Doctor with stethoscope in studio

A cancer diagnosis may have changed the course of Sylvia Huerta’s life, but the positivity, persistence and power she discovered in hearing the stories of others and sharing her own have helped her keep pushing forward.

“I’m happy that I’m still fighting,” says Huerta, a 65-year-old Cedar Lake resident who was blindsided by her 2012 lung cancer diagnosis after experiencing a nagging cough.

“I’m not a smoker, never had any signs,” she recalls, “and then all of a sudden I have some X-rays and a biopsy and I find out it’s stage 3 lung cancer.”

Reeling from not only the stunning news of her condition but also a long, arduous road of treatments that involved multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation — none of which seemed to be working — Huerta did some internet research and happened upon the Cancer Resource Centre in Munster.

Established as a place to support, educate and encourage patients and their families facing a variety of cancers, the center features a lending library and computers; complimentary services such as yoga, Reiki, expressive art therapy and chair massage; and a variety of support groups — including the lung cancer group Huerta decided to check out.

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“Making the choice to attend a support group is a very proactive step in the cancer journey,” says Helen Kolodziej, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in St. John and facilitator of the lung cancer support group at the Cancer Resource Centre. “There’s no need for anyone to feel alone with their diagnosis. A support group offers a safe, comfortable environment where everyone can discuss their concerns and listen to what others are going through or have overcome. Interactions with others during these times are both empowering and uplifting.”

That was certainly the kind of helping hand Huerta was looking for when she started attending the 90-minute sessions, adding these group interactions to the healthy reserve of internal faith and positivity that she was already drawing upon. And sure enough, she felt herself turning a corner.

“It’s just very comforting to know that you’re not the only one who has to go through this,” Huerta says. “This is a place where we can lift each other up.”

Though a drug therapy regimen prescribed to her by doctors at University of Chicago Medicine has shown more promise than previous treatments, her fight is far from over. Still Huerta feels more committed to living her life, rather than just waiting to die. It’s a big distinction, but Huerta is such a believer in the power of the support group that she hopes to get even more involved at the Cancer Resource Centre going forward.

“I’d like to be a mentor there to help show others that it can be done — you can face cancer with a positive attitude,” she says. “You just can’t keep it all inside. You have to open up and lean on others and let them lean on you, and this is a great place to do that.”

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