Lifestyle

Nonprofit gives breather to women with lung cancer

Melanie Sattler and Heather Burger support each other’s entry into Manzanita Bay Wednesday in preparation for Arms Around Bainbridge Aug. 13-15. Sattler, who has lung cancer, is one of two recipients this year of the nonprofit’s goodwill efforts. Burger, who is on the board of Arms Around Bainbridge, will participate in the 30-mile open swim relay around Bainbridge Island. - Brad Camp/For the Review
Melanie Sattler and Heather Burger support each other’s entry into Manzanita Bay Wednesday in preparation for Arms Around Bainbridge Aug. 13-15. Sattler, who has lung cancer, is one of two recipients this year of the nonprofit’s goodwill efforts. Burger, who is on the board of Arms Around Bainbridge, will participate in the 30-mile open swim relay around Bainbridge Island.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

The bumper sticker on Melanie Sattler’s vehicle has two words on it: Breathe Deeply. It’s part reminder, part invocation for the trim brunette who lost her left lung to cancer in 2006.

Sattler was in Manzanita Bay Wednesday afternoon to get her feet wet, donning her new wet suit, a gift from members of Arms Around Bainbridge. Sattler is the first recipient since the event’s inception in 2007 to attempt to take the plunge alongside the 20 or so volunteers as they swim around Bainbridge Island Aug. 14.

The 30-mile course is too much for any one person, so groups swim relay-style, on one of several legs. The metaphor is apt: As one of two recipients of the nonprofit’s goodwill effort this year, Sattler won’t have to face her journey alone either.

She shares the mixed blessing with Karen Langman, who is also battling lung cancer.

The three-day event includes a street dance Aug. 13; the open water relay swim Aug. 14; and a first this year, an indoor relay swim Aug. 15 at the Aquatic Center.

“Not everybody can or wants to go into the Sound,” said board member Heather Burger.

Anyone who wants to participate can sign up to swim in the pool. “Even if it’s dogpaddling,” Burger said. Although preregistration helps with planning, people can show up at the pool next Sunday to add their support. The open water swim, not so much.

“You don’t just wake up one day and decide to swim in open water,” Burger said.

“It’s physically intense and psychologically challenging,” said swimmer Ken Goodman.

That’s also an apt description of what the two recipients are facing, each currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

After the removal of her left lung, Sattler rebounded, power-walking a mere two weeks after her surgery. But months later, she found several lumps in her breast. She was scheduled for a masectomy, but when she came to in recovery, her breasts were still in tact. The lung cancer was back with a vengeance. It metastasized, showing up next as a tumor in her brain. She went back on chemo a year ago, and will continue “until I can’t stand it anymore.”

Since 2008, when doctors gave her less than a year to live, she’s watched a nephew get married, then a niece, and last year, the birth of her grandson.

“I have a lot to live for,” she said. “I can spend my time being sad and sorry for myself, or I can embrace all the goodness there is. You find peace with it. We’re all terminal. But instead of thinking about dying, I think more about living.”

Langman clocked out for lunch Wednesday at her job at Island Health and Rehab Center to talk on the phone. A lump on her shoulder turned out to be a swollen lymph node. A mammogram came up clean, but after a biopsy doctors came back with a surprising diagnosis: lung cancer. She’s underwent six weeks of radiation, followed by a month-long break. She’ll embark on a six-month regimen of aggressive chemotherapy now. She’s be taking medical leave to focus on her treatment, and funds from Arms Around Bainbridge will help stretch disability payments.

“Without this support, I might not be able to take this time off,” she said. “This will allow me to stay home and take care of myself. I’ve never had that kind of support in my whole life.”

Still, she calls her cancer experience “a necessary step in my journey.”

“I’m an idealistic, utopian, unconditional person. I’ve been searching, praying even before the cancer, to be part of a group, to be able to help others. I can’t wait till next year when I can be part of their group.

Lend an arm

Arms Around Bainbridge is a conduit for community-wide support for the recipients.

Ways to help:

Donations can be made anytime online at www.armsaroundbainbridge.com or mail to 3654 Crystal Springs Dr., BI, WA 98110.

Dance to the sounds of the Randy Oxford Band from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Aug. 13 on Madrone Lane (next to Blackbird Bakery). Suggested donation: $20 adults, children free.

During the open water swim Aug. 14, provide swimmer support in a kayak or power boat.

Show moral support from viewing sites: White Dock, 8:45a.m.; Dock St. at Manzanita Bay, noon; and Fay Bainbridge 2:45 p.m. Times are approximate due to wind and currents.

Come to the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Aug. 15 to swim laps in the indoor pool relay swim. The swim is open to all ages and abilities; Donation of $25 per half hour goes to recipients.

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