A tennis ball is approximately 6.7 centimeters in diameter. During tornado weather, people like to say they find hail the size of it.
It’s also the size of the tumor that doctors removed from Lindsay Geisler five years ago.
According to Geisler, there’s an art to the day-to-day survival of cancer. In the beginning, her coping strategy was to distract herself from it.
Geisler, a Leonardville native, was diagnosed with acinic cell carcinoma, a rare salivary gland cancer, in April 2007, when she was a senior at Riley County High school.
It took longer to be diagnosed, she said, because she seemed healthy. But for years she had struggled with bodily pain and falling unconscious.
She received treatment at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and for two months, stayed at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Kansas City while undergoing radiation.
At first, she was angry … both at her diagnosis and, as a Christian, angry at God because she didn’t know how else to react.
“But it makes sense now, as I’ve seen my future unfold, why I was chosen to have this experience,” Geisler said.
Ultimately, her family, her parents and younger brother, and her faith acted as her rock. She wanted to be strong for her mother and strong enough to attend Bethel College in North Newton. There, she met her other support system, Dalen, her boyfriend of four years.
Both are now students at Kansas State University, where Geisler receives a scholarship from the American Cancer Society each year.
She wants people who have donated to the organization to know that their donations have had an effect. “You changed my life,” she said.
The median age of diagnosis for acinic cell carcinoma is about 52 years old, though it is not uncommon in children and Geisler said she was at a particularly vulnerable age when she was diagnosed.
For many, high school years are tough regardless, and Geisler said, her cancer diagnosis alienated her from her classmates.
It wasn’t that they didn’t care, but they didn’t know how to approach the subject.
But cancer is a subject Geisler wants people to be able to talk about, as well as to be informed about. She wants people knowledgeable so that when a family member or friend or they themselves are diagnosed, they are that much more prepared to deal with it.
Geisler wants to help people create a so-called crisis toolbox. She has been putting her efforts toward this year’s American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Riley County, which she is co-chairing with her mother, Tracy Geisler.
Geisler participated in her first relay after her treatment in 2007 and said the event has come to feel like home. “You feel like you’re really a community of survivors,” she said. “I’m able to channel their strength and give my strength.”
Normally, when survivors come to the event, they are given fruit and a sash. But Geisler said that this year, there will be a survivor’s tent, where there will be a coffee bar, hand massages and face painting for children. “Sometimes it’s important to stop and pamper yourself,” she said.
And, this year, she’d also like to see more community members who don’t have cancer at the event, to be there to learn and gain exposure.
Geisler said her best therapy is in talking to a stranger about her story and she would be happy to change just one person’s life.
Both her scar and her cancer ribbon tattoo on her foot are conversation starters, she said.
“The biggest way to help is just by talking about it,” she said. Geisler advises people to not ignore what has happened if someone they know is diagnosed. “Acknowledge their experience and just be there for them, support them,” she said.
She will go into remission on June 26, a milestone for her.
Still, the effects from her cancer and resulting treatment are something Geisler has to live with every day. Because of intense radiation, she has nerve damage behind her left eye, which causes her daily pain. She has fibrosis in her jaw, lymphedema in her neck and she estimates that she will lose her teeth by 40.
“If I sit there and think about that, who isn’t going to get depressed?” she said. But she said she’s no longer afraid to be emotional about it.
“I’m in pain every day but I feel strong and empowered,” Geisler said. “If I have to face anything [like cancer] again, I won’t be scared.”
The 2012 Relay For Life will take place at Pottorf Hall Patio in CiCo Park on June 15 at 6 p.m.