Colon Cancer Battle Inspires Hope Lodge Volunteer Couple

Written By:Stacy Simon

"At Hope Lodge people understand and support each other because they're all going through the exact same thing. They share their treatments, and how they're getting through problems, and they become family."

Dale Pangman

Colon cancer survivor Dale Pangman offers more than a ride to treatment for guests of the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge facility in Birmingham, Alabama. He also offers inspiration and hope. “I tell the people who I’m driving that I’m a colorectal cancer survivor, so they can see someone who is functioning and is a survivor, said Pangman. “I try to motivate them to have a stronger mental outlook so they can push forward.”

A Hope Lodge community offers free, home-like accommodations for cancer patients and their caregivers whose best treatment options are away from home. Pangman is a substitute volunteer driver for the facility in Birmingham, and his wife Alicia is a volunteer receptionist. When she meets a colon cancer survivor, she lets Dale know so he can provide encouragement.

“We are big proponents of supporting people with cancer,” said Alicia. “At Hope Lodge people understand and support each other because they’re all going through the exact same thing. They share their treatments, and how they’re getting through problems, and they become family.”

Doing what he loves

Five years after Dale’s diagnosis, he once again lives a very active life. Retired from the Air Force, he’s now flying airplanes as a corporate pilot. Dale’s treatment included chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and then more chemotherapy. Dale’s surgery included a colostomy: Doctors removed part of his colon and then connected his remaining colon to an opening in the skin of his abdomen, to allow for the passage of waste.

Despite the colostomy, Dale has gone body surfing in California and whitewater rafting down the Colorado River. “I was on the river for 5 days, camping and roughing it, and I was able to do all that with the ostomy,” said Dale.

“He does everything he loves to do,” said Alicia, “and he’s willing to do just about anything.”

Sharing lessons

As Dale’s caregiver, Alicia went with him to doctors’ appointments, took notes, and asked questions. She kept track of his medications and prepared his meals. “She did everything,” said Dale. “I can’t imagine that some people go into this experience without someone, and how hard that must be.”

Together, they learned a lot about how to support each other during cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. When they hear from someone else with cancer, they share these tips:

  • Take someone with you to doctors’ appointments. When the doctor told Dale he had cancer, Dale says he didn’t hear anything else after that. A friend had advised Alicia to bring a notebook, and she took notes. “I tried not to get emotional about it, and just wrote down everything that was said,” said Alicia.
  • Ask questions. Alicia also used her notebook between appointments to write down questions so she could remember to ask them the next time. Dale’s surgeon was so helpful, says Alicia, that he sometimes took the notebook and wrote down the answers himself.
  • Be organized. Alicia used a second notebook to keep track of Dale’s chemotherapy pills and other medicines. “He had to be so careful about taking so many different things,” she said. “He had to eat with some medicines and not others.”
  • Keep your sense of humor. “We teased him and tried to make light of things as best we could under the circumstances,” said Alicia. “We did whatever we could to help him laugh at himself and not take himself so seriously.”
  • Get support from friends. At first, said Alicia, Dale didn’t appreciate her sharing his diagnosis with their friends, but she insisted they needed support from people. Eventually, he saw it her way. “We got tons of cards and stuff, and that made it bearable for him,” said Alicia.
  • Find out if there is a Hope Lodge facility available to you. “It’s an awesome place, a godsend,” said Alicia. “If we ever hear of anyone coming to treatment from farther away, we tell people to look into Hope Lodge.”

Thoughts for the future

These days, Dale goes for periodic checkups to make sure the cancer hasn’t come back. Alicia worries about recurrence and thinks about what the future holds for other family members. She knows their son will need to start regular colon cancer screening earlier than average, now that he knows he has a family history of the disease.

Dale says he worries too, but is getting better at staying calm. He says his future is in God’s hands. “It’s a gift from God to continue to be alive,” he says.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

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