“People do survive this and with humor”

VIPs on ice
Sheila Stenquist and son, Jason, stand at center ice in 2015 for what she calls “a really important moment during my treatment” — one she thought she would never have.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” — Sister Sue Tracy

Sheila Stenquist was the mother of four — ages 16, 10, 4 and 3 — when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

Having had a mastectomy and chemo, she was 39 when Sister Sue Tracy happened into Sheila’s life in the waiting room at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion  of Spectrum Health before her first radiation treatment.

“I wasn’t feeling well, it was such a stressful time. She just sat down and we got talking. She shared some of her story and asked if could pray with with me .

The gift of a laugh

“She told me a few jokes, and she just made me feel at ease — I got to laugh before my appointment!”

After radiation, Sheila saw Sister Sue again at a Blue Bird Cancer Retreat.
“I still have her “holey “card” – a card with holes in it. She just had a presence that made everyone feel comfortable.”

Later, Sheila and her oldest son, Jason, plagued with worry and under incredible stress, sat together at another retreat as Sister Sue recounted her bouts with cancer – which would number no fewer than six when she died.

She was in fine form the day Sheila and Jason were in the audience. 

“He sat with me during her speech,” Sheila recalled, and “hearing Sister Sue brought a little comfort to him. It really helped him feel better listening to someone who had gone through it  numerous times.”

“Knowing she had had cancer gave strength and comfort to me and my son. We were in awe, thinking about what she’d been through

The proof stands alone

“It  helped him realize it’s OK – people do survive this and with humor.”

Early in treatment “I was, ‘How can anyone be joking about this?’

“(Now I know) it’s OK:  Instead of dwelling on the issue, the humor helps — any feeling that is normal helps – It’s OK to have good days, and it’s OK to have bad days.”

One of the good days came in 2015 and produced the photo she shares here.

“The hockey team (the Kenowa Hills Knights) raised the money for him to play and this was Senior Night. I never thought I’d be able to make it.”

She’s had 2 other diagnosis since the breast cancer, endometrial and melanoma, and “I’ve had a lot of surgeries.”

Through it all “My kids want to know what’s going on, and they want me to be truthful — so we are.”

I admire them.

Being up front with my kids about cancer was tough for me in the beginning – even though they were adults. We want to protect them — apparently no matter how old they — or we — are.  I soon found that leveling about what’s going on can be a great relief for everyone. We’re too good at making up scary stories if we don’t know.

Surprisingly some of the best things come out of the worst.

Because of her cancer experience, Sheila says, Jason went into biomedical research. Today he is an intern at Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids.

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