Mind over matter: Cancer survivor takes charge before and after diagnosis

ResourcesMerrie Olson takes being proactive to a whole new level. When she learned there was a chance she could be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, she immediately took action. Merrie began attending Willamette Valley Cancer Institute’s Multiple Myeloma Support Group to prepare herself—just in case.

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that causes tumors in bone marrow. Although Merrie hadn’t even been diagnosed yet, her take-charge attitude had her hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

When it was confirmed that she had a variation of the disease, called amyloidosis, she not only continued to attend the support group meetings at WVCI, but Merrie decided to add Oregon Cancer Foundation’s Survivorship Series to her regimen as well.

Searching for support
Merrie wasn’t sure what to expect when she signed up for OCF’s Survivorship Series, but she found the facilitators, Susan Isaacs and Sarah Petersen, very helpful. She began to realize the abundance of resources available to cancer survivors locally.

“There are so many nutritional and holistic resources right here in Eugene that I had never even heard of before,” Merrie says.

One such resource is the Positive Community Kitchen. The non-profit organization enlists the help of volunteers who prepare organic, nutritionally-rich and locally sourced meals for people fighting life-threatening illnesses.

Presenters involved in the Survivorship Series change on a weekly basis and include physicians and staff from Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and others associated with the field of oncology. The series is free to attend and is offered in both the fall and spring. Classes are held every Thursday from 6 – 7:30 pm, covering topics that range from nutrition and self-care to relationships and emotional health. Attendees are encouraged to register early to reserve a spot and are welcome to bring a partner or caregiver with them for support.

Stay active, ask questions
By participating in the Survivorship Series, Merrie began to feel a renewed sense of ownership over her life, despite her health challenges.

“Attending the Survivorship Series is a way for people to do something for themselves that makes them feel better,” she says. In conjunction with the Eugene YMCA’s LIVESTRONG program, which focuses on exercise, Merrie has able to find balance and recovery in all aspects of her life. “The more in-shape you are, physically and emotionally, the more positive your outlook. It helps you realize that good education, nutrition and exercise can really make you feel better.”

Since the completion of her stem cell transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona in the fall of 2014, Merrie’s multiple myeloma numbers have dropped dramatically. She credits her proactive outlook, asking questions and attending programs like the Survivorship Series that enabled her to access valuable resources and support.

“When you have cancer what you consider the norm is not the norm. Every case is different. All the speakers in the Survivorship Series were very interesting and I really learned a lot. I encourage others to take advantage of the opportunity.”

The fall Survivorship series begins September 29 and runs for 8 weeks. Space is still available to attend. For more information, or to register, contact Amy Johnston at amy@oregoncancerfoundation.org or call 541.632.6354.