By Valerie Giacomin-Zuliani
Hello my name is Valerie and before I share my story I want to ask each of you to think about the most important person in your life right now. I would like you to visualize them… see them in front of you. It’s such a warm and wonderful feeling isn’t it. Now imagine that person is gone you will never see them again. You will never touch them again, or smell them or hold them or tell them you love them, never laugh or play with them. Wow imagine that. They have died. …. Now you tell me how that makes you feel . The grief and sadness you feel. I bet each of you will have a different way of handling that grief.
My sister Janis died 4 years ago. She was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast. Her initial diagnosis was T1CN3 estrogen and progesterone receptor positive and HER2 Neu negative. I really don’t know what that all means except that it took her beautiful life at the young age of 48. I would also like to mention that I lost my sister Christine last year to brain cancer at the age of 51. A glioblastoma. Not a chance. Scared you bet I am and I am constantly checking myself. I am probably a night mare for my doctor!
But anyway I am here to share with you Janis’s story and how that changed my life as well. But I have to say that my sadness and sorrow comes from the loss of both my sisters now.
Janis had a wonderful family of 4 children and a husband who loved her and each other very much. They were moving back to Sudbury and we were excited to see Mike, coach the Wolves and the boys play for the wolves. I finally would have someone here in Sudbury to keep me company. I had a brother in California, my sister in Saskatoon who had the brain tumor and one in Sault Ste Marie. Janis was coming home to help me with our aging parents YEAH! But little did I know I would be helping her as well.
Not too long after she moved here she was diagnosed with breast cancer and so the journey began. And after her treatments she rebounded amazingly and we shared the next four years with great fun. We traveled, watched lots of hockey, took dance lessons and shared everything we could as sisters and best friends. Then the summer of 2008 took us to a wedding in Vancouver. It was a lot of fun but when she came back home she was greeted with the news again. She called me and said Val its back I’m sick again. The cancer is back in my lungs and liver. Her voice was broken and at that time my heart was broken. I remember my knees weakening and I sank to the floor. I was in tears and just in disbelief. Are you sure I said.. Yes she said and we knew what it all meant.
Of course she is my sister and I have to save her, I can’t lose her. What can I do to help her. She said to me she didn’t want to die yet and of course I was not going to let her. No one was. She needed to live to see her boys play NHL. She needed to see her daughters marry, to hold her grandchildren, to love her husband. I thought, how was my mom going to handle this, losing a child first this is not the way its suppose to happen. As a side note I lost my dad 6 months before Janis so my mom was devastated.
We looked at, and read everything we could, Mike and the girls fed her all types of smoothies, juices, called clinics in New York and Ottawa did all that was humanly possible. We grasped for anything and everything. We were desperate. Lisa her daughter stayed home and looked after her every need while Mike continued to coach and the boys continued to play and Cara her oldest was a teacher in Toronto.
This is what Janis wanted. She wanted each person to do what they had to do and continue life as normal as possible. She lived to see them enjoy their days. She lived through all of them. She did not want them to live their lives around hers. Hers was negative and she needed only positive thoughts and actions around her.
I went to chemo, doctor and radiation appointments with her Mike and Lisa. We would laugh with the nurses and patients and make it a positive experience. I remember going to have her abdomen drained from the ascites that built up from her failing liver. She looked 9 months pregnant. As the fluid released into a bag we would cheer her on saying come on Janis get some more out …..1 liter 2 liters and she would rub her belly and more would seep out. She would ask if she was skinny again and look I have no tummy!! We would laugh and all would be normal for another week.
Janis would be so tired and when she would sleep I would watch her and think of how we needed a miracle and why does something like this have to happen to such a wonderful person who has so much to live for. There were so many whys!!!!
Her strength and stamina was amazing. One time we sat for hours waiting and watching Marcus’ draft so that she would have peace of mind of where her youngest son s future would lie. That was a fun girls weekend as the family all went with Marcus, while myself, her best friend and sister in law, just hung out for what we knew would be the last time.
Closer to the end Janis woke early one morning and asked Mike to take her home to mom’s house. She wanted to sleep there. It was emotional but so fantastic. We were together in the house we grew up in and It would be her last time. It was there that she asked each of us to come into her room and talk. She said how much she loved us and she asked that I see her every day while she could. We expressed our feelings and she asked what I wanted her to come back as. We laughed and said perhaps a bird! a hummingbird oh who knows…..
I did see her everyday knowing that the next day may never come. Janis knew her life was over and Gods plan for her here, was done and he had other plans for her. She had great faith and just put her life now in his hands.
The hospice was the final place that Janis would visit and it was an amazing few weeks. Her daughter Lisa got engaged and we celebrated there, so that Janis would be a part of something very special. We had champagne and I said Janis maybe you shouldn’t be drinking this and she answered >>>Like it’s gonna kill me!!! We laughed one more time like she would make us do so many times before.. In her room at the hospice we listened to Jon Bon Jovi, prayed together, cried together and a part of us as a family died together. We starred at her in disbelief while she took her last breath. What a terrible moment.
Her family started the Janis Foligno Foundation in her memory and in her spirit to love life as it is given to you. The foundation has been supported by so many groups and individuals who know that all the proceeds raised stays in our community and for research so that others may be helped. This summer alone we gave $100,000 to various charities and cancer research and we hope to continue this in her memory.
I assume that you are all here to learn to be doctors and the studying will be the easiest part .Dealing with the patients will be the hardest. Please remember that each patient has a story, a family that they are very important to, just like your most important person in your life. Treat them with compassion, understanding and respect like you would want to be treated. Your reputation as a doctor in the medical community will be up to you and up to how your patients feel about you. Remember it is about wellness not just treating the symptoms. I wish you only the best in your medical journey.
In conclusion, this is my story and I remember Janis through the good work of the foundation, seeing pictures and videos that we have of us together as a family, having a crunchie chocolate bar or a molasses cookie at starbucks, seeing her favorite flower, the tulip come up every spring, hearing Jon Bon Jovi sing “It’s my life” and of course shopping at Winners or Home Sense where I know she is… when I get a great deal.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my life with my sister one more time.
The Janis Foligno Foundation
2226 South Shore Road
Sudbury, ON P3G 1M3
Charitable Registration Number:
82501 9854 RR0001
Copyright 2013 The Janis Foligno Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.