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Jan Merriman, mother support each other in cancer battle

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By Dave Bell

The year 2010 one that Jan Merriman would like to forget.
In that 12-month period, her father-in-law was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. And, in October of that year, she discovered a lump on her breast that would later be diagnosed as triple-negative invasive duct carcinoma, stage IIIB.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Merriman, 48, a native of Bluff City who now lives in Fillmore with her husband, Mark. “I just thought, ‘No way. This isn’t happening.’”
But, in fact, it was. It was one of those experiences that she and her mother never wanted to share.
“I took my last chemo treatment the same time she took her first,” said Merriman’s mother, Kay Kistler, 71, of Vandalia. “The worst part of it for me was that my daughter had it. That’s harder than having it yourself.”
But walking a similar path has given the mother and daughter a special bond as they’ve helped each other through their own ordeals with the disease.
“When I saw my mom going through it, I knew that I could, too,” Merriman said. “Family and friends have been great. I felt their support from the beginning.”
Yet the road has been tough. Merriman’s treatment has involved nine rounds of chemotherapy and 35 radiation treatments.
When her hair began to fall out because of the treatments, several of Merriman’s former co-workers at Octochem shaved their heads in support.
“It was overwhelming that they would do that for me,” Merriman said. “I bawled for an hour.”
Her cancer physician was Dr. Phillip Dy, and Merriman credited him and the women in the cancer center at Fayette County Hospital with helping her cope with her cancer.
“I remember when I first went to the clinic, Peggy Williams came up to me and said, ‘I’m a survivor. You can beat this, too.’ It’s almost like family. They’re all there to help you survive. It was easy to talk to them – and the other patients – because they knew exactly what I was going through. When you’re fighting cancer, you have to dig down deep, have courage and have faith.”
Her niece, Marlie Fearaday, gave her a plaque that helped her through the rough days when she was receiving treatments. It said: “Count your smiles instead of your tears. Count your courage instead of your fears.”
Now, nearly two years after her diagnosis, Merriman is trying to do just that.
“I’ve changed,” she said. “Now, I get more exercise, I eat better, I drink more water and I try not to get run down. I also don’t stress out on the little things now.
“I look at life a lot differently. Every day I thank God for another day of life. And I focus on the big things – family, friends and love.”
With her treatments behind her and breast reconstruction complete, Merriman is plans to get back to some of her favorite activities – four-wheeling, camping, fishing and NASCAR racing. She has blood work done every three months, just to make sure her cancer doesn’t reoccur.
She also encourages all women to do breast self-examinations every month in addition to annual mommograms.
Her mother has been off chemotherapy for two years, but recently her colon cancer came back and she’s undergoing treatments again.
One thing is certain: Merriman will be right there by her mom’s side. That’s just what family members do – especially ones that’ve walked that road themselves.