Written and Contributed by Hilary Odorizzi
I'm almost positive that my mom has either taught PE, coached, taught gymnastics or swimming lessons to almost everyone in Macoupin County (IL).
When people hear the name Lana Odorizzi, they don't think of the lady that taught them how to bunt or do a backhand spring, but the lady that was a role model to them as a kid, who always had a smile on her face, taught them important life skills like team work, perseverance, and how to relax and have a good time that helped them land their dream jobs later in life. I am lucky enough to call this amazing woman my mom.
My mom is no stranger to fighting tough battles. These fights range from the battle of childhood obesity, daily in her physical education class, battling for gym space for her teams, funding for her school and PE program, and now non-small cell lung cancer.
Her ability to be a fighter is a genetic trait shared by all women in our family, so when she was diagnosed she laced up her boxing gloves and got ready to fight for her life.
Our journey started in November 2012. My mom had a couple of episodes of vertigo or dizziness and auras or flashing lights in her vision. With her having no other health history, the doctors decided to monitor her symptoms and pursue treatment if they continued. Her symptoms did continue, and in January she had her first MRI. This MRI showed three small areas that lit up with contrast. At this point, she was referred to a neurologist.
Our next battle was getting an appointment. While healthcare is meant to be streamlined, some patients get lost in the shuffle of its process. My mom was one of these patients. Lucky for us, my mom had a fighter in her corner of the ring. Her primary care doctor did everything he could to get us the earliest appointment possible, and his efforts finally paid off in April.
At this appointment, the neurologist informed my mom she was having visual migraines and those three things that lit up on her MRI were nothing to worry about. She was sent home and told to make another appointment if her symptoms got worse.
This news seemed promising, but my mom's symptoms continued and were becoming more frequent. She immediately called her neurologist back for her follow-up appointment in May. During the appointment, the physician still said there was not anything wrong, and it was a just migraine.
He didn't listen to my mother or father's concerns, and this brought the fighter out of my mom. She knew something was wrong, and she would not accept migraines as the cause. After she pleaded her case, her neurologist decided they would do a second MRI.
This MRI showed that the 3 lesions had become 15 lesions. On May 15th, my mom was admitted to the hospital, and the investigation began. This period our family calls the "hurry up and wait phase of cancer."
Waiting for what seemed like 3 years (but really 3 weeks), we had our answer. The cause of the problem was lung cancer. By the time it was found, my mom's cancer had spread to her brain, bones, lymph nodes, and right lung. Even with this earth-shattering news, my mom kept a positive attitude and laced up those boxing gloves and got ready to fight.
When I first heard lung cancer, the thing that came to mind was that my mom was never a smoker how can she have lung cancer? After a little research, I found that not only do many cases of lung cancer happen to non-smokers, but also lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women.
Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. I was also dumbfounded to find the lack of awareness and funding for research in this deadly cancer. How could I as a healthcare provider not know these astonishing numbers?
Her journey with cancer treatment started with full brain radiation therapy. Since she was having neurological symptoms, the brain was the focus of her initial treatment. After 10 treatments, she got to ring the bell at Siteman Cancer Center (top) showing her accomplishment of finishing radiation.
Two weeks later she began chemotherapy. Her treatment plan was a dose of intravenous chemo one week and then two weeks off. She was scheduled to have a total of 6 treatments. In true Lana fashion, she had her first dose of the medicine and felt pretty bad that weekend, but made sure she was at open gym the following Wednesday. Chemo was not going to get in the way of her volleyball season!
Her positive outlook on treatment made this possible. Even when she felt her worst, she would say "it's going to get better tomorrow."
After three rounds of chemo and two hospitalizations later, her dizziness returned, and she started having lots of vomiting. She also lost her appetite and along with it her usual curvy figure. At this point, her doctor began to worry.
Her CT scans showed improvement of her current cancer, but because she didn't feel well her chemo was delayed for a week. During this week, my mom began to develop bad headaches and a sore neck. Her oncologist ordered another CT scan that showed her brain had some swelling. She was rushed to Barnes ER by ambulance where more tests could be done.
In mid-September , we received some bad news. My mom's cancer had advanced to something called Leptomeningeal Carcinomatiosis (for those of you that watch Dancing with the Stars, it is the same disease that Valerie Harper has). This disease effects the meninges of the brain an can cause memingitis like symptoms.
It is very rare and happens in less than 5% of patients with hard tumor cancer. Due to the rareness of this type of cancer, the doctors had a hard time making a new treatment plan. After lots of research and a few hours of calls to our insurance company, we had a plan.
This diagnosis caused the doctors to change my mom's chemo medicine to one that could be taken orally. This route allows the chemo to penetrate the blood brain barrier and treat the cancer in her brain.
This change in chemo allowed my mom to eat more and feel better physically, but we noticed some changes in my mom's walking and she began having increasing headaches. My mom had her first seizure shortly after she was started on her new chemo med and was readmitted to Barnes ER.
Her CT scan showed that she had increasing fluid buildup in her head caused by a Communicating Hydrocephalus, or in non-medical terms "water in her head". The original plan was to wait until this round of chemo was completed and place a shunt.
A shunt is a device that goes from the right side of a person's brain and drains fluid into their belly to help relieve the pressure. Due to this change, her doctors and our family decided to go ahead with the placement of the shunt earlier than planned.
Since the placement of the shunt, things have been getting better. My mom is able to get around better and has been nearly headache free. Now her headaches are caused by runner's stranded on base by the Cardinals. She is currently on her second round of oral chemo and her Leptomeningeal Carcinormatosis is at a standstill.
My family wants her story to be shared with people everywhere to instill the importance of prevention and not taking no as an answer. My mom was chosen as a speaker at the Free to Breathe Walk held in St. Louis and spoke at the Volley for Lana Night in Gillespie, IL.
At these events, my mom did not preach of her struggle, but she talked about the importance of fighting for your rights for answers to your healthcare problems. Another thing our family wants people to know is that cancer is a thief and it takes a village to fight it.
Cancer has stolen my mom's ability to teach and coach. It has stolen my current career path. It has stolen our lifestyle and most importantly my mom's perfect health. Cancer just keeps taking, but with my family's positive attitude we don't care what it takes because we have our eye on one prize and that is winning the war.
Cancer my be crowned the winner in these small battles, but we will win the war. We will spread our message and stay positive.
Everyone has truly touched our hearts with their love, friendship, offers to help, cards, and their generous support by attending or donating to the Volley for Lana and Free to Breathe Walk. These wonderful occasions showed us clearly how joy can be found in even the darkest of situations.
We deeply appreciate each and every contribution, and we wish especially to thank Fight the Fight, the Gillespie High School and Mt. Olive High School Volleyball Teams, the staff members of Gillespie School District for making Volley for Lana such a success, Team Tammy, our family and friends, the local communities, and all our supporters.
It is also such a pleasure to see the numerous Lana Doesn't Fight Alone shirts. These shirts and your support help remind us every day that cancer affects everyone, and it's up to all of us to help Fight the Fight for funding the important research that can one day make a much sought-after cure a reality.
50% of the profit from all Fight the Fight purchases made from November 3rd, 2013 to November 18th, 2013 will be donated to Lana to help cover her medical related expenses.
Thank you for reading Lana's story and for supporting Fight the Fight. You can share her story with your friends by clicking one of the buttons below...