Path to wellness: Center to help breast cancer patients

 

 

Ann Ruel

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Ann Ruel of Harrison is following a calling.

A year ago, Ann heard the words most women fear.

I’m sorry, you have breast cancer.

She had a scare several years ago when a lump was discovered, but it proved to be non-cancerous.

A mammogram on Sept. 19, 2011 would change Ann’s life — forever. Initially, the test revealed a two-centimeter mass. In reality, the lump was five centimeters, and Ann was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

“It was devastating. I had no family history of breast cancer. You wonder, ‘Wow, is this it? Will I survive this or not?’ When I asked these questions to my oncologist, she told me I was going to be a survivor. No one had said that to me at that point. I needed to hear those words,” Ann recalled. “I said, ‘Okay, good. What do I need to do?’ It was the start of a long journey.”

The journey continues. Ann’s experience tested her inner fortitude and her faith in God.

“I truly believe the reason I went through this was that the Lord had a plan for me,” she said. “I am stepping out to do this purely on faith. If I don’t try to do it, I’ll never know whether I could help other lives or not. I’m giving it a shot. That’s all I can do.”

By the first of the year, Ann hopes to open On Eagles Wings, Inc. — a breast cancer survivor wellness center for alternative treatment, located in her former real estate office on Portland Road, across from Beef & Ski.

While two portions of the building are currently rented by an attorney and a financial consultant, Ann plans to renovate the “middle section” into a wellness center.

“I have a great team of people who have already stepped forward to donate their time and talents to get this center up and running,” Ann said. “It will be a faith-based center and prayer will be provided for those patients who would like to receive it.”

The center will provide a variety of services from massage to reflexology to education regarding naturopathic supplements to assist those undergoing chemotherapy, as well as dietary tips.

Although the Dempsey Center at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston offers similar services for cancer patients, Ann wanted to expand those offerings, as well as adding a “faith” component.

“I want to offer women a chance to really give their minds and bodies a brief vacation from their disease,” she said. “Which means, I want to give them two hours (not a half hour, which is offered at the Dempsey Center), for a massage and reflexology so they can truly allow their bodies to rest from the ravages of their treatments. It was huge for me. It was always something I looked forward to.”

FURNISHING AND DECORATING the new On Eagles Wings, Inc. wellness center in Bridgton (at no charge) are (left to right) Jennifer Tringali, Renee Tringali and Sarah Tringali of My Sister’s Garage. Lowe’s and Home Depot have donated items to reconstruct the center, located on Portland Road. Center founder Ann Ruel hopes to open On Eagles Wings, Inc. by the first of the year.

While contractors Al Knight and Bob Griggs reconstruct the space, Ann has been busy filing paperwork to gain nonprofit status, which will enable the center to seek grants in 2013. Meanwhile, Jen Tringali and her crew from “My Sister’s Garage” in Windham will be volunteering their time and talents to furnish and decorate the center. Home Depot and Lowe’s have donated supplies to make it happen.

“It has been heartwarming, amazing, and a complete blessing from the Lord surrounding this center,” Ann said.

Battle for life

While Ann leaned heavily on her faith as she battled her disease, she found some comfort and focus by creating a “journal of her journey.”

She snapped photographs of doctors, nurses and people who stepped forward to help her with simple daily routines — such as taking her teenage daughter, Rachel, to school in Windham each day.

“Honestly, I just felt it was a calling from God to inspire other people to get through their journey. I felt prompted to take pictures of everything,” she said.

After a long career selling real estate in the Lake Region, Ann shifted careers and worked at Norway Savings Bank. During the 1½ years prior to diagnosis, Ann taught a banking class at her daughter’s school — Windham Christian Academy. As part of an entrepreneurial project, a seventh grader, Rachel Lawler, created a winning project through the use of a video.

When it came time for Ann to put all of her photos into some type of “format,” she called upon her former student.

“I called Rachel up and asked if she could do something with the photos. She said, ‘Absolutely.” She did a great job,” Ann said.

