For New Lenox's Edith Saurer, a 75-year-old survivor of five different forms of cancer, the words "give up" never entered her mind.
Having twice endured the symptoms of skin cancer—the first time when she was in her late 30s and again in 2007, cancerous polyps in her esophagus and colon in 1984, and breast cancer in 2001 or 2002, she has a message for those diagnosed with cancer: "Never give up."
Standing about 5-foot tall, the woman with a thick Austrian accent, is a dynamo when it comes to withstanding the punches that life throws. Growing up during the 1950s in the Soviet-occupied portion of Austria during the Cold War, Saurer said she learned how to cope with adversity. "There was never enough food."
Alone and at the age of 16, Saurer left her homeland and came to America. She settled in the Chicago region working factory jobs for the bulk of her life, getting married and raising one daughter. "My husband died when my daughter was 11," she said.
In the nutshell, she said, life hasn't been easy, but "I'm a positive person. You have to be to get through the hard times."
Her first bout of cancer started shortly after the death of her husband. "My daughter was afraid I was going to die. She'd ask me, 'are you going to leave too?'"
But Saurer was young, and the cancer—a growth near her ear—turned out to be non-life threatening. "I had 28 radiation (treatments). …My hair fell out around my ear and the back of my head."
About five years later, she was diagnosed with cancerous polyps in her colon. It was caught early, she said, and it didn't spread. Shortly thereafter, she was taken to University of Chicago with cancerous tissues on her esophagus. Again, it was the early stage of the disease, she said. Treatment was minimal.
The bigger test of courage came with a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2002. Preferring not to go into detail about the diagnosis or treatment, Saurer said, "I just prayed a lot. I always pray."
Her final bout of cancer, skin cancer, was likely due to radiation treatments around her ear in the late 1970s.
A few years ago, Saurer participated in a rally for cancer survivors in the Lincoln-Way area. "I tell people to stay strong."
Her tips for surviving the anguish, pain and grief:
- Pray a lot
- Listen to music. Let yourself go with it.
- Refuse to focus on the cancer. Think about something else.
- Steep yourself in a book. There's always a story about someone suffering more than you.
- Relax while watching a movie.
"I stay active. I volunteer at the Rialto (Square) Theatre" and belong to a couple German Clubs. "I have wonderful friends," she said. But most of all, the support and help from her daughter, Mokena's Diane Carvic, has been "wonderful."
Remember, she said, the way to withstand the sheer anxiety of cancer is not succumbing to the fear. "I believe you can almost heal yourself. You have to be a positive person."
At the moment, her knee is causing her problems. "I had surgery last month. It's still swollen and a bit painful."
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