Friday, May 17, 2013

Cancer survivor stays positive by giving back to others

PEDALING POWER: Maxwell takes a spin on her mountain bike.

Heather Maxwell was shocked when she was diagnosed with a type of colon cancer that wasn’t found in her family’s history. However, the 30-year-old also was relieved to know that the symptoms she had experienced for years – and had tried to convince herself were minor problems not to worry about – were not all in her head.

In the summer of August 2011, Maxwell began a comprehensive treatment plan at the Mass General Cancer Center. It included eight cycles of chemotherapy, almost a month of proton beam radiation and finally an aggressive surgery to remove all of her colon. All the while Maxwell maintained her full-time job as an auditor, despite having to commute almost two hours a day from her home in Brentwood, N.H. for treatments. Throughout her cancer battle, Maxwell maintained her love for bicycling. Now, cancer-free for the past year, Maxwell has turned her attention to help others facing a different medical battle.

On May 19, Heather and a group of friends who share her passion for cycling will head to Topsfield, Mass. to participate in the Tour de Cure, a 62-mile fundraising ride that benefits the American Diabetes Association. This national group sponsors rides of all lengths in 44 states to raise awareness, education and money. “It’s a great cause, and I’m happy to help because my father and many of my family and friends have diabetes,” says Heather. “Someday I’d love to do a similar ride to raise money for cancer research as well.”

Heather credits the MGH staff and her close knit family with helping her through the past two years. “After beginning each phase of my lengthy treatment, I felt like I was visiting friends, as the staff in each area of treatment were wonderful,” Maxwell says. “Without the support of my wonderful husband David and my family and friends, my journey would have been much more difficult.”

She also thanks her mother, Anita Paris, RN, of the MGH Vincent Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, for helping her remain strong. “My mother really was my wing man, my true inspiration,” says Maxwell. “She visited me every single day of my treatment and kept reminding me that staying positive was the only way to get through it – and I did.”

Paris on the other hand credits her daughter’s determination and dedication with helping in her battle against cancer. “Her success story gives hope to others,” Paris says.

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