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Jane Gillund sports a pink baseball cap over her baby-fine wisps. Cancer treatment has taken her hair four times since 1999.

Her right hand moves gracefully when she speaks. The left stays still. Surgeries successfully treated brain cancer in ’09, but partial paralysis remains.

Voice steady and eyes focused, Jane describes one cancer battle after the next -- five in all. “Do I wish they hadn’t happened? Never,” she says. “I’m grateful.”

Grateful? When asked how this can be -- how she can continue to survive with no bitterness, no anger, no self-pity -- she simply points up.

“My second diagnosis I realized I’m not in control anymore,” she says. “I prayed to God to get me through this and then use me.”

Instruments of life

Jane’s first breast cancer diagnosis came in 1999. She was a vibrant 44-year-old with a happy marriage, two sons and a career in nutrition therapy.

“After the treatment I figured I was good to go,” she says. Treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Then came a second diagnosis two years later. The breast cancer had spread to the sternum. Radiation treated it, but it was metastatic -- or as Jane says, “It just keeps hanging around.”

Over the next several years the cancer moved to other areas including lymph nodes and the brain. Treatment kept her going.

“I’m living proof cancer can be a chronic disease,” she says. “Each time I’ve had a recurrence there have been new medications, new procedures, new ways of doing things. All have been available to me at Roger Maris Cancer Center.”

Her Cancer Center team worked closely with other Sanford services to provide the care she needed. In 2009, for example, Jane received extensive post-surgical rehabilitation including three weeks in the rehab unit and months of outpatient physical and occupational therapy.

“I came home in a wheelchair, graduated to a walker and now use a cane,” Jane says. The cane and a leg brace help her walk, but it’s slow and difficult.

Even though the cancer is now inactive, Jane continues to receive medication infusions and injections. They cause all-over pain, but keep the cancer at bay. Quarterly checkups include PET and MRI scans.

“For now we’re good,” says Jane. “Dr. (Gerald) Gross has been my oncologist all along and he’s outstanding. He gives me hope, but never false hope. I call him my shepherd.”

Support for the journey

Jane quickly points out she hasn’t always been strong. “If someone had told me years ago that I would go through all this, I would’ve said no way, can’t do it,” she says. “Adjusting has been a long process. I don’t deny or ignore my disease -- I embrace it. I’m not dying from cancer -- I’m living with it.”

Jane won’t take credit for her growth. She acknowledges:

  • Faith. “My priest said you can go to ‘pity-city,’ but you can’t stay. When I have pain, discomfort or worries, I offer them up. I take the focus off me and think of others. Many suffer far more than I do.”
  • Family, especially Neil, her husband for 33 years. “He’s amazing! All of my family including sons Kyle and Michael and daughter-in-law Cindy have taken wonderful care of me."
  • Friends, including some who go back to first grade. “They don’t see me as the cancer patient. We laugh together -- sometimes even joke about brain tumors. Years ago I never would’ve imagined that was possible.”

Choose your path

Quotes inspire Jane every day. “One of my current favorites is by Helen Keller: ‘Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.’ Isn’t that good? And she lived it,” she says.

Jane, too, lives a life of purpose despite years of cancer and now disabilities. “I’m here to help people and give them hope,” she says. She’s been a patient advocate at the Cancer Center, helped launch the “embrace” survivorship program and speaks to groups.

“Whatever the difficulty, the negative is obvious, but you can find the positive, too,” she says. “My cancer has been a complete blessing.”

Jane glances out her kitchen window, noticing the National Guardsmen stationed in front of her Fargo home directing flood-related traffic. She wonders aloud what kind of treats to make for them.

“They spend all day out there,” she says. “I feel sorry for them.”

A slight turn of her head in the afternoon sun reveals tiny jewels sewn into her pink baseball cap. They catch the light and never stop sparkling.

Posted Date: May 2011