set in. With my particular cancer, there is not a lot of information out there and the one bit of information I read was that there is a 70 percent recurrence rate. I am not a statistician, but I didn’t like those odds. When I asked my doctor what he thought the chance of recurrence was he said, “For you very low. Never zero, but very low.” I like those odds a lot better. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my cancer, but I have moved past the hopelessness and have chosen to live each day like it’s my last.

If I could share just one thing about our story, it would be … my gratitude for how the community rallied around Deb and our family, Jeff said. The sense of community helped with her recovery.

I am blessed with a wonderful family, Deb said. A husband who has always provided me with the best, two awesome sons who are very loving and compassionate and a strong circle of friends that words cannot begin to describe their genuine love and support.

And last but not least … Deb is cancer free and the outlook for her future is positive.

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