Bellanger, Nicole | Surviving Mesothelioma

Bellanger, Nicole

My name is Nicole Danielle Bellanger and I’m an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Mississippi band. I am a single mother of 4 boys. Trulo –15years old, Michael–14 years, Cruz–4 years and Keanne–2 years. I work fulltime as a Medical Assistant and go to school part time in the evenings. I am currently doing my generals to apply for the nursing program at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN.

My parents are very supportive and helpful when it comes to the boys. They are there when I can’t be. They provide childcare, chauffer the boys to and from school/activities, support at one of their basketball games, and so on. It helps that they live so close to us. My oldest son is a 9th grade basketball player. He was named team captain this year and I am so proud of him. I know how hard he has been training these past few years. My 2nd oldest son is in 8th grade and he is the one I go to for help with babysitting, when I need to run errands, or just do homework. He is a huge and appreciated help with household chores and child care.

My maternal grandmother (deceased) wished that one of her 12 children would become a nurse. This is something that my mother has told me over the years. My mother has always wanted me to continue with my education. I knew when I was a young girl that I wanted to be a nurse and I think that taking care of my grandmother when she was sick with stomach cancer gave a lot more desire.

I will be the first in my family to attend college. Growing up in a less privileged family has not only had financial and academic challenges, but it has more importantly made me realize the value of a college education. Today, I talk to my children about the importance of finishing high school. Then going on to college to further their education for the better life they deserve. We as parents want the best that life can offer for our children. I know that sitting around and not doing anything with your life doesn’t give you those chances of having a better life. I tell them that it’s hard at times and stressful, trying to take care of a family, go to work fulltime and go to school part time. I can only hope that my son’s get the message I am trying to show them.

My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1986. This cancer was aggressive and she only had a couple months left when they told the family. My grandmother tried two different kinds of treatment. First she went to see a traditional Ojibway medicine man that lived in Canada and also tried a medicine man back home. Two different medicine men and two different ceremonies. Then she also tried Chemotherapy. The disease was too far along she was only with us another few months. My mother and I would go up north to the White Earth Reservation every weekend to care for my grandmother. I remember that my grandmother was in a lot of pain. When the hospice nurse came to help with the care of my grandmother she was like an angel. She gave my grandmother something that helped with her pain. I was so happy and admired this woman that helped my grandmother. This was the time when I took a great interest in becoming a nurse.

My maternal uncle had oral cancer. He went through radiation for one year. My uncle found out that he had cancer after a visit with the dentist. The dentist noticed the lump in his mouth; my uncle told the dentist the lump had been there about 5 years. Surgery was scheduled in 1994 and they cut out part of his tongue, lymph nodes. He was given a choice of Medicine man or traditional radiation. He chose radiation. With radiation he lost his voice, feelings in his mouth, he couldn’t taste food or how hot coffee was. My uncle was with us for a couple more years.

My maternal aunt had breast cancer. She chose to remove the one breast in 1993; she did not receive any radiation or chemotherapy. When she first noticed the lump on her breast, the doctor told her there was nothing to worry about. When she moved back to her home reservation, she told the doctor there and they found that she had cancer. She is doing fine now and goes in once a year for her annual mammograms. She has survived breast cancer for 16 years.

Another one of my maternal aunts had kidney cancer. She chose to remove her kidney. She decided to see a medicine man for treatment and traditional treatment. This involved going to a Sundance and was doctored by a medicine man in a sweat lodge. She could not stay for the duration of the Sundance as her surgery was scheduled the same week. Once her kidney was removed, when she woke up in the recovery room, she said there was an eagle at the edge of her bed watching over her. When she was told at a later day of the Sundance, the medicine man told her they said prayers for her though out the Sundance and eagles were sitting on the fence around the Sundance. She now is doing fine and goes once a year for her annual exam. This was in 2002.

My oldest son’s father had bone cancer. He found out I believe when he was 16 years old. He was playing football and landed wrong and broke his arm. When he went to the hospital they took x-rays and that is when they seen something. Through the years he would make frequent trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for Chemotherapy. I am not sure what year it was but his providers decided that they had to take his arm. They thought that it would lessen the chance of it spreading. In 2005 they told him that he only had a few months to live. He tried more intense chemotherapy and also seen a medicine man. He fought until Oct. 23rd 2008. That date sticks in my mind so because it was only a couple days after our son’s 14th birthday.

If cancer happened to me, I believe I would try both modernized medicine and traditional medicine. I have seen that both ways can help a person fight this disease. It may help take the cancer away, or may give you a longer life than expected.

Explanation of one type of ceremony the Sundance. Sundance’s are sacred ceremonies that last for eight days. You begin the spiritual journey by attending four preparation sweat lodge ceremonies. Four days is significant because everything happens in fours in our Native spiritual ways, four directions, four seasons and four phases of our lives. The sweat lodge is built from a skeleton of willows shaped in a dome. It’s then completely covered with heavy canvas designed to create an environment of complete darkness. The lodge represents the womb of our Mother Earth and the small entranceway faces east, to welcome the spirits in that direction. A small shallow pit is dug in the center of the lodge that will be filled during the ceremony with river rocks heated to a glowing red. During the ceremony, water, one of our sacred elements is “poured” on these rocks that represent the spirits of our Grandmothers and Grandfathers. The steam or spirits of our elders is what we use to cleanse and purify our bodies, minds and spirits. Once in the lodge, the women sit along one side and the men along the other. To enter the lodge will renew sprits. The doors of the lodge will be lowered, and an elder will “pour” water and lead the round with songs and prayers. Hand drums and rattles will carry these ancient songs and prayers. At the close of each round, the door is raised as cool outside air will greet you. When the four rounds are complete, you dress and meet to share a meal and friendship.

After four days of sweats, we feel spiritually prepared to begin the physically demanding Sun Dance ceremony, where you dance with little water and no food from sunrise to sunset in scorching heart.

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