Linda Sims was able to beat her cancer, share her experience with others and form a friendship with three women unlike any other.
"I was feeling great, I just went in for my annual physical," Linda Sims recalls. During her physical, Linda's physician discovered a lump while examining her stomach. In February 2002, Linda was diagnosed with large b-cell lymphoma. Linda notes, "This shows the importance of having an annual physical. Had I not gone in at that time my cancer probably would have been more advanced when it was finally discovered."
In 2004, after having been in remission for 23 months, the lymphoma came back. In December Linda went to the Mayo Clinic where she had a stem cell transplant.
Upon her recovery, a coworker asked Linda if she would call his friend Dianne Shearer, who had also been diagnosed with lymphoma and would be undergoing a stem cell transplant. Linda had not known anyone who had gone through a stem cell transplant when she was preparing for it, but she wished she had. She knew how important it was for Dianne to talk to someone who had been through the procedure.
Dianne had been diagnosed in August 2002 with non-hodgkin's lymphoma. She was in remission for 18 months before she discovered another lump that helped doctors determine her need for an autologous stem cell transplant. Linda, who had her transplant two years before, kept in touch with Dianne and sent her cards while she was at the Lied Transplant Center in Omaha. As Dianne recovered, she would call Linda and ask her about certain problems she was having.
About six months after her transplant in Omaha, Dianne became ill with a virus and was admitted to John Stoddard Cancer Center at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where she spent 14 days in a coma. Dianne says, "My care there was phenomenal. I had a slew of specialists in addition to my oncologist, Dr. Buroker, and internist, Dr. Caughlan, trying to figure out what virus I had that sent me into a coma. If it was not for the care that I had there I believe I would not be here today."
Once Dianne recovered, she was able to meet Linda in person for the first time in 2008. They started talking about finding others who had gone through a stem cell transplant or those who would be going through a transplant. That same year, Linda read an article in the newspaper about a fundraiser for Becky Dostal, who was suffering from lymphoma and preparing for a stem cell transplant and sent her a card. Becky says, "Linda was my emotional "rock" because it was important for me to know someone who had survived transplant."
Becky had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in June 2008. After running the Dam to Dam race with her husband that year she had been unable to recover from the race. Becky went to urgent care where they discovered her kidneys had failed. When her kidneys did not respond to rehydration, doctors did further testing that lead to the multiple myeloma diagnosis.
Linda was able to give both Dianne and Becky some advice on what to expect from the transplant. "I could only tell them what I had been through, things I did to help me get through it and answer their questions as to how they related to my experience," says Linda. "It is a friendship that has grown out of a not-so-good experience. As I read somewhere, cancer is a word not a sentence. Cancer is what brought us together but it is not what keeps us together."
"I do know that there are a lot of bad experiences that go along with a cancer diagnoses, but if I was not diagnosed, I would never have met such beautiful people as Linda and Dianne. Their friendship is a gift and I will treasure it always," says Becky.
Linda is now six years cancer free and Dianne is three. Becky's cancer is incurable so she continues to have screenings every three months and chemo every nine to twelve months. Becky and her husband recently moved to Fort Collins, CO so they ladies will have to stay in touch via phone and e-mail. "Even when miles separate us, they both will always be just a thought away and have a special place in my heart," says Linda.