8/22/19

Three-time cancer survivor finally ‘ready to talk about it’

30 years ago, Ginny Unger-Freeman battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, years later, melanoma and again five years ago, breast cancer.

Each experience brought fears, triumphs and wisdom.

With her most recent diagnosis, she knew what awaited.

“I remember thinking – I know what’s coming,” said Unger-Freeman. “Everyone told me don’t worry about it, it’s nothing but I knew I was in for chemotherapy.”

After a cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to know how to move forward. For those looking for a little guidance, Carle Cancer Center is hosting a survivors retreat.

The Journey to Wellness: Life after Cancer
Saturday, September 7, 2019
8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Faith United Methodist Church, Champaign, IL

Supported by the Carle Center for Philanthropy, the event is free and open to all cancer survivors regardless of where they receive treatment. Space is limited. RSVP by August 30 at (217) 383-6846.

Experts will guide discussion and activities on art, music, yoga and nutrition. Inspirational topics include Let’s make it a habit: train your brain to navigate negativity. Discover new research in cancer treatment. Survivors will leave the event with strategies to help them thrive under stressful conditions.

Unger-Freeman’s breast cancer journey started with a spot found during a routine mammogram.

“I was overwhelmed by the diagnosis, even having been through this before,” she said. “I bought Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book and it was helpful. It spoke to me. And I’m grateful for a strong support system with my husband, Bruce, and our two sons who picked up groceries and helped care for our new golden retriever,” she said.

While she’d been through treatment in the past, this time was different. Her treatment included radiation – an unknown.

At Carle’s Cancer Center, Unger-Freeman had a full care team including breast cancer nurse navigator Mary Van Cleave, RN. She helped the wife and mother through her stressful times.

Van Cleave said the team offers comprehensive care by offering support groups, resource library, genetic and nutrition counseling and nurse navigator services.

“At times, I was upset and angry. It’s really easy to slip into dark spaces when you’re going through this. Having someone to help me work through my emotions was valuable.” She said. “Mary was calming and responsive to my needs.”

Unger-Freeman plans to attend the Life After Cancer retreat for the first time as part of her healing process.

“I tended to keep my cancer off to the side–separated,” said. Unger-Freeman. “But I’m ready to talk about it now.”

Staying connected to the latest trends appeals to her as well.

“When I was going through breast cancer, a trial was underway to determine whether certain types of cancers needed chemotherapy or not but results weren’t completed,” she said. “Today, armed with the knowledge this study provided, my treatment course would have been altered.”

The importance of research is major priority at Carle as well. As a National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) site, Carle providers and patients are advancing cancer research and treatment with more than 100 clinical trials enrolling patients at any given time.

“We have the area's largest and most specialized team of fellowship-trained oncologists, surgeons and staff so patients have access to an expert team dedicated to providing state-of-the art diagnosis, treatment and prevention,” said Maria Grosse-Peredekamp, MD, Oncology.

But more than the latest care, Unger-Freeman said Carle’s Cancer Center provides personalized service.

“The team is second to none, from the front desk to infusion suite to doctors,” she said. “I vividly remember checking in for my second to last chemo appointment and the woman said ‘Oh, Mrs. Freeman, you get to ring the bell next time.’ I was surprised how every member of the team knew right where I was in my treatment.”