Joan faces cancer round 2

Joan faces cancer round 2

Maggie Harden, Managing Editor

People often say that the true test of someone’s character comes when they are are faced with hard times, because even the best people can crack when life gets tough. However, for Vernon Hills High School security monitor Joan Calabrese, she has already passed the “hard times” test once, and is well on her way to passing it a second time. Unfortunately, Joan was diagnosed in July with a rare form of lymphoma (cancer of the blood), which is her second experience with cancer in eight years.

“Overall, I’m pretty positive….I actually thought [having cancer a second time] would be worse than it was,” explained the beloved security monitor. “ I think trying to stay strong and positive for the family has helped–my kids are grown and married and all that, but, I wanted to stay strong for them because I thought if I would hurt, they would hurt.”

Joan’s family and friends have been a big source of support for her since the diagnosis. Her twin brother was actually diagnosed with a different form of cancer a week after she was, so her family has had a lot to process–but they are taking it well and remaining optimistic. The day Joan cut her hair off, she and her family actually made it into a party where several of her grandkids shaved their heads as well.

“[When I found out], it was devastating to think that she was going to have to go through that journey one more time,” said fellow VHHS security monitor and long-time friend of Joan’s, Tina Blomgren. “She had beat it the first time and I couldn’t believe it had come back…but [Joan] is a very positive individual, and she has such a great philosophy on beating cancer and moving forward.”

When Joan was diagnosed the first time, she underwent radiation therapy to remove the cancer. This time around, the cancer was considered an aggressive form, so chemotherapy was the recommended treatment. However, even with chemo, the cancer still has a 50% chance of coming back–odds that Joan refers to as “the flip of a coin.” But, despite the considerable chance for return, Joan is grateful for the support she’s found both in the community and here at VHHS.

“Just about every day I receive a card in the mail, you know, good wishes, thinking about you,” said Joan. “Everyone that I’ve been surrounded by has been a positive thing and supportive. I’m lucky, I feel lucky. I’m blessed.”

When compared to radiation, the chemotherapy was a lot harder form of treatment. Joan had to take the first semester of this year off to avoid germs and gain back some strength, and it was hard to function like she had been before. Eating was a struggle, because there was a constant metal taste in her mouth–although she actually ended up gaining weight during chemo because she made herself eat anyway. That, combined with perpetual exhaustion, may have tugged anyone else’s spirits, but, believe or not, actually accomplished the opposite with Joan.

“Believe it or not, with cancer you still say things could be worse,” she explained. “There’s other illnesses that are even worse than cancer. But you learn to appreciate people, you appreciate life, you have to laugh–you gotta keep laughing. I can joke about it, I’m not sensitive about it. I didn’t cry when my hair was cut off, which a lot of people asked me about.”

So how has she gotten through it? “My little phrase is you can’t walk in the dark room,” revealed Joan. “You can’t go to those dark places, because once you’re in that dark room and the door shuts it’s hard to get out. Even for me–I have a very high chance for it to come back since it’s considered an aggressive form, but I don’t go there in my mind on what could be. I think about living, I don’t think about dying.”

Although Joan is almost there in passing the “hard times” test a second time, she has already demonstrated her commendable character to VHHS through her positive attitude and persevering strength.