One resident, numerous anecdotes
Name: Bonnie Dinneen Hedrick
Occupation: Artist / homemaker
Where we found her: Facebook
We’re conducting this interview on Gonda 10 while you get chemotherapy. Yes. My diagnosis is multifocal intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. Stage 3. I never asked what stage I was until today.
When were you diagnosed? August 7, 2015. I woke up one morning after sleeping well, and I was exhausted. I spent a week like that, not hungry, laying around, going from the bed to the couch. It was very unlike me—especially in the middle of the summer. I’m a gardener; I work at my friend’s organic farm, sun up to sun down. The next week, I got crazy itchy. My urine was almost orange even though I was drinking a ton of water.
You knew something was wrong. I Googled my symptoms and came up with late-stage pancreatic cancer or late-stage liver cancer. And I don’t have the lifestyle or age for either one of those to make sense. So I called my doctor to make an appointment. That was Monday morning. I went in for blood work, and they said my bilirubins were high. This often means gallstones. And I thought: I’ll take every gallstone ever created if it’s not pancreatic or liver cancer. But an ultrasound that Wednesday found a mass on my pancreas.
And at this point? I was trying not to freak out … but we were starting to freak out. I saw Dr. Piet deGroen—one of the top liver cancer doctors—that Friday for my diagnosis. When I saw him again on Tuesday, he said, “I barely slept this weekend. I was working on your case. I sent a message to my colleagues around the world. We are all working on this.” And I just knew, when he said that, he was the doctor for me. And I’ve never doubted that. He’s got the rock stars of the liver world working on me.
That’s powerful. I know I have a bad diagnosis. That is not lost on me. But I’m doing great. I feel so blessed to live where I live. To have access to this medical care. And I include my own health team in Chatfield in that. One of my dearest friends is my regular doc at OMC in Chatfield. Her husband is a researcher at Mayo, and his team is working on cancer vaccines. Any question I have, they come over. I have a good friend who is a physical therapist. I have a friend who’s a dietitian. I have this full team that checks in with me all the time. They are a crucial, crucial part of my survival. I would not be doing as well as I am without them.
How was losing your hair? Excruciating. It was 10 days of crying. One day, I brushed it until I had eight hairbrushes full of hair, and it was still coming out. I got in the shower and I decided, “I’m going to wash my hair for the last time—for the last time in I don’t know how long.” And I cried and cried and cried. And I came down, red eyed, and [asked my husband] to shave my head. He said, “I don’t think you’re ready.” I said, “I’m ready.” He shaved it, and with each swipe of the razor, I felt lighter and lighter and lighter. And when it was gone, I thought, “OK, it’s done now.”
[Nurse comes in to hang a bag on the IV stand.] That’s a small bag. You know how much that bag costs? $4,000. Cancer is crazy expensive. Every time I do this [chemotherapy], it’s $6,500. I started all of this in August—so we passed $200,000 a while ago. It’s just crazy. You should see the stack of bills in my house, a foot high. My doctor calls and says, “We really need to do one other genetic test on you [for a possible trial] … It’s $5,000 a test, though, and insurance won’t cover it all.” Do it. If that’s what we need, do it. I can’t let the money stop me. Because the success is happening in those medical trials—especially for patients like me, where it’s advanced stage. I’m considered terminal. I need these trials.
“Terminal” is a heavy word. People don’t like to hear that word. But for me, “terminal” is neutral, it’s just a word. It’s part of my diagnosis, but there’ve been lots of parts of my diagnosis that I’ve blown out of the water. I’m choosing to believe that I’m going to survive this. And until the doctor tells me that something else is going to happen, I choose to believe that I have every much a chance to live as long a life as you do. So far I’m doing great. I can even say that cancer’s been a gift to me. My life is the best it’s ever been.
Why? It’s made all of my relationships better. And I know what I want. I know that anything we want, our dreams, we need to be working on them every single day. Not putting it off to someday. Not putting it off to when the kids are gone. Cancer has helped me reprioritize, and remove things that aren’t meaningful to me. And that includes people. If you’re a drain on me, you’re not part of my life right now. I need to stay focused on the positive.
How old are your kids? Eleanor is 14, an 8th grader. Connor is 18, a senior. They are awesome. They get it. We talk about it whenever they want to talk about it. We answer every question they ask and try to reassure them that I’m doing everything we can.
And your husband? Nate. He’s awesome, too. My folks came with me to the appointment when I got
my initial diagnosis. Afterwards, they took me to Nate’s job site—he’s a carpenter with Key Builders—and he was rolling up his tools to go. I didn’t reveal my hand right away. We drove a few blocks, and I said, “OK, pull over” and I told him. That was his last day of work. He’s been on leave since. He cooks, he takes care of things, he comes to all the appointments. He’s never fallen apart. He’s just a rock.
What’s in your future? Big picture? I want to live up north by Lake Superior. I want to have enough property to not have neighbors. Trees. Critters. Chickens. Maybe a goat. I want my own studio to teach knitting. My husband is very creative. He does stained glass, and he’s restoring a 1965 Volkswagen bus. So I’d like to see him have shop space to do his things.
You’re an artist. My art is kind of like my ADD. It’s all over the place. Knitting. Felting. Sewing. A lot of the stuff I do is repurposing and recycling, vintage linens, tablecloths, sheets, knitting that I shrink and cut to make different things. I make a lot of necklaces with vintage thimbles.
Do you sell your work? Yes. I sell at Adourn in Chatfield.
I bet you made your skirt. Yes. I was knitting an infinity scarf and got started and thought, it could make a cute skirt. … I wove leather, hung some charms. There’s a tree of life charm on there, a piece of sea glass from Lake Superior, a tiny domino so I remember that life is a game and we’ve got to have fun.
Your attitude is inspiring. Cancer sucks. If someone would’ve laid choices on the table for me, this is not what I would’ve chosen. Not in a million years. But it’s like life. You make the best of it. I’m an alive person. I’m still engaged in my life. This isn’t the end of the road for me—this is not the farewell tour. I need people to get invested in the thought that I’m going to continue being here. Picture me up on the shore. In my garden. Don’t mentally bury me. I’m not dying.