Mom of four battles cancer while living full life

“Cancer will outsmart the treatment – but not today,” said Perla Robertson, an Urbana mom of four who faces the news that her cancer returned head on.

A pain in her arm led the breast cancer survivor to seek help.

“Getting a mammogram of your armpit is awkward and perhaps worse than getting one of your breast,” she said of the test that revealed cancer spread to her bones and then to the space around her lungs.

While her diagnosis is terminal, Robertson hopes research advancements will help manage it as a chronic disease versus a death sentence.

“Carle offers great resources and support groups where you can talk with other women with similar experiences. Putting yourself out there can be scary, but when you’re first diagnosed and overwhelmed by appointments, this is a good reminder to take care of you,” she said.

The cancer survivors retreat on Saturday, September 15 from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. offers an often much-needed break. Because the event is free and open to all cancer survivors regardless of where they receive treatment, seating is limited. 

“I’m in a good place and have time to make decisions on the most effective course of treatment,” Robertson said. “Dr. (Kendrith) Rowland is well connected to research and all the new things that are coming. I feel confident in him. He knows me well now and lets me take charge of my own healthcare. Even if he doesn’t agree with me, he respects my choices and the path I want to take.”

Some of Robertson’s best treatments are research, information and support.

“Dealing with life-threatening disease can be filled with emotions – exhaustion, fear, confusion and anger,” said Kimberly Harden, LCSW, Carle Cancer Center. “The retreat offers an opportunity to focus on positive emotions – celebration and milestones.”

Robertson said the retreat focuses on cancer in a positive way.

“Daily you have medications, chemotherapy or radiation, but those aren’t ‘fun.’ These activities interest me and challenge me to think about life after treatment,” she said.

Life after treatment also forced her family to think about life after death.

“We’re open with our children and family about testing, procedures and the results. I don’t want them kept in the dark. I want to set a good example for them about how to live life freely in the moment,” Robertson said.

She and her husband, Rick, openly discuss the end of her life.

“There are legal things like a living will and power of attorney, but then there are practical things like who pays the bills and has the passwords,” she said. “At the end of the day the talk is really about the legacy I want to leave.”

Knowing she continues to enjoy life and learn new things grounds Robertson.

“There’s such thoughtfulness behind putting (the yearly retreat) together. Each year brings more insight. Even if a topic is the same, there are new presenters and perspectives,” Robertson said.

Sometimes she recognizes friends from her support groups or treatments at the retreat. Other times she enjoys some time away from being a mom.

“The retreat is a day full of information, inspiration and support,” Harden said. “Survivors explore art, journaling, relaxation and mediation.”

The interactive learning day builds camaraderie and allows participants to explore new talents.

“I’m in a good place right now. My bones are in pretty good shape, and my lungs are improving,” Robertson said.

She knows there will be next steps, but eventually she’ll run out of options.

“Cancer is an unpredictable disease so you’ve got to have someone in your corner. I have that with Dr. Rowland and the staff at Carle. Everyone there puts patients first. Anything I need – they take care of it – a blanket, water, an update.”

“Everyone supports the patient and is not just doing a job.”