Sandy Medenwaldt of Backus says she is lucky to have survived three bouts of cancer in her lifetime, but luck might not be the right word.
Medenwaldt has been a resident of the Backus area since about 1978, when she left her home in Crystal and her 15-year job as a waitress at the Ambassador Motel for a quieter life.
She continued working as a server at one local restaurant or bar, then another, and another. Among others, she served food at the Backus Cafe when it was still downtown, the pizza place in Pine River before it burned down, the Cottage Cafe in Pine River and the Backus Foothills when it was still known by that name.
Medenwaldt’s first experience with cancer was no doubt frightening, but the problem was quickly solved with a hysterectomy. Neither cancer nor surgery are ever pleasant, but in this case Medenwaldt shrugs off both almost as a minor inconvenience.
“Of course, I had enough kids anyway. You get to a certain age and you say, ‘Forget it’,” Medenwaldt said.
Medenwaldt’s second battle with cancer was a little more serious. In 2003, when she began to feel intense pain in the right side of her chest, she immediately went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was lucky. It was operable.
The top lobe of Medenwaldt’s right lung was removed and she was treated with both chemotherapy and radiation. She was pronounced cancer free for a second time. Medenwalt lived cancer free for another 10 years before the next big scare of her life, though this time was far more serious.
Medenwaldt initially sought help from a local hospital when she felt a tender spot on the left side of her chest in April of this year. She was diagnosed with cancer yet again, and this time surgery was not an option. Medenwaldt’s tumor was pressing against her aorta. Because of its proximity to her heart, her first doctors didn’t want to treat it in any way.
“She showed me the scans and she said, ‘This is it. There’s nothing we can do for you. You don’t have to come back,’” Medenwaldt said.
She was shocked and more than a little upset.
“The hardest part was hearing I even had it again. That was hard. I thought, ‘God, I’m going to die.’ That’s why I asked for prayers. It sounds silly, but I really thought I was going to die. First one lung, then another, and when they told me it was against my aorta I thought, ‘What’s going to happen now?’ It worked out. Somebody up there’s watching,” she said.
Though her situation seemed bleak, Medenwaldt’s attitude won through yet again. She did not give up. In spite of what her doctors told her, she drove to Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis. Doctors scanned her, took a biopsy and gave her hope of winning a fight with cancer again.
“I didn’t give up. I went right for that second opinion,” Medenwaldt said. “They took me in that day and they told me what they were going to do and they thought they could handle it after they took the biopsy.”
She underwent 15 days of radiation and stayed at the House of Hope with help from Backus resident Linda Wyatt, her personal care provider.
“She’s with me every single day, taking care of me and doing stuff I need done,” Medenwaldt said.
She finished radiation therapy May 23 and was sent home. As of her Oct. 8 appointment, Medenwaldt’s tumor is still breaking apart from her radiation treatment and her doctors are so hopeful they don’t want to see her for four months.
“It’s coming along. Everything looks great,” she said. “He (her doctor) said it’s breaking up. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do. He said radiation does take a while so they want to keep checking.”
When Medenwaldt’s first tumor cost her her reproductive organs she found pride in the two sons she already had. When she was first diagnosed with lung cancer she immediately quit smoking. And when she was given a hopeless prognosis by her first doctor, she sought a second opinion.
Not a quitter, attitude appears partly to thank for Medenwaldt’s survival today. Though, of course, a little luck and prayers from friends never hurt anyone.
“I have to say my prayers every night and thank God for my friends. There’s so many sometimes I think I must have forgot somebody,” Medenwaldt said.
Medenwaldt is a homebody. During warmer months she feeds birds and watches them from the windows of her home. She also enjoys the various flowerbeds around her home when they are in bloom. Now, she is settling in for winter with a pile of books, but surely that won’t get her too down because she knows her birds will be back in the spring and her flowers will bloom again.