BEVERLY — Nothing can prepare a husband for the fight of his wife’s life.
Mike Voosen Fields met his wife, Liesl, while both were counselors at Calumet, a Lutheran camp in New Hampshire. They married in 2002 and bought a house in 2004, settling down in Beverly.
No one could predict that before their 10th wedding anniversary, Liesl would be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Known as IBC, the disease presents itself through symptoms such as redness, swelling and tenderness in the breast — symptoms not typical of other known breast cancers.
Within weeks, family friends Sarah Arens and Shannon O’Brien asked if they could form a team for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Naming themselves Lutherans for Liesl, the team raised $22,000, which the society earmarked for IBC research.
Mike, Liesl, and family and friends took part in this year’s walk, held Oct. 14. Mike talked about the experience, and what he’s learned since his wife’s diagnosis.
What made you want to
participate in a walk?@question:
Frankly, I didn’t know what else to do. We decided early on that we wanted to be vocal advocates for inflammatory breast cancer mostly because we had never heard of it. We knew about looking for lumps and the importance of mammograms, but this snuck up on us. While it only accounts for 1 to 5 percent of breast cancers in the U.S., it did not feel like 1 percent to us. While it can be difficult to discuss, we feel charged to do so.
The American Cancer Society is well-established, and I felt like it would be good to be involved with them for the reach and influence. There are groups that are targeted on IBC only or groups which are locally focused, and while we would like to help them all, we have two little girls, Marika (5) and Valena (2), that like to keep us occupied in our downtime.
Did Liesl participate in the walk?
Liesl and both our girls walked again this year; well, the girls were in the stroller for a good portion of it, but about halfway in, Marika was out walking with some friends her age helping bring smiles to those around them.
How did this year’s walk go? Did you have the same
participants from last year?@question:
When we woke up Sunday morning, the skies had unleashed that kind of rain that makes you want to stay under a blanket and eat soup all day, but we plodded forth. A little more than half of our team made it out, and the rain let up for the duration of the walk, starting up again soon after we finished. We had returning walkers, as well as some new participants, such as our friend Robbie, whose mother passed away from breast cancer earlier this year.
What’s it like to participate in the walk? Did you connect with other participants? What were the crowds like?
When I was a camp counselor, we had something called “Program Face” where you stay positive for the campers, no matter how you felt. To me, the walk is a little like that. People are cheering and supporting each other, but we are all there because we have been negatively affected by cancer. Hope from despair.
We had an IBC banner that we carried during the walk this year, and a couple of people stopped to talk to us about their IBC stories. But I do find it hard to connect with other participants because, in one way or another, the icebreaker is, “Hey, how has cancer screwed you over?” We are fortunate to be in an upswing and surrounded by loving family and friends, but a dark shadow of recurrence will always loom. And I don’t find it any easier to talk about.
Last year, you raised $22,000 — how did that make you feel?
Humbled; I was so grateful for the generosity of friends, family and strangers. As funds came in, we were more and more inspired to keep the fundraising going. Even though it was for the cause of breast cancer and awareness, it was more of a distraction from the “what-if” scenarios that could have filled our thoughts. We raised so much in so little time and were the lead fundraisers during the Making Strides iPad 2 Challenge. Given the nature of how our team pulled together, the ACS helped by directing our funds directly to some of the IBC research that they support.
Did your fundraising success last year make you set your goal higher this year?
I am a pretty grounded optimist; I was shooting for half. Last year, we were just trying to wrap our heads around the situation. People were just finding out and were in shock right along with us, and they wanted desperately to help and they were pitching in any way they could.
Don’t get me wrong, they still are. But it is certainly not like when you are first scrambling for answers and direction. Liesl has responded really well to treatment this year and is starting to get back to a normal routine, so support is more distributed than during the initial diagnosis.
How has fundraising support been so far? Do you know how much you’ve raised? Is it too late to donate?
We are coming up on $10,000 raised so far; actually about where I thought it would be. The website (http://main.acsevents.org/goto/Mikefields) will remain open to donations through Dec. 31, and we hope to get the team up to $15,000 for Pacesetter Status again, but even more important is that we are getting our story out there and hopefully getting some women into the doctor’s office sooner than they might have.
Anything else you would like to add?
Women and men alike should listen to their bodies. I know that I am guilty of this, as well, but if you think you should be looking up a symptom on the Internet, you should be dialing the doctor with the other hand. The information age is great, and it has helped us to be informed patients that can have a dialogue with our caregivers, but you need to be in dialogue as soon as there is a question. Question and confirm.