Winchester wants to reach out to others affected by the dreaded disease
One of the oldest, most trite sayings in the world is, 'Stop and smell the flowers.'
But Annie Winchester of Lake Oswego takes it very much to heart.
Being told you have a 20 percent chance of living will radically change your perspective on life, and that is what happened to Winchester, a wife and mother of two young sons.
'I can look in my yard now and see that the lilacs are out,' Winchester said. 'I didn't think I would make it to see them again.'
Being stricken with cancer was a disaster that Winchester survived. She now wants to help others in Lake Oswego deal with the disease, whether they are victims, survivors or just family or friends. Cancer leaves a deep impression wherever it strikes, and Winchester knows all about it. Even while she was battling for her own life, she saw a number of friends die from cancer.
Now, Winchester is forming a club to help anyone affected by the disease. Its name is Annie's Cancer Club.
'I want to start a grassroots club and have it spread by word of mouth,' Winchester said. 'I've been thinking about doing this for months. Cancer has affected so many people I care about.'
Winchester has already planned her first club meeting, and it will be quite an informal affair. She will bake a coffee cake and make some coffee, and everyone will sit around and talk. She won't be passing out any pamphlets to promote the club.
'Anyone who knows me would think I would use crayons on used wrapping paper for my pamphlets,' Winchester said.
Humor. That was a key weapon for Winchester in her fight against rectal cancer, and her sense of humor has been honed ever since the day in 2010 when she received her diagnosis.
It started out as a hemorrhoid, or so she thought. She went to see her physician in Lake Grove, who gave her some medicine and a warning: Go see a colon-rectal specialist if the lump doesn't go away. It didn't.
'I did what I was told,' Winchester said. 'I was shocked when I found out I had cancer. I had assumed it would be Stage 1 or 2 cancer. It was Stage 4. I found out it was rare and aggressive, and it had spread all the way up my thigh.'
Because of her illness, the year 2011 was 'a big blur' for Winchester as she underwent four surgeries and an extensive chemotherapy treatment. Plus, she was afflicted by diverticulitis and shingles.
The hardest part of her ordeal was telling her kids.
'One of them asked me, 'Are you going to lose your hair?'" Winchester said. 'I didn't lose my hair, but I did look a little gray.
'Another time one of my sons said, 'I miss my pre-cancer mommy.' I tried not to cry.'
If Winchester endured trials and tribulations, she also received great blessings.
As she so aptly put it, 'I was so lucky to be surrounded by love and casseroles. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of people I barely knew.'
She also received 'wonderful support' from her doctors each step of the way.
'The most important person was my husband, Mike,' Winchester said. 'He had to be a single parent and also a nurse.'
By Thanksgiving of 2011, Winchester's battle against cancer was largely won. But strangely enough, Winchester's ordeal helped her rediscover life.
'Now I'm able to bend down and clean the litter box,' she said. 'I can get clothes out of the dryer. I can read to my kids without falling asleep. It's the little things in life that really count. I'm going to have a garden again. Whatever happens, we'll have tomatoes and cucumbers this year!
'I feel great right now, and I'm so thankful I'm not in pain. I'm so glad the tumor is not in my body.
'I used to be a big worrier. Stage 4 cancer will cure anyone of worrying.'
Still, Winchester is not out of the woods. She will receive a scan at the end of May, and, as well as she feels now, there is the possibility that her cancer will have returned.
'If the test is positive, I'll be going back to chemotherapy,' Winchester said.
Whatever is found, Annie's Cancer Club will be up and running.
'I want to give back,' Winchester said. 'I want to motivate people to find out about medical things, because the unknown was the scariest part for me.
'You don't have to have cancer to be in this group, (just have been) affected by cancer now or in the past.'
Winchester wanted to thank the people who helped her throughout her illness: her husband and two sons, surgeon Dr. Mark Whiteford, oncologist Dr. Christopher Yasenchak, radiation oncologist Dr. Gregory Patton and therapist Dr. Mary Moffit.
"I want to thank them for their wonderful care and support," she said.