Connie Lundin is a successful business owner in Bismarck, North Dakota, approaching her 70th birthday. In her early 20s though, the chances of her making it to 70 seemed quite low.
She was diagnosed with an advanced stage of Hodgkin’s disease.
“Back then, people with Hodgkin’s disease and leukemia, your life expectancy was around seven to nine years,” Lundin said. “I ended up taking some research drugs, had great medical care and came out of it. My bad news was that we knew with the amount of radiation that we took back then … that young women were getting breast cancer 25 to 30 years later.”
Breast cancer diagnosis
That’s exactly what happened. In 2006, Lundin was diagnosed with breast cancer. She bonded with Sanford Health general surgeon Jeanette Viney, M.D., who was one of the many medical professionals she saw during her treatment.
“She ended up having a stage 2 breast cancer,” said Dr. Viney. “One of the concerns with her was that she had radiation with her lymphoma, and how much radiation her whole body can take. So she chose localized breast radiation as opposed to whole breast radiation, which lowered her dose of radiation.”
The total dosage over the course of her life still had side effects, though. About 15 years after her first breast cancer diagnosis, Lundin was diagnosed with bone cancer in her sternum.
“From the day that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at Sanford Hospital, I began with the attitude that we have a fight, and Dr. Viney has been my chief person all the way through,” said Lundin. “When I got bone cancer less than two years ago, I went in right away, got a piece of the bone in the sternum, and sure enough, it was fourth stage bone cancer. That was the worst diagnosis I’ve ever had.”
Fighting for herself
Lundin’s current oncologist at Sanford Bismarck is Thandiwe Grey, M.D. Dr. Grey has admiration for Lundin, and she says that after all these years fighting cancer, Lundin has become her own greatest advocate.
“Connie is very strong,” said Dr. Grey. “She had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She beat that. Then she had breast cancer. She beat it for a long time. She knew something was wrong, so she kept coming back. She’s a business woman, so she’s not gonna just sit. She does her own reading, and she wanted a specialized type of treatment, so she went to MD Anderson (Cancer Center in Houston). And she’s doing good.”
Lundin was treated in Houston for more than seven months, but she kept her Sanford team updated throughout.
“In my life, I have had at least 20 oncologists, but the team of oncologists I have had at Sanford in Bismarck is superior to anything I’ve ever had,” said Lundin. “I was transferred out to Bismarck around 27 years ago, and my biggest concern was medical because of my background. I did my research, and I emphasize, it’s great to get a second opinion. But if you are out in my area, you’re gonna find out that Sanford has state-of-the-art equipment, and we have the best staff.”
Driven to succeed
Dr. Viney, for one, thinks Lundin’s attitude has been beneficial to her health even after nearly five decades of treatment.
“I think she has a positive outlook, and she strives to want to still contribute to society and to life in general,” said Dr. Viney. “I think that’s helped her and I think that helps a lot of people. She’s got more of a half-full instead of half-empty view, even though her diagnosis has put a lot of strain on her. But I think she keeps always looking half-full and always hoping for the best.”
Lundin says she plans to make the most out of every day. And she hopes others can learn from her tribulations as well.
“Cancer’s not a walk in the park and it’s no fun. But if you’re given lemons, make lemonade,” said Lundin. “The day that you’re given a cancer diagnosis, life is never the same, but it doesn’t mean that it has to get worse. In fact, it can get better. And my journey, I don’t think I would’ve accomplished as much in life without having been given cancer at a young age. I know that’s odd to say, but it taught me a lot.”
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