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October 25, 2013 • 05:11:39 p.m.

Cancer survivor says disease didn’t diminish her mother

By JAMI KUNZER - jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Amanda Armstrong (left) and her mother, Veronica Armstrong outside their Crystal Lake home Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Amanda, who beat a very rare form of bone cancer when she was younger moved in with her mother after Veronica was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer. Veronica died Oct. 15 at age 53. (Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com)

Just as she did when her daughter battled cancer years ago, Veronica Armstrong fought until the end.

Diagnosed with Stage IV adenocarcinoma, the Crystal Lake woman died Oct. 15 at age 53.

Featured in an article published Aug. 4 in PlanIt Style, Armstrong spent the past several months undergoing radiation and chemotherapy to treat the disease, which had started in her lungs and spread to her brain.

Her 27-year-old daughter, Amanda, had moved back home so the two could face the disease together.

"Even up until the end, she was really positive. The doctors explained what was going in, and she was still very positive," Amanda said of her mother. "It was never, 'Woe is me. Poor me.' "

At age 10, Amanda had orbital osteosarcoma, basically a tumor in her right eye socket. While the type of bone cancer wasn't necessarily rare, its location was, and surgeons were forced to go off protocol as they eventually spent 11 hours removing it.

Nearly two decades later, Amanda has remained cancer free.

She graduated in 2004 from Prairie Ridge High School and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in Asian Studies with a minor in Japanese language from Temple University in Japan.

Married in China to Yabin Zhao, Amanda and her husband moved to Crystal Lake as soon as they heard of Veronica's diagnosis.

Her mother underwent some of the same treatments Amanda endured as a patient long ago at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

"The things they were developing with me, helped my mother," Amanda said. "It reaffirms I should be helping St. Jude."

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Veronica's name to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.

"Hopefully, people won't have to deal with this kind of thing anymore," Amanda said.

Throughout much of the treatment, her mother seemed to be handling it well, remaining active at the family's home on the outskirts of Crystal Lake, where horses roamed.

After a cycle of chemotherapy, doctors found grown legions so they tried another type of chemotherapy, Amanda said.

One night, Amanda called home, and her mother was screaming in pain.

"It just went all down hill from there," she said.

Rushed to the hospital, doctors eventually found the tumors had spread quickly and ripped a hole in her esophagus. Veronica could no longer eat and was moved to JorneyCare Hospice of Woodstock.

"She's not in any pain anymore. She was in so much pain," Amanda said. "It's really shocking to all of us just how fast it progressed. She went from being her upbeat, happy self to being in hospice. She was still smiling at the nurses up until the end, but it's just really scary how fast it went."

Her mother's death and the show of support since from numerous family and friends has inspired her to do more, live more, she said.

"I don't know. It's kind of funny in a weird way. I had cancer when I was a kid. You'd think that would be a kick in the butt to get me to appreciate life and all that stuff," she said. "Not really, up until I lost my mother. Now I really do appreciate life. It's kind of humbling to see how many people loved her and were touched by her."


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