Cancer survivor fights 'death sentence'
Cancer does not have to be a death sentence.
Carol Dischinger of Owatonna has found that to be true during her two-year battle with a rare form of leukemia. Added on top of that is her daughter's 10-year battle with breast and colon cancer.
"A lot of people think cancer is a death sentence," said Dischinger. "I don't look at it that way… I am too strong-willed."
She will bring her message of hope to Saturday's Steele County Relay for Life at the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna. Dischinger is the honorary chair for this year's relay. The event runs from 4 to 10 p.m.
Relay organizer Mary Boettger said she hopes the relay will be as normal as possible this year after only being able to offer a car cruise in 2020. Boettger hopes to get about 500 participants and hit the goal of $80,000.
Boettger said the death rate for cancer is declining because of money raised through fundraisers like Relay for Life. "People are able to get treatments because of the research that's being done," she said.
Dischinger said nothing ever prepares a person for dealing with cancer. In her case, the worst was the fear of the unknown. "You know something is wrong, but you don't know what it is," she said.
In May 2019, Dischinger took off on a trip to visit her grandson in Idaho. She suddenly discovered she had bruises all over herself along with blood blisters. She recalls her son asking, "Do you have leukemia?" She promptly responded, "I hope not."
When she returned from vacation, Dischinger went to the doctor to run some tests. She soon ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. During this time, she also ended up with a "bad headache" and couldn't go back to work as a deli manager at Cashwise Foods in Owatonna, where she worked for 14 years.
Doctors found she had brain bleeds and they weren't certain what was causing them. Test results revealed acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Philadelphia B+, which is considered a relatively uncommon disease.
Dischinger began treatments, which included a 44-day stay and a couple of 28-day stays in the hospital.
What complicated the battle for Dischinger was that she ran into issues with medical insurance and didn't have anyone at home to care for her. Her husband died in 2005.
At 68 years old, Dischinger said she feels like she is in remission, though doctors haven't given her the all-clear yet. "I feel really good," she said, adding she is getting her strength back.
She just returned on Sept. 2 from a three-week stay with family members in Idaho, one of which was her daughter, Jill Russell, who she hadn't seen for 19 years. While she was given only five years to live, Russell is her 10th year of battling cancer.
"If she is as strong-willed as I am, she will make it through some of this," Dischinger said of her daughter. "I'm not going to be compromised by the letter C—cancer."
Battling cancer, however, hasn't come without challenges for Dischinger. "You walk with the big C behind you," she said. "It affects you physically, mentally and intellectually. It's hard, it's difficult, but I don't want to let it get me down," she added.
Dischinger has often taken comfort in doctors telling her, "You don't look like a cancer patient."
Dischinger credits her faith for pulling her through the cancer battle. She believes in the power of prayer. "I prayed so I would make it through the night," she said. "I had to do it for myself. I thank God every day when I wake up that I am still alive."
While she has kept her battle mostly private, Dischinger has found many people praying for her. She is a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Owatonna.
Even though she was forced to retire from her job, which has caused financial concerns along the way, Dischinger is focused on staying positive and living a stress-free life.
And as for her advice for people in similar circumstances?
"Stay strong, stay positive and if you pray, pray a lot every day. I believe God answers prayers," Dischinger said.
Steele County Relay for Life
What: Silent Auction, Kids Activities, Entertainment and Food
When: Saturday, Sept. 18- 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.