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Brighter than any ringing bell: Judith’s cancer journey

From a life-shattering diagnosis to her astounding recovery, a Newcastle woman shares her cancer journey exemplifying the power of resilience and the importance of maintaining a positive outlook.

Judith Lorenz stands with Oncologist Dr. Pauline Lerma. (Campbell County Health

By Campbell County Health

GILLETTE, Wyo. — In the face of adversity, some individuals possess an extraordinary spirit that touches and inspires all those around them. Judith Lorenz is a remarkable 71-year-old woman from Newcastle, WY, whose journey exemplifies the power of resilience and the importance of maintaining a positive outlook, even when faced with a life-altering diagnosis. With four children, thirteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, her life is enriched by her family, with whom she cherishes every moment.

Having spent three decades in education as a school business administrator, she found fulfillment in nurturing young minds. However, her final years as a paraeducator in a special education classroom brought her the most profound satisfaction. Retirement beckoned, and Judith’s desire to continue contributing to Wyoming’s education led her to become a substitute teacher. Life would take an unexpected turn for Judith when weakness and difficulty walking began to overshadow her days. She knew something was wrong.

Judith was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Her heart sank upon hearing the diagnosis, especially since she had no family history of cancer that she was aware of. Judith was given a prognosis of only nine months to live. The absence of any family history of cancer added to the disbelief and shock that shrouded her initial reaction.

The power of care

Doctors told Judith that there was no point in fighting her cancer and that her best bet would be to seek comfort as her life came to an end. Following the doctors’ plans the next nine months would loom before her — an abyss of time to bid farewell to a life so richly lived, and so much left to do. Judith was not content with the resigned outlook. Having already experienced the loss of her husband to cancer, Judith drew strength from her family, who provided unwavering support and rallied behind her. With a commitment to living life to its fullest and cherishing every moment with her loved ones, Judith embarked on a battle against cancer that would test her resilience in unimaginable ways.

Judith Lorenz and family (Campbell County Health)

Judith began searching for doctors who would support her in her fight against cancer. She came to the Campbell County Health Heptner Cancer Center, hoping to find more compassion and care than she had received at other healthcare facilities. Judith positively embraced each day, looking ahead at the possibility of adventure and fulfillment.

“While facing this diagnosis, I was initially in disbelief. But instead of succumbing to gloom and doom, I chose to make the best of my life,” shared Judith, her voice filled with determination. “Every day I wake up, I thank God for the opportunity to experience another day.”

From the moment she stepped foot into the Heptner Cancer Center, she was greeted with the compassion and care she had been looking for. Witnessing the tender care extended to younger patients, she glimpsed the fragility of life through their eyes. The clinical staff, driven by a passion that surpassed duty, became beacons of hope for the most vulnerable souls. Judith remarked how admirable it was to see the passion that staff extended to patients and how strong the nurses and doctors were even though they knew there was always a chance this would be the last time they got to see a patient. In those moments, her trust in her medical team deepened, birthing a profound connection built on trust.

“We didn’t trust doctors at first, and perhaps we waited too long [to seek care],” Judith admitted. “But once we found doctors [at the Heptner Cancer Center] who listened and truly cared, our faith in them grew. They set the bar high.”

The initial treatment was arduous, with the first six months being particularly brutal. However, Judith’s unwavering spirit prevailed, guided by the compassionate care provided by the healthcare professionals at Campbell County Health. The doctors and nurses demonstrated unparalleled kindness, thoroughness, and genuine concern for her well-being, ensuring that her comfort and needs were met every step of the way.

Every day is a new adventure

As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, Judith’s gratitude grew deeper. Time flew by, and what was meant to be Judith’s final year turned into two, then three, and now five years. Her doctors’ dedication had not only extended her life but also enriched it beyond measure. Now, five years into her journey, Judith continues to defy the odds. Her cancer battle has taught her the importance of cherishing every moment. Her advice to others facing their own trials is simple yet profound.

“Stay positive and always look at the positives in your life,” Judith said. “Remember, there is always someone who has it worse. Keeping the right perspective is key.”

Every day is an adventure for Judith. She explores, creates and inspires. She acknowledges the fragility of life, but she refuses to let fear rule her existence. Instead, she embraces each moment, savoring the beauty and joy surrounding her.

Amidst the ceaseless battle, she poured her heart into crafting a quilt, stitching together love and courage. She adopted a dog, a companion to care for and spend time with. And in the quiet embrace of her garden, she found solace, nurturing life amidst her own uncertainty. Each endeavor became a poignant reminder that even in the face of unfathomable hardship, the human spirit remains unbreakable, capable of flourishing amidst the harshest trials.

Judith Lorenz shows a quilt she made during her recovery journey (Campbell County Health)

Brighter than any ringing bell

When a patient finishes their treatment, it is traditional to “ring the bell” to mark an end to their journey and as a declaration of victory in their battle with cancer. Judith will never have the opportunity to declare victory over her cancer in the traditional sense, something she realized two years into her treatment.

“Another patient finished her treatment and got to ring the bell,” said Judith. “I was so happy for her and congratulated her on her way to the bell. I explained the event to my youngest son and broke down crying for the first and only time during this journey. The realization that I would never ring that bell hit me.”

Judith shared that the experience was cleansing for her, and she quickly bounced back. Her journey transcends triumph because of the faith she holds, the positivity she embodies, and the strength she has grown. Judith has borne witness to the fragility of life and the inevitability of saying goodbye, but through strength and resilience, she has lived a fulfilled life far beyond her initial nine-month prognosis.

“I’ve had to learn to age gracefully now,” said Judith. “Something I never thought I would get to do.”

Always positive, she is a beacon of hope to those who face adversity, cherishing life’s beauty with a truly boundless spirit. It is true that Judith will never be cured and will never get to ring the bell. Still, the greatest triumphs are those that lie in the heart and the mind, and Judith’s spirit shines brighter than any ringing bell.