By ANN BELCHER
BROCTON - Judy (Hallmark) Dasher of Brocton is a mother of six; a grandmother of 21; and a great-grandmother of 11. As busy as these jobs keep her, she still has one important job at the top of her list: beating pancreatic cancer. And a Sept. 29 benefit to be held at Christ Community Church will give her the help she will need to accomplish it.
Judy's discovery of cancer started last year when she started having stomach problems. She followed up with her doctor, who recommended all of the obvious treatments such as following a bland diet, adding yogurt or pro-biotics and even following a trial of compound pharmaceuticals. With those attempts remaining unsuccessful Judy ended up losing 60 pounds in the process.
The next step was to refer her to a gastroenterology specialist, who responded with CAT scans and colonoscopies to determine the cause of her problems. Her CAT scan confirmed the existence of a tumor attached to the end of her pancreas.
"I'll never forget that doctor telling me 'Don't get upset at this point we don't know if it's malignant or benign. But if it is malignant Roswell Park Cancer Institute is the best place you can receive care at.'"
Benefit for Judy (Hallmark) Dasher
What: A spaghetti dinner benefit and Chinese auction for Judy (Hallmark) Dasher of Brocton)
When: Saturday, Sept. 29 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Where: Christ Community Church, 219 Berry Road, Fredonia
Why: To help offset Dasher's medical expenses due to her recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer
After determining her tumor's malignancy, Judy was sent to Roswell where she described her and her family's experience as "wonderful."
Her daughter, Shelly (Hallmark) Williamson of Brocton, added "Roswell is just awesome. As soon as you walk in the building, you're comforted with music and singing, their valet service takes wonderful care of you, everyone in that building is just so helpful and kind."
Judy and her family took regular trips to the hospital for five to six weeks before her chemotherapy treatment was transferred locally to Dr. Sood, who Judy praises as well. The regime she takes requires her to be in Dr. Sood's office for two and a half hours; then she goes home with her medication still running for the next 48 hours and subsequently returns to the office to have it unhooked. Aside from the caring staff at Dr. Sood's office, she also credits The RO Foundation for the assistance she has received to help her get back and forth for her treatment appointments.
As the busy grandmother began losing weight, she enjoyed traditional milkshakes to help her try to gain weight back. That has all changed since her chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"One thing people may not realize is that chemo kills everything the bad and the good. It does not discriminate, and it doesn't know the difference between good and bad within the body."
To help her keep needed liver enzymes maintained and working, Judy is forced to take a medication called Creon, which without insurance, would cost $1,000 per month. Another disruptive side effect is severe neuropathy, which has forced Judy to stay away from or guard against anything cold. Her neuropathy doesn't allow her to eat or drink anything cold, and forces her to cover her hands with oven mitts or heavy gloves when handling anything out of her freezer.
Despite her obstacles, Judy's fighting spirit and positive outlook can be credited to her apparent faith in God and the generous support of her family. Her family includes all six of her children: daughter Wendy Hallmark, also of Brocton; son Timothy Hallmark of Dunkirk; twins, Wanda White of Dunkirk and Wayne Hallmark of Fredonia; and her youngest, Shelly who resides in Fredonia. Judy tragically lost a son to an accidental drowning. She remains friendly with her ex-husband and father of her children, and his wife, who is a registered nurse and has offered assistance to Judy when needed.
"When we started talking about where to hold the benefit, I decided I didn't want it to be held in a bar. That's not my lifestyle anymore, and going to church and living as a Christian, I didn't feel that was right. I wanted to have it at my church, where I have an extended family and there are nice, new accommodations such as a new kitchen, and added space for the event."
Daughter Shelly's home church, the Christian Worship Center on Eagle Street in Fredonia, and other area congregations have offered assistance too. The blessings have been numerous throughout Judy's experience with cancer.
Shelly characterizes her mother as "Just a trooper, she's just something else. She has really shown me what it is to have faith. She has a lot of it, and I'm glad because that's made it easier for me to lean on my faith, and as that gets stronger, we have been able to see the changes taking place, like the fact that she has stopped losing weight, and has started gaining. Cancer isn't going to beat her, she's going to beat it."
Judy's opportunity to attend Women of Faith in Rochester this month was barely a hurdle despite her cancer. A friend that she attended last year's event with already had her ticket for this year reserved. And along came her diagnosis. Judy's friend kept the ticket and agreed to pray for her that she would be able to go. Even though she had a doctor's appointment scheduled for the departure time for the trip, her doctor called her ahead of time to reschedule, allowing that trip to happen.
While there, she relates, she had $21 with her. On the last day, she purchased a cup of tea for $2. One of her friends who had promised a souvenir T-shirt to someone realized that she was short the money to bring home the T-shirt. Without hesitating, Judy took her remaining money out of her wallet and handed it to her friend to purchase her souvenir.
After returning home and attending her worship service, her first few steps into the sanctuary were met by a church member who handed her $20 to put towards her benefit. Former classmates of Judy's have been faithful to send her donations in the mail, and after running out of money to fill one of her medicines, she found an envelope in her mailbox with no return address with the exact amount of money needed to fill that prescription.
"God is all around this," states Shelly.
"He will make sure we have everything we need for this benefit."
Already friends and family have started donating. Shelly's daughter Ashley is also preparing hundreds of handmade purple bracelets (the color symbolizing pancreatic cancer) to sell as a fundraiser. Anything left over or unused for the spaghetti dinner, Shelly would like to see be donated off to another benefit or charity.
"All of the support and love of so many people has just been pouring out it's just overwhelming," states Judy with tears.
"You don't know how many friends you have until something like this happens. They have all turned out and gave from their hearts. My kids and I have always been close, and we are overprotective of one another, mainly because my start in life was not great. I was adopted by two loving people who took me at a month old."
While being interviewed, her great grandsons, Dylan and Christian called from home to check on their grandmother and make sure she was ok. Judy, who babysits Shelly's twins, Ashton and Alyssa while she works, talks candidly to her grandkids about her illness.
"I tell them all of the time, 'Grandma doesn't want to have cancer, and I want it to go away. But if for some reason it doesn't go away, then I will be waiting for you in Heaven.' And that's also why I want them to never give up on anything in life. We know the survival rate is very low for this type of cancer, it's only 20 percent. But I intend to make it 21 percent."
Judy will be facing surgery to remove the tumor and the Sept. 29 benefit will assist her in meeting the numerous medical bills she has accumulated in the process. Donations and assistance of any kind are still welcome for the spaghetti dinner benefit and can be directed to Shelly at 401-1406 or Judy's niece, Kayle Dover at 467-3086. Any checks may be made out to Tim Hallmark or Shelly Williamson, while they prepare an account for the benefit.
She remains encouraged daily, not only by her faith and her family, but also by a dream she had recently - that when she went into surgery for her tumor to be removed, and the surgeons were unable to find it.
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