Sister Support: “I haven’t had a treatment where she wasn’t there.”

She went in for her first colonoscopy at the age of 54. Her sister was there when she received the grim news – Jane Bilyeu was diagnosed with colon cancer.

She had put it off. It was just one of those things she didn’t get around to. She felt fine and just thought a little bloating may have been part her premenopausal symptoms.

At the age of 54, Jane Bilyeu went in for a routine colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recently changed guidelines and now recommends screening should begin at age 45, rather than age 50 for people at average risk for colorectal cancer. With good health and no family history, Bilyeu was in no rush.

“It kept weighing on me and coming to the forefront to get it done,” said Bilyeu. Her older sister, Cindy Levy passed the time during the procedure sitting in the waiting room eating a sandwich and reading a book. The sisters grew up on the west side and attended St. Anne’s Catholic Church along with their parents Charles and Elva Adams. Both are deceased. Bilyeu is the youngest and has two other sisters – Marie Adams and Susan Adams –both married men with their maiden names – and a brother Tim Adams.

Bilyeu attended the former St. Anne’s grade school; took her first communion at St. Anne’s at the age of eight, was confirmed at the parish at the age of, 14 and married her husband Duke at St. Anne’s when she was 19. Her children and grandchildren were baptized at St. Anne’s. Bilyeu, the mother of two daughters, and grandmother to seven – including a set of five-year-old twins – still attends the St. Anne’s parish.

And on the day she learned she had colorectal cancer – April 21, 2015 – she leaned on two things – faith and family.

“It was a life-changing day,” said Bilyeu. “I’m glad my sister was there. I haven’t had a treatment where she wasn’t there since.”

A month after the diagnosis, she had surgery to remove the tumor along with 24 lymph nodes. Six months of chemotherapy followed and then three month visits with her oncologist. Things were looking good.

But then in March 2018, a scan showed a tumor on her pelvis and two spots on her liver. She had been treated at another hospital at the time and was was referred to IU Health and Dr. Attila Nakeeb.

“In April the plan was to remove the tumor from my pelvis and off my liver, but when he went to do surgery he said it looked like someone had sprinkled salt and pepper on my abdomen. There were multiple implants,” said Bilyeu.  “He removed 90 percent of the tumor on my pelvis and re-sectioned my small intestine.” She was in the hospital for 10 days. During that time genetic testing showed she had a type of colon cancer that could be treated with targeted therapy. She began the treatments in July and finished around the Christmas holiday. When her scans showed that her condition was stabilizing; her oncologist began talking to her about maintenance therapy – chemotherapy every two weeks.

It was that visit right after the holidays when Bilyeu was apprehensive and a little overwhelmed that she met CompleteLife massage therapist Michelle Bailey. That one encounter helped put Bilyeu’s mind at ease.

“She said, ‘would you like a foot massage or hand massage?’ I just melted. She’s been the highlight. I’ve gotten to know her and I look forward to her coming,” said Bilyeu. “She verbally comforted us and gave us reassurance,” said Levy.

Through the course of her treatment, Bilyeu, a Mary Kay cosmetics distributor, has been open to alternative forms of therapy. As she and her sister sit munching on popcorn and sipping tea, she talks about focusing. They laugh about camping trips they shared as kids and how they spend hours on the phone catching up even after they’ve just seen each other.

“I’m the snack provider – I try to make sure she has the comforts she needs to get through this. Michelle’s massage therapy was all part of that,” said Levy. “It’s important to help her direct her thoughts and to be present.”

Bilyeu describes her older sister as her rock. In addition to snacks, she packs several bottles of essential oils to apply to her feet and back to help relieve the pain.

“I have learned that you have to rely on everything and everyone you can in the healing process said Bilyeu, who adheres to a strict plant-based diet and no sugars. “You’ve got to do everything you can to improve your health. It’s about your overall wellbeing. Since my diagnosis I’ve been on a journey to learn more about how to take care of myself because I can’t control that I have cancer but I can control what I do to help my body heal and at the top of that list is family support.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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