Beating Cancer: Hannah Rosenthal's Story
Hannah Rosenthal (pictured left) is the Vice President for Community Relations for WPS Health Insurance Company. She shares her journey through the diagnosis and treatment of uterine cancer.
I was busy running the Chicago Foundation for Women, focusing on improving women and girls' health, safety and economic security. Busy with my attention outward and not paying good enough attention to myself.
Suddenly I was not well, bleeding, fatigued and experiencing pain. I went to my doctor who took one look at my body and sent me immediately to get a biopsy of my uterus.
She sent me to a doctor trained at UW-Madison, my alma mater, who gave me the very painful test as carefully and tenderly as possible.
He called me the next day and said "Hannah, are you alone now? Are you sitting down?" Not words I wanted to hear – so I emptied my office and sat down and heard that indeed I had uterine cancer and needed surgery quickly.
A Terrible History of Cancer
My family has a terrible cancer history.
Most of my father's side of the family was killed by the Nazis, but he died of cancer, as did his mother.
My mother died of cancer, as did her mother. My aunt had cancer.
It was everywhere and it killed everyone.
I was absolutely sure that I, like them, would die of this cancer.
Being a major control-freak and one who lives by to-do lists, I immediately started making my plans to die and to be remembered.
I had my will rewritten. I gave my body to UW-Madison. I bought a memorial bench. I got everything I could "in order" as they say. Had heart-to-hearts with my kids, my sister, my friends and others, and I prepared for major surgery, and death.
While I felt sure that I would die, I was not afraid of that. I was phobic about pain. I was afraid of dying in pain, as I had watched both of my parents die. So I told the people I cared most about that their responsibility is to be sure I was not in pain – after surgery and as I died.
Waking Up From Surgery
Although I had good care and good friends in Chicago, I decided to have my surgery and recovery/follow-up treatments here at home in Madison. I met with Ellen Hartenbach, MD
, at the UW Carbone Cancer Center
who instilled confidence and caring.
She explained that she would be taking 'everything out' – I told her fine, I was done with my uterus and ovaries anyway! I stopped having children after giving birth over 27-30 years ago to the two most wonderful daughters in the world.
Hannah is pictured with her daughters in their "Cancer Sucks" t-shirts
I went into surgery after a send-off from my daughters and sister and a few friends, and when I awoke from the surgery, they were still surrounding me, but each with T-shirts that read in big letters I could read: "Cancer Sucks."
I laughed – ouch – I stopped laughing and went to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night and my worse nightmare came true – I was in terrible pain.
Just as I cried out for a pain shot or something, my daughter's dearest friend Dee Dee Paster who was a medical student, stopped in to see me and she took care of my pain in an instant.
Everyone was all about making me better, comfortable and well. I felt love and strength from the medical students, from Dr. Hartenbach, from the nurses, and of course from my family and friends. I could see through my daughters' eyes that they too were afraid I was going to die, but they kept a stiff upper lip and only reassured me and themselves that all would be ok.
The strength all these people showed me was contagious. I got stronger by the hour and two days later I walked out of UW Hospital eager to be home to prepare for the rest of my life – however short or long it would be.
Dr. Hartenbach called a few days later to tell me the results of the biopsies and I was clean!
We cracked open a bottle of champagne – that and the pain meds helped me sleep very well that night.
I then realized that I was the first person in my family to beat cancer and that I was going to grow old.
Everyday I tell myself that I am the luckiest person in the world. I have the tenderness and loyal caring and support of my children. I have the best little sister who would carry me on her back anywhere if it would make me healthier. I have the most steadfast loving friends who are there day or night. I have the best health care in the world right outside my front door.
I decided to stay in Madison for the time being to be with the Carbone Cancer Center, the extended and close family, and the caring community that I treasure beyond words.
I am the luckiest person in the world.
Sparkle of Hope: Oct. 12
Hannah is a host for the UW Carbone Cancer Center's Sparkle of Hope
scheduled for Monday, October 12.
Hear inspirational stories of triumph and healing from cancer survivors. Learn how cancer research, effective screening and prevention, and improved treatment can make a difference in the lives of all women.
Location: Nakoma Country Club, Madison, Wis.
Cost: $75 per person
$600 per table (tables of eight)
Hannah Rosenthal studied to be a rabbi and was a religious educator for three years. She has been on the staffs of State Representative Marlin Schneider and Congressman Bob Kastenmeier. After serving as the first executive director of the Wisconsin Women's Council, Hannah was appointed by President Clinton as Midwest Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She was Executive Director of the national Jewish Council for Public Affairs and of the Chicago Foundation for Women and currently serves as the Vice President for Community Relations for WPS Health Insurance Company.