A Penhold woman battling cancer wants to express her gratitude to how her community has rallied around her with such generous support since day one.
Lisa Duke, 37, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2016.
“It was total shock,” recalled the mother of two young children, Troy, seven, and Mariah who is nearly six.
She went through a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Reconstruction surgery followed and for a time, everything seemed to be going really well.
“They had, as far as we knew, cured it. We had beaten it.”
Lisa received the go-ahead to return to work just a few months ago but then soon wasn’t feeling well. Doctor’s tests showed the cancer had spread to her liver.
“Your world is turned around again,” she explained. “Unfortunately it’s now stage four, so there is no cure for it,” she said. “They will kind of keep it at bay as much as they can with treatment, which I will be on for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, the word ‘terminal’ is there but we just keep trucking along.”
Currently, Lisa is undergoing chemotherapy treatments and is also a busy mom to her kids. Through it all, she holds as best she can a positive attitude and is an absolute delight to talk with.
“There are days when it’s hard to stay positive. Lately, I’ve had the attitude that I need to live like I’m dying – I need to enjoy every moment that I can. I don’t know what good it would be to not be positive about it, I don’t think that would help anyone. My kids need me to be positive, and I think I need me to be positive! Miracles happen everyday.
“How could I be any other way with the amount of support and love that I have? I don’t see there being another way for me to be.”
She is completely open about her journey, and explained that a lot of the strength she has stems from a tremendously supportive community that has rallied around her each step of the way through this chapter of her life.
“I always had a love for life but that changes when you have to fight for your life,” she explained of the inevitable shifts in perspective that a cancer diagnosis brings. “Perspectives change – I think my perspective has changed even more this time.”
Still, Lisa can’t help but smile when she thinks of the love, compassion and unending support she has received from friends, family and the community at large.
“I can’t even explain how much good people have done for us. The freezer was full with homemade meals. People would offer to take the kids places, and simply just be here. They would vacuum, shovel my walks – anything that they could do to help out with both times of diagnosis.”
Even the kids have taken note of how wonderful people have been, and that has helped them deal with the pain of seeing what their mom is walking through.
Players with her son’s hockey team, and their coach, shaved their heads to show their support for Lisa.
“They showed up at my house at about 6:30 in the evening with a knock on the door,” she recalled with a smile. “I went to answer the door and they had showed up with a bouquet of flowers and yelled, ‘Surprise!’ It was the most kind thing. I was overwhelmed. And some of those boys had nice ‘hockey hair’ going,” she added with a chuckle.
“For a seven-year-old, that’s a brave thing to do,” she said of the boys, who play for the Innisfail Co-op Flyers.
“Other teams have done so much too. And to show Troy that support as well, that, ‘We are here for you and we are here for your mom and Mariah as well’.
“The community has also rallied together and given us gift cards.”
More support has come from the Penhold School of Dance which Mariah belongs to, and also from Jessie Duncan Elementary School where both of her children go.
“Also, people that I have never met have dropped off gift certificates. The pure kindness of people!
“Just showing that they care – that means more than anything. That has absolutely made this journey so much better, so much easier and so much more bright and positive.”
Lisa said that she also wants her children to learn from this experience how very important it is to ‘pay it forward’ in life. “Troy said to me the other day, ‘Mom, a lot of people love us. Look at all of this’.
“So I want them to see all of the good in these people, and to pay it forward in their lives,” she said.
“I think that’s happening.”
Lisa’s sister Julie Windebank, who also calls Penhold home, agrees with her sister about how helpful folks have been.
“The diagnosis and the treatment have been gut-wrenching, but the support has been heart-warming,” she said. “It’s a journey because at one moment you are in the lowest of lows, and then the next moment you are so overwhelmed with kindness.”
Lisa has also opted to be open about her battle with cancer, as it’s that kind of openness and sharing that can be such a support and inspiration to others.
“People have come to me who are going through it as well and I’ve been able to connect with them,” she said. “I also think being such a young person going through this, with young kids, that if I had anything to offer to help people then absolutely I will.”
To learn more about Lisa Duke’s journey, find her on facebook.