Cancer survivor says attitude is key
August 28, 2008 · Updated 3:54 PM
ARLINGTON Even as she talks about being told she had three months to live, there isn't a hint of self-pity in her voice.
"You're not going to get through life without some kind of tragedy," said cancer survivor Anne Hartline, 57, who's now into round three with the disease. "You can either get bitter or you can better. That's the choice you have."
Hartline spoke about her battle with the disease to promote the American Cancer Society's upcoming Relay for Life.
The North Snohomish Relay is set for June 7-8 at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
Quality of life manager for the Everett branch of the American Cancer Society, Jerri Wood described Hartline as one most selfless people she has ever met.
"She's just a decent human being," Wood said.
Wood talked about how Hartline, while undergoing chemotherapy herself, won't hesitate to help other patients. Hartline said she tries to turn what can be a depressing experience into a lively, social gathering, referring to the chemo treatment center as the "chemo lounge."
Not incidentally, Hartline is familiar with the "chemo lounge" at Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in Everett in more ways than one. She helped design the entire facility.
"She was instrumental as an advisor from the patient's point of view," Wood said.
Even at home, Hartline spends hours on her laptop answering e-mails from cancer patients, offering advice and comfort. She is in the process of writing two books one on her story, the other a sort of cancer primer.
"I have become more educated about cancer than I ever wanted to be," Hartline said.
Hartline tells her story matter of factly, in a calm intelligent way. There seems little doubt it's a story she's told plenty of times before. Without hesitation, she states her experience with cancer started Oct. 22, 1997. She'd had regular mammograms and so the lump doctors discovered didn't concern her very much. When she was sent for an ultrasound, she remembers chatting with the techs and the doctors.
"Then suddenly the room got real quiet," Hartline said.
The test that was supposed to take 15 minutes ended up taking 45. The techs wouldn't answer her questions directly, but Hartline said she knew.
"I sat up, I said, 'I've got cancer,'" she said.
Hartline added she made up her mind immediately she wasn't going to keep her condition a secret. She worked as both a materials manager and health educator for Providence Health and she refused to cancel meetings she had planned with her staff for that afternoon. In fact, she told them exactly what she'd found out.
"I ended up consoling them," she said.
A short time later, Hartline underwent a lumpectomy and began chemo and radiation treatments for the first time. In 2003, she was about to celebrate five years of being cancer free. Instead, doctors found two new tumors.
"It didn't freak me out as much the second time," Hartline said. "It was just kind of matter of fact."
Hartline's first round of chemo treatments had run five days a week. Nevertheless, she kept working full time. For the second go-around of treatments, which included a mastectomy, she took two weeks off from work when she was offered six to eight weeks off. Hartline didn't loose her hair during her first bout with chemo; the second, she said, created a sort of thick, gray stripe which husband John thought she had dyed in place for one reason or another.
Ironically, Hartline found out about the tumors on her liver Oct. 22, 2007, 10 years to the day since she'd received her first diagnosis. She might never have found the problem expect for some totally unrelated foot surgery that led to her using crutches. The crutches pressed against her side and
"I was in just horrific pain," Hartline said. "And I've got a pretty high tolerance for pain."
Hartline added her oncologist actually cried when giving her the news, something Hartline added that oncologists rarely do. Hartline said she really looked for some sort of sign before deciding to take chemo for a third time.
As it happened, her doctor got her in on a clinical trial. He started to tell her about the drugs involved, but Hartline already knew everything there was to know. She had been part of the committee that approved the treatment.
"This tells me God still has some other plans for me," Hartline said.
The drugs in question come with 14 pages of potential side affects. Hartline was supposed to loose her hair permanently along with her fingernails. Given those three months to live, she talks about being around for another five or six years, minimum. And not incidentally, her hair is growing back and she never fully lost any nails.
"They tell me there's no medical explanation for it," Hartline said. "I think it's called prayer. I really think that's it."