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Island of Hope: Christina Meisenburg's story

Sat, Jun 15th 2024 07:00 am

Story and Photo by Alice Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

Relay For Life honorary survivor Christina Meisenburg said her cancer journey began 30 years ago, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Meisenburg shared her story at Relay For Life’s “Carnival of Hope,” held at Town Commons on June 2. Due to rainy conditions, the luminaria ceremony was canceled and will be held at a date to be announced.

Meisenburg was one of two people named as 2024 honorary survivors. The other honorary survivor is Denise Filosofos, who is currently battling her third bout with cancer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“It sounds cliché, but it’s definitely an honor (to be named honorary survivor). I’m very glad to be able to do it. I’m glad to talk to other survivors, people who are going through treatment now, and people who may face it in the future. I just like to say there’s always hope,” Meisenburg said.

The mother of two children, age 8 and 10 at the time, Meisenburg said her diagnosis was “quite a shock.”

She described her children as “old enough to know what was going on, but young enough to not fully understand.

“I didn’t know if I was going to survive or not,” Meisenburg said. “The treatment was pretty grueling. I lost all my hair. I was down to 85 pounds. I would go for my treatment every two weeks, and I did that for six months. I was very sick, very weak. I didn’t eat much. I didn’t do much. Pretty much, I would come home, go to bed for about three or four days’ sleep. Then I’d get up, start to feel a little bit better, maybe have a meal. Then it was time to go back and do it all over again.

“Recovery was probably about a year to two years before I finally felt back to myself.”

The stage at which Meisenburg’s cancer was detected was IIIB.

“That’s what they call it. It’s a little different with lymphoma than it is with standard cancers,” Meisenburg explained.

She was unable to work while undergoing chemotherapy at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“I was actually bartending and waitressing. So, obviously, in a very public environment. I couldn’t be around people, germs and food and things like that,” she said.

Christina Meisenburg speaks at Relay For Life’s "Carnival of Hope," held on a rainy June 2 at Town Commons.

••••••••

Meisenburg noted she is grateful for the help and support she received while undergoing cancer treatments.

She said her mother, Connie Perakis, who died Nov. 9, 2021, “was so great in getting me through it. She took care of me. She took care of my kids. She did whatever she could do. I wanted to be here for my kids. I wanted to watch my kids grow up and become adults, so that really pushed me.

“I had a fantastic team of doctors and nurses, as well. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Meisenburg said her hopes of watching her children grow up were realized: “I have two incredible children that are my world, and I got to see them grow into adults and have lives. It’s been fantastic.”

Both her son and daughter live in Florida, and Meisenburg said she enjoys visiting them and her grandpuppies: “I visit every year and spend two weeks there. It’s very nice. I get to play with the grandpups and then come home.”

Meisenburg’s cancer is now considered to be cured.

“My last visit to the doctor was two years ago, and they told me I didn’t have to come back anymore, that I was well over the hump,” she said. “So, there’s a five-year window, where you’re considered in remission. And then, you’re considered done. But the five-to-10-year period is when you have to worry about secondary issues from the treatment, because it’s poison.”

Cancer, however, has taken many of Meisenburg’s family members.

“I’ve actually lost, starting with my grandfather to leukemia. I had three uncles, six aunts, my father and my sister, Stefani Perakis, (who) all passed from cancer,” Meisenburg explained.

Perakis, who worked for the Niagara County Mental Health Department, participated in Relay For Life until her death from cancer in 2008.

Relay For Life, Meisenburg said, is a positive and hopeful experience: “It’s really hard to feel sad when you’re here. When you’re looking around at the people and the community and the survivors and listening to the stories.”

Meisenburg said she had several people to thank for her survival and for her experience in the 2024 Relay For Life: “The Relay community, for sure, has been wonderful. My mom, if she was still here with me, who was so great in getting me through it. I had a fantastic team of doctors and nurses, as well. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Meisenburg said she would tell people who are newly diagnosed with cancer to “have faith. Have hope and listen to your body. Be your own advocate. That’s the biggest thing. My story was different. My sister’s story, as well. Both of us were told we were fine. There was nothing wrong, almost to the point where it was too late. For my sister, her cancer was diagnosed at stage IV.”

•Next time: Honorary survivor Denise Filosofos’ story.

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