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WEST JORDAN — There is really no point in doing surgery to try to rid Coby VanWagoner of the stage-four cancer that has spread throughout her chest, lungs and back. "The cancer has spread; it's done its job," but she hasn't lost to it yet.
VanWagoner said she would never forget the day she was told she had cancer — and she will also remember the words of her current doctor, who reminded her that not all is lost. The cancer is not curable, and will never be in remission, but it is treatable.
"She told me, 'You have many, many years to live; you don't need to spend your life thinking this is the end. I don't want you to go around thinking you have only a short amount of time to live,'" VanWagoner said.
The words were comforting to VanWagoner, who has three children, ages 18, 14 and 10. Her oldest is preparing to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been ordained to the office of elder the day before VanWagoner was first diagnosed.
"That night, he was able to give me a blessing to ease the pain; and the next day, he gave me a blessing to help me get through this," VanWagoner said. "It was a very neat experience to have my son be able to give me a blessing."
It was only one of the experiences VanWagoner was fearful of missing when she was diagnosed with the disease — as we're her children.
"I want to be able to see my kids grow up," she said. "I don't want them to worry about what's going on with me. My youngest son had the hardest time ... 'Mom, is cancer contagious? Mom, are you going to die of cancer?' Those are hard questions to answer."
The experience has been made more bearable thanks to family, friends and even strangers offering their support. VanWagoner, president of her congregation's Relief Society organization, is used to taking care of other people, but said she was surprised at how many people have expressed their support for her since her Aug. 27 diagnosis.
"I've gotten so many anonymous notes in the mail from sisters in the ward that have helped me have courage and strength" VanWagoner said. "You don't realize how many people you touch until you go through something like this."
You don't realize how many people you touch until you go through something like this.
VanWagoner said she has gotten everything from texts and handwritten notes to plates of cookies from people just wishing to express their love and support for her. She said cancer "affects more than just you and your family. It touches everyone."
She said one of her nurses demonstrated just how cancer touches lives. A breast cancer survivor herself, she said "that's why I do what I do: to help others."
"She'll call me to let me know she's thinking of me," VanWagoner said. "She helped me understand what was going on with the cancer by showing me the film — 'Here are the spots where all the cancer is; here is where my lungs have been spotted.'"
People like that nurse are among those who have helped VanWagoner realize that despite what should be deadly at first glance — stage-four cancer — she can lead a fairly normal life if she takes care of herself. There is no chemotherapy in the plans, as it would not do any good, but she has gone through some radiation therapy, which was trying, and will be on hormone therapy.
"It's just something I will have, something I will deal with," she said. "I can go about my life knowing I have it, and some day I may die from it, but I still love doing the things I loved doing before and I still love the people I loved before."