Charlotte Weiss

Senior Writer

Second of a three-part series

cancer by age graph

In the blink of an eye a single diagnosis changed the lives of three Lorain County Community College faculty members forever. For Debbie Turner, Administrative Associate in Human Resources, Garis Distelhorst, Executive Director of the LCCC Foundation, and Bob Flyer, the Special Assistant to the Vice President of Construction Services this was, and still is, a reality they were made to cope with upon the initial diagnosis of their respective cancers.

Debbie Turner was given her diagnosis of colon cancer four years ago and was a fighter until she was able to walk away cancer free. “The fear never goes away,” she admitted. “I never got sick. I never get colds, I never get the flu, so it sort of came out of nowhere for me. The whole thing was so foreign to me.”  Taking her diagnosis in stride, Turner managed to never give up hope and persisted through her illness with determination. Her support system manifested in her friends, family, and others who faced similar struggles with cancer. “Eventually you just sort of go into a mode where you keep putting one foot in front of the other. You keep taking care of business.”

Garis Distelhorst faced his challenge with a similar determined attitude, only missing one full day of work during the duration of his sickness. He was given his diagnosis of throat cancer, specifically in his tonsils, when he was away on business in China. After immediately having his world rocked with the emotional news, he returned home to be with his wife and entered a seven-week round of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. His last treatment was mid-May 2011, his last cancer-free check-up slated to take place next spring. “The thing that I will forever be thankful for is the support of my wife,” Distelhorst emphasized.  “She’s my savior. It helps to have a support system, someone there who understands. It doesn’t have to be a spouse. It could be family, a son or daughter, friends, or anyone.”

Bob Flyer is unique from the previous two faculty members in the fact that he is currently undergoing rounds of treatment for cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the bile ducts. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer in the bile ducts is not common and only 2,000 to 3,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with it each year. Upon the initial prognosis, Flyer was devastated. “We didn’t find it until I had what I thought was a gallbladder attack,” he said. He is wrapping up his chemotherapy treatment and will be seeing about the next steps soon after. His treatment started in September and has been occurring every other week since then. Throughout his course of treatment he has thrived on the care from his personal support system, the majority of which is made up by his LCCC co-workers and fellow staff members. “My co-workers, my friends, and David Cummins,” he sites the main cohort of his support. Everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer has a different story and a different way of coping. “For me, one of the biggest supports was the Gathering Place,” said Turner. “It’s free to anybody that has cancer and their families.” The Gathering Place opened 15 years ago and is a resource to anyone impacted by cancer. They tout support initiatives such as classes for those who suffer from cancer and their loved ones, provide wigs for women, host classes that range from therapeutic art lessons to music education, supply programs for those in treatment and their families, and have an extensive library for cancer patients to peruse and verse themselves in literature that may help them cope. The Gathering Place has locations in both Beachwood and Westlake.

In addition to finding resources like the Gathering Place, it is also important to note that the individual needs to be their own main support. “If you are faced with it, go into it with determination,” said Distelhorst. “Trust in the doctors that take care of you.”

With more than one million people being diagnosed with cancer every year, according to the American Cancer Society, it is no surprise that the LCCC campus community has been impacted greatly by this disease. “If there is any sign or symptom that you’re not used to on your body, like for me it was a lump on my neck, go see a doctor,” encouraged Distelhorst, “You just can’t take a chance on it. You have to take that first step and have things checked.”