A note of laughter rings true when Wanda Zahrt talks about her cancer story. She can't help it. Humor and a positive outlook are just part of who she is.
"Laughter is important," Wanda said. "Some of the things you go through can get you down. But you've got to pick yourself up and go on."
A good laugh, a dose of self-education and mutual trust in the team of specialists who care for Wanda, 73, all feed into why she decided to share her cancer story with Goshen Cancer Survivor Network. Wanda hopes her message of encouragement, resilience and faith may help others who live with a history of cancer.
Wanda's cancer story started in 2000 when she got her first diagnosis of breast cancer. After a mastectomy and chemotherapy, the cancer recurred along the margin of the right breast in 2001. That's when she went through a round of radiation treatment.
The recurrence gave Wanda a realization that she was in for a lifetime of tests, concerns and questions about her well-being. She decided to take her destiny firmly in hand and educate herself about her health, options for treatment and how to live her best with her cancer history.
"Education gives you a feeling of control," she said. "It takes away the fear of the unknown and helps you do something positive."
She admits to times of information overload, but she isn't about to let more knowledge get her down.
"It doesn't matter what the statistics are," Wanda said. "This is me and this is what I'm going to do."
Wanda, who lives in Winamac in central Indiana, wanted more specialized care from doctors dedicated to treating the whole person, not just the disease. She learned about Goshen Center for Cancer Care when she attended a presentation on naturopathic medicine at her local hospital in 2003. Goshen's multidisciplinary team approach and integrative therapies in one location sounded like a fit for Wanda.
The hour-and-a-half drive for oncology visits and annual mammograms at Goshen Retreat Women's Health Center didn't deter Wanda. She welcomed the holistic approach and personalized care.
Her decision for care proved the right one for her in 2013, when Wanda received her third diagnosis of cancer – this time in the left breast. Radiation followed a lumpectomy, and Wanda stayed in the CARE House adjacent to the cancer center throughout her treatment.
Despite the ups and downs, Wanda keeps an upbeat attitude that naturally comes through when she shares her story. Whether it's breast reconstruction, chemo ports or visits from the local librarian, Wanda spins a tale that gets everyone smiling.
"When you're first diagnosed with cancer, it's a kick in the gut," Wanda said. "But you take it one day at a time and get on with it."
Wanda's husband, David, has been by her side throughout her journey. She gives him much of the credit for her resilience. He let her be – whether it was a good day or a not-so-good day.
David has his own way to remind everyone there's a lighter side to the story. When Wanda knew she needed chemotherapy, it was too hard to think about losing every wisp of hair during treatment. Instead, she marched into her hair dresser and asked for a head shave.
Wanda refused to look at herself in the mirror for two weeks. When she finally revealed her new self, she had a moment of shock.
"My head looked just like my dad's," she said. David captured the look-alikes in a photo of father and daughter nose-to-nose. They were laughing with each other.
Self-care continues to play an important role in Wanda's life today. She pays attention to her mental and emotional health and rejoices in her normal rhythm of life. Supplements help sustain her energy and overall health.
Faith also is a constant companion for Wanda.
"God has looked out for me so far," she said. "I ask myself, 'why am I negative.' I'm alive!"