Creating a video (which can be seen online at vimeo.com/annruel) was Ann’s attempt to help others cope with their new diagnosis.

The message: “Don’t be afraid.”

In the video, which was shown at her church — the Bridgton Alliance Church — to kick off her wellness center efforts, Ann tells listeners that cancer is “a journey, not a sprint.”

“It will take time and it will take endurance,” she said. “Don’t let fear overtake you. Live in the moment, don’t jump ahead. Surround yourself with people who can help you.”

Surviving her life’s biggest test

During her “younger” days, Ann Ruel was a competitive swimmer. She competed in college and received a full athletic scholarship.

The keys to victory were: train hard, surround yourself with good people and follow a good diet.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, Ann reverted back to that old formula.

“Cancer was a huge race that I had to win,” she said. “To win it, I had to surround myself with people who would support my system and provide the things to get through this race and win it.”

Modern medicine, oftentimes, can defeat cancer. But, victory comes at a cost.

“Certainly, I am thankful for modern medicine. It saved my life. But, the side effects of treatment are not human. Think about what we (cancer patients) go through. We get chopped up, burned (radiation) and poisoned (chemotherapy). The body has an amazing ability to withstand these elements and recuperate,” she said.

Ann also felt a clear and positive mind was also crucial to the healing process. She bought CDs promoting positive thinking. She also created her own recordings, tapping into various Scripture to give her strength and comfort.

“If I got scared at night, I would put it (CD) on until I fell asleep. It calmed me down,” she said. “I kept feeding my mind when I became afraid because I really believed my mind was going to feed my body to get past what I needed to do.”

Ann found relief in other options outside her general cancer care. She underwent massage, acupuncture and reflexology. To deal with some of the chemo side effects, Ann sought out “natural” remedies from naturopath Dr. Julianne Forbes of North Bridgton and Dr. Barbara MacDonald of Camden.

Chemo started on Nov. 9, 2011.

It ended on Feb. 29, 2011.

Radiation commenced this past April.

It ended on May 17, 2012 after 28 treatments.

“You remember these dates because cancer forever changes your life,” Ann said. “You certainly remember the day you’re done.”

Some people pick up the pieces and try to return to their lives, as it was before cancer entered the picture.

Ann chose a different path.

She lost her bank job. Yet, she knew what her next step had to be. Her energy is dialed totally toward creating a wellness center to help those starting their own life-changing journey.

“Before my diagnosis, I had done a lot of ministry work with cancer patients at the Barbara Bush Children’s Ward with the puppet program. I saw what a difference you can make in a person’s life,” Ann said. “When this (cancer) hit me, I felt there was a reason I was going through this. You want to move on with your life, but when you come out of this cancer phase, you are no longer the same person. Your life has been ravaged. Your life is never the same. If we all move on, who is going to help others? There are women out there that need help. My attitude is that we have today, so we need to take advantage of what we have and do what we can.”

On Eagles Wings, Inc. is Ann Ruel’s calling.

Since services provided by On Eagles Wings, Inc. will be at no charge, Ann will be seeking some grants, but will also rely on community contributions and donations. Anyone who would like to assist the center can contact Norway Savings Bank, and make a donation to On Eagles Wings, Inc. account. Donations are tax deductible.

For more information, e-mail Ann at annruel1@myfairpoint.net or call 415-9166.

Breast cancer stats

• About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

• In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States, along with 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.

• About 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in men in 2011. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

• From 1999 to 2005, breast cancer incidence rates in the United States decreased by about 2% per year. The decrease was seen only in women aged 50 and older. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk.

• About 39,520 women in the United States were expected to die in 2011 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1990 — especially in women under 50. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.

• For women in the United States, breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Just under 30% of cancers in women are breast cancers.

• In 2011, there were more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

• As of Jan. 1, 2009, there were about 2,747,459 women alive in the United States with a history of breast cancer. This includes women being treated and women who are disease-free.

• A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. About 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it. About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.

 

 

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