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Breast Cancer Awareness Month Campus Alum Celeb Deb Walz

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Iowa chapter.

This week’s campus celebrity, Deb Walz, is not only a super successful graduate from the University of Iowa, but she also has just recently KICKED CANCER’S BUTT. Deb was diagnosed with Stage 3D Advanced Invasive Multilobular Ductal Carcinoma Metastic to Lymph Nodes on February 17, 2014. Through the support of her many friends and family and her own incredible strength, she was able to endure numerous eight-hour chemotherapy sessions, multiple radiation appointments and, finally, Bilateral Reconstruction Surgery being cancer free!

Deb graduated from the University of Iowa in 1990 with a Communication Studies major and a Spanish minor.  She has since moved to Kansas City and is currently the president of her family-owned small business.  She is married to Brent Walz, and they have two children: Spencer, 16, and Ethan, 11.  She said that her favorite things to do these days are spending time with her family, traveling, going to her daily Jazzercise class, taking long walks with her dog, reading, and getting mani/pedis with her friends.

Deb is such an amazing person as it is, and, to top it off, she has an incredibly inspiring story. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I figured there wouldn’t be a better woman to answer some questions to give us some insight into her journey as a breast cancer survivor!

What was the biggest thing you learned in your journey to being cancer free? 

There have been SO MANY things I’ve learned along the journey. Do I have to focus on just one? They all seem important. Top of the list would probably be the realization that for most of my life I had not been doing a good job of stress management. Stress literally can kill us. There is a strong connection between stress and our immune system. As I look back on my life pre-cancer, I think I internalized my stress and was wound pretty tightly. Even before being diagnosed with cancer, I’ve had a history of weird autoimmune issues, and I firmly believe that poor stress management is/was a major contributor to all of those. Being diagnosed with cancer was a huge wake-up call, so I am working on identifying key sources of stress in my life and taking a more active role in managing them. May I add another key learning here? There’s an expression that life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. I disagree. When a person is fighting advanced metastatic cancer, the destination is survival, so while the journey is an important means to an end, it is absolutely about the destination! I wasn’t fighting for the journey, I was fighting to arrive at the destination!

How has it changed you as a person? 

It has changed me significantly. I am generally an “alpha” personality—strong, independent, opinionated, outgoing, etc. It has been very difficult for me to be vulnerable and afraid, to need to lean on others, to not know what the outcome will be. In many ways, as weird as this sounds, my cancer diagnosis is turning out to be a gift. It has given me an opportunity to reinvent myself, kick stressors to the curb, improve relationships, and motivate me to seek work I enjoy. I’ve made many changes in my life already because of having cancer, and my hope is that I don’t get pulled back into destructive habits. I definitely have good days and bad days—it’s impossible to change a lifetime of habits in one short year—but I’m working on becoming (and staying) a happier, healthier me.

Any advice to any fighters/survivors/anyone in general? 

For fighters—decide right away that you are going to live. Really, not just survive, but LIVE. There’s a difference. In the middle of chemotherapy treatment, I got a puppy. People thought I was crazy because she was a lot of work. She was an important part of my treatment, however, and I credit a good portion of my positive health outcome to that little dog. She was such a bright spot in some dark days and gave me a reason to get up out of bed and go walking. I call her my cancer therapy dog. Obviously, it might not make sense for everyone to get a pet during cancer treatment, but I think the important underlying message to myself in getting a puppy was that cancer was NOT the most important thing. Another thing I did during treatment was that I signed up for a year-long online class I had been considering for years. I literally asked myself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” And I signed up. Every week for a year, I had to complete 10 online modules and take an exam…and during that year, I also underwent a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. At the end of the year, I had passed the course and armed myself with a new certification that would help me focus on new and more rewarding work projects. Between the puppy and the online class, I was able to prevent my cancer treatment from BECOMING my life. So for fighters, I would advise this: find something new to embrace that can be a positive focal point.

For supporters—I actually have a lot of advice for anyone supporting a cancer patient. All support is welcome and much needed—prayer warriors, casseroles, family and friends who will come with you to chemo treatments, letters/cards/gifts, etc. I appreciated everyone who asked how they could help, but I rarely had an answer. I would recommend that if you are supporting a cancer patient, just step up and do what’s in your heart. For example, one friend emailed me one day to say she was picking me up, and we were going for pedicures. Another brought by a stash of laundry detergent, dish soap and paper plates, so we wouldn’t have to think about keeping household supplies on hand. Yet another friend brought breakfast foods because most everyone else had covered dinners. One of my favorite things was a daily text from a family member, and all that text really ever said was “I love you.” In general, though, what I would tell people supporting someone with cancer is that the entire process is a marathon, not a sprint. I had great friends who ran out of steam early in the treatment process, and while I know they just got busy with their own lives, I wasn’t ready for them to disappear. Pace yourselves, people. And don’t STOP including the cancer patient in your lives. Don’t deprive the cancer patient of an opportunity to be a friend back to you! Life goes on—at least that the plan! Just be aware, supporters, that long after treatment is done, cancer leaves behind emotional and psychological scars, in addition to physical ones. Your cancer-stricken loved one will continue to need your love, support and encouragement because the fact is, being told you have cancer changes you forever.

Anything else related to breast cancer. (Breast cancer awareness month, activities you have been involved in for, etc.)

There is a lot of publicity about early detection, but I’ve always been surprised that there isn’t more about PREVENTION. For instance, there is apparently a mountain of clinical evidence on the link between Vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer. There is also a connection between sugar and cancer. Nutrition is a HUGE factor in creating an environment in your body that is either cancer-friendly or cancer-unfriendly. I’m not a doctor, clearly, but I think we should all be educating ourselves more on what we can do to minimize our cancer risks.

What an awesome woman! Thank you Deb, and let’s all keep fighting for Breast Cancer Awareness! 

Hi, my name is Lexi Atzen. I am a Sophomore at the University of Iowa and am working on a major in Journalism and Mass Communication with an interest in Human Relations. I have strong interests in running, writing, drinking coffee, and football. You can catch me in Kinnick on gamedays and in a coffee shop any other time.
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