“I just turned 100 years old on December 11, and I’m doing fine,” said Helen Fesser, a cancer survivor who went through cancer treatment in the 70s at Little Company of Mary Hospital. When asked how she feels about turning 100, Fesser said, “It doesn’t bother me. I’m still going.”
And she really is. She lives by herself, but has a woman stop by to help three times a week with cooking, cleaning, and picking up groceries. Fesser’s daughter lives nearby, and she also comes a few times a week to take Fesser on errands, go to the bank, and eat together.
Though eating is not as simple for Fesser as for most people. Fesser’s doctor, Dr. Madden—a longtime friend of Fesser who she knew when he went through medical school—discovered something suspicious with her mouth in the 1970s. He sent Fesser to Dr. Shirazi at Little Company of Mary Hospital, who confirmed that Fesser had cancer of the mouth. Dr. Madden told Fesser that Dr. Shirazi would take care of her.
Fesser went to Little Company of Mary five times a week for several weeks, beginning at 8AM. There she was given treatment for the cancer. “They fit me with what I called ‘my hat,’ and hooked me up every day. They had to get it just right,” said Fesser. “I liked the people at Little Company of Mary. I had my daughter there—Dr. Madden helped me with her birth. I miss him.”
After several weeks of treatment, Fesser went to a hospital in Chicago where she had half of her jaw bone and all of her bottom teeth removed. “They offered to replace my jawbone with something artificial, and I said, ‘No way!'” said Fesser. “Right now I have nothing on the bottom. I had to make an adjustment, but I get by. I eat soft food. I don’t starve!”
When asked if she’s cancer-free, Fesser replied, “I hope I’m cancer free!” Fesser currently checks in with Dr. Shirazi every couple of months, who says she’s doing just fine.
“When I found out I had cancer, I wanted to say, ‘Why me,'” said Fesser. “But my husband reassured me—you’ll get over this. The doctor reassured me I would be okay. And between Dr. Madden and Dr. Shirazi, I was okay. I’m thankful for everyone who helped.”
She remembers a lot about going through cancer, but not everything. “It was so long ago,” says Fesser. And it was—at the time, she had just started as an “Avon lady” as a hobby—a job she retired from after 40 years just last year.
Fesser celebrated her 100th birthday with an open house, and all the people in the neighborhood and some friends dropped by. It was a quiet celebration for such a big life event.
Happy birthday, Helen Fesser. You’re a survivor and an inspiration. Congratulations on 100 years!
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