A recurring theme Lori Hoelscher heard throughout her battle with breast cancer is “You’re going to be OK.”
Her husband Delbert, her family, her friends and loved ones who had been through the same battle often said those words, but they said it with conviction. This simple, powerful declaration of encouragement eased the Honey Creek native’s mind, helping her maintain a positive attitude and fight this disease.
“I had so many people praying for me, and I believe in the power of prayer,” she said. “I had a wonderful support system – my husband, family, friends and my dear mother. So many good people got me through. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to get through all that I did. Who was that strong person? But I now realize that was the power of God in me and a product of faith, prayer and people rallying around me.”
When Lori found out she had cancer, it hit her like a ton of bricks. She had been doing mammograms every six months because she had dense tissue in her breast. In January 2011, medical staff saw something suspicious. They did an MRI and a biopsy, and then told her she had stage 0 DCIS breast cancer, which means it was encapsulated inside the tissue.
“Until you are diagnosed with it yourself, you don’t know how devastating it is to hear the c word. You immediately think doom and gloom, and my life is over. It is a natural reaction,” she said. “But I did a lot of research. I had great friends, like Nancy Gratz and my sister-in-law Rosie Verslues, who are cancer survivors. They said, ‘You are going to be OK.’ You are stage 0 and you are fortunate it was caught very, very early.”
Lori opted to have a mastectomy with reconstruction surgery to follow at a later time. As she woke up from her surgery on March 8, 2011, she received unsettling news.
“I will never forget waking up from that surgery, looking around and hearing people say, ‘She is waking up.’ … (My surgeon) came in and said it is not what we thought it was. We found multiple tumors and you have invasive breast cancer, stage 3,” she said. “It went from nothing to something very serious.”
They removed the tumors from Lori’s breast and instead of doing reconstruction, she saw an oncologist. She decided to get a second opinion, determining what kind of treatments she should get. She qualified and decided to take a heavier chemotherapy treatment called Adriamycin, or the “red devil,” in which she received at Dr. Tamara Hopkins office in Jefferson City. In the middle of her treatment, she had her gall bladder removed.
“One of my lowest points during this process was when I was in the hospital following the gall bladder surgery. I was bald as a billiard ball, trying to get to the bathroom. It was dark that night, and a nurse came up behind me and said, ‘Sir, can I help you with something?” I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really funny.’ I turned around and the nurse had tears in her eyes and said ‘I’m so sorry.’ I said ‘It’s OK, don’t cry,’” she recalled.
Even though the “red devil” treatment was harsh, her chemotherapy nurses were “angels on earth,” Lori said. Their personalities, particularly Lori’s main nurse Valery, got her mind off the treatments and encouraged her to complete each session. One day, Valery said something that sticks with Lori to this day.
“It was toward the end of my chemo treatments … and the doctor came out with my blood reports, which were looking better. … Valerie looked at the doctor and said, ‘Lori decided she is going to live,’” Lori said while tearing up. “Valery must have seen a new look of hope in my eye and it gave me the courage to finish and know everything was going to be OK. … Things like that are game changers. … I still tell her she was instrumental to my healing process. The kindness and compassion shown by my doctors and their staff was so important and uplifting … It is all about hope and faith.”
Lori finished with three months of radiation treatment with Dr. James Allen at Goldschmidt Cancer Center. She was in complete remission in December 2011. For the next year, Lori remembers healing and starting to “feel great again.”
She continued to be a close aunt to her nieces, nephews and now great-nieces and nephews. She rode and showed her American Saddlebred horses, which is her passion. Lori started helping again with the family business, Trinklein Greenhouses, spent time with Delbert at ballgames and on their family century farm in Osage Bend and savored moments with him at their Wardsville home where she loves to flower garden. It was such a blessing to be feeling well again and now she never takes her family and friends for granted.
“I also found it comforting to return to work as much as possible during treatments to maintain some normalcy and be with my coworkers who were very supportive,” she said. “For me, it was important to maintain normal as much as I possibly could and be around my positive and loving family and friends.”
She still works as a customer relationship manager at Ameren, her place of employment for 33 years and where she began her career after graduating with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Lincoln University. She also continues her longtime volunteer efforts and works with organizations she feels passionate about, including the United Way.
Her support system continues and now has grown to include more than 20 women she has connected with while modeling all four years Strut Your Style has been in existence. She has loved the gowns she has worn, all from Saffee’s the last four years, and she has appreciated Ameren purchasing a table for 10 so her closest girlfriends from work can cheer her on as she walks down the runway. Lori also appreciates the cause Strut Your Style supports, as Community Breast Care Project was one of her first points of contact for information when she was diagnosed.
“They were very kind and professional, caring and informative,” she said. “Organizations like CBCP are so necessary. All of them are survivors, too. That is one of the reasons why I do the show.
“The fashion show allows time to celebrate victory over this horrible disease with other survivors. … Our stories are different yet they are the same. There is a sisterhood and a love there for one another,” she said. “It is hope. We all send that message of hope.”
Lori fully understood that message after an encounter with an acquaintance this summer. The lady said, ‘There is my face of hope!’ And Lori listened as the woman told her about herself and family members battling cancer.
“She said, ‘Every time I get down I think of how much you went through, how sick you were and how great you are now and so active and healthy. You are my inspiration of hope.’ Then came the tears,” she said. That is when it
brought it all home to me. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m someone’s hope?’ At that point, I knew that if one person sees me as their hope for tomorrow, it is all worth it. In some small way, by the grace of God, I helped them get through their fight – that was very humbling. So I hugged her and what did I tell her? ‘It’s going to be OK. You’re going to be OK.’ It really is the truth.”
Click here to read Nancy K. Gratz’s story.
Click here to read Liz Morrow’s story.
Click here to read Pam Schnieders’ story.
Click here to read a special tribute to the late Strut Your Style model and breast cancer survivor Dana Kliethermes.
Find out more about the Strut Your Style Fashion Show & Luncheon here.