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Wayne Twp. couple to put Relay for Life on personal level

| Friday, June 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Eric Shoemaker

Eric and Peg Shoemaker of Wayne Township are participating in the Armstrong County Relay for Life on Saturday for the first time.

Like many area families, cancer has become an unwelcome part of their lives.

However, like the area families that will be participating in this annual walk that benefits the American Cancer Society, this couple is all about celebration of life, celebration of surviving this ordeal.

“People become survivors the moment they are diagnosed,” says Dana Klingensmith, nurse manager of the Richard G. Laube Cancer Center at the ACMH Hospital.

“We want to celebrate every day of survival,” she says.

This year's celebration begins at 10 a.m. at the Ford City Athletic Field.

For Shoemaker, every day of life since given his diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer has been appreciated in a new light.

There is never a good time to have cancer, but for Shoemaker, the availability of some new medications came just in the nick of time.

“I was first treated at the Laube with standard radiation, which worked “ Shoemaker says, “but eventually my numbers (lab values that indicate disease activity) started increasing.

Because of this unfavorable outcome, Shoemaker was then given chemotherapy treatments, which proved even more grueling.

“I had the treatments every three weeks and I was sick for almost three weeks after each treatment,” he explains. “I didn't do well.”

After approximately three months of chemotherapy, the lab findings were even more alarming.

Shoemaker says, “My PSA went from 11 to 69 –anything above 4 isn't normal.”

It was at this time, January of 2012, that the FDA approval of some new medications for treatment of prostate cancer meant a new option for Shoemaker.

“This new treatment gave me back my life,” he says.

Although still under the care of the Laube center and oncologist Dr. Diane Buchbarker, there has been a drastic improvement in the quality of life for Eric.

“I just can't say enough good things about Dr. Buchbarker and Judy Walter,” he emphasizes.

Walter, who oversees the palliative care given to Shoemaker at home through Three Rivers Hospice/Family Home Health and Palliative Care, says, “These new drugs that have recently become available have really made a difference. Eric's response to them has been fantastic.”

Shoemaker is now able to forego the traditional chemotherapy and all the ill effects associated with it. He now takes just four pills a day.

Walter feels that a shift toward a greater focus on research by the American Cancer Society has impacted this progress.

“People are definitely benefiting from this,” she says.

Dana Klingensmith also sees such advances.

“We are actively involved in field level research at our center and we are using the new treatments as they become available.”

Klingensmith is encouraged by the direction of cancer treatment. “Treatment is becoming much more targeted,” she explains. The sophistication of tools used today allow for a much more specific diagnosis, which then allows for a more specific treatment.

“We can see tumors in much greater detail,” Klingensmith says. “We are then able to eliminate the tumor cells with less damage to normal cells.”

These medical advances translate into improved quality of life for Shoemaker and many others. Grateful for this new chance, he also sees education as key to cancer prevention as well as treatment.

“I didn't realize that I really didn't know what to look for. I strongly advise all men to discuss the signs of prostate cancer with their doctor,” he says.

And, although the uninvited guest of cancer has affected this couple, they are both quick to emphasize the positive. “The support we've received from family, friends and the community has been amazing,” Peg says.

“This wasn't the life I expected,” Eric says, “but, bad things do happen and I am so blessed to have the support system that I do. All the people that have cared for me have truly become friends. I feel like I've expanded my family.”

The Shoemaker family will make a major expansion when this couple takes that victory lap on Saturday, along with hundreds of other ‘relatives' who have shared their experience and now celebrate every day, with good reason.

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