Cancer, Flood Don't Deter Resilient Senior

Linda Glickstein

UNC student Linda Glickstein poses with a "find" during a field trip for one of her geology classes.

Photo courtesy of Linda Glickstein

"If any women are reading this, never skip a mammogram." It's sound advice from University of Northern Colorado student Linda Glickstein.

Glickstein is a senior Geology major at UNC who's battling breast cancer, and it's no exaggeration to say she's determined to finish her degree come hell or high water—the Lyons resident has faced both this year.

She'd wanted to earn a bachelor's degree for a long time when, at 54, she quit her home healthcare job and enrolled at the University of New Mexico-Taos.

When her partner, Jon Gold, got a job in Boulder, the couple rented a home in Lyons, a few miles north of the city. Glickstein didn't let the move slow her studies down; she transferred to UNC as a junior in fall 2010.

She loved living in Lyons and attending UNC, and was looking forward to her senior year when she decided to get a routine mammogram during a in late-spring trip back to New Mexico to retrieve some furniture from Gold's house.

The procedure revealed a suspicious mass. Her doctor scheduled a second mammogram and then a needle biopsy.

During the procedure, Glickstein was awake, and she remembers talking to the doctor, who was frank, telling her that he suspected the tumor would turn out to be malignant.

"I didn't think, ‘I could die,' or ‘I could lose my breast.'" Glickstein said. "All I could think was, ‘I have school. I do not have time to have cancer. I have 12 classes to take in order to graduate.'"

On June 10, her doctor called her with the news that the tumor was malignant.

She was faced with testing and multiple treatment choices, including surgery ranging from a lumpectomy to a double mastectomy.

"I started thinking, ‘I might be about to graduate and it might come back. Or it could come back right as I'm about to start the perfect job.'"

To reduce the chances of recurrence, she decided to have a bilateral mastectomy. She would stay in New Mexico for the surgery and also undergo the subsequent chemotherapy treatments there. She took some solace in looking forward to visiting Gold and their home in Lyons between chemo treatments, which are scheduled every 21 days.

She realized she wouldn't be able to graduate in May 2014 as planned, but decided she wanted to try to take some classes during fall semester and called her UNC advisor, Geology instructor Byron Straw.

"I told him what was going on with me," she related. "He said, ‘Let's see if we can do something online for you for fall semester.' So he devised a directed study glacial environment class."

He also helped her find an online anthropology class, giving her six credits and part-time status.

Then she was both thrilled and heartbroken to find out she'd been selected to receive the Shropshire Geology Student scholarship, established by UNC Professor Emeritus of Geology Lee Shropshire and his wife, Carol, for full-time students.

She spoke with Straw, who said he would talk to the Shropshires, and she wrote them a thank-you letter explaining her situation and declining the scholarship because she was part-time.

The Shropshires responded, telling her they still wanted her to have the scholarship, and that they were waiving the full-time requirement.

"I thought, ‘Finally! Some good news.' That made me feel amazing," Glickstein said. "I feel really honored that Lee and Carol gave me the scholarship."

Glickstein took that good news into her surgery, but she says the pain and nausea caused by the surgery and chemo treatments make it hard to focus on studies.

"There are days when I don't want to think about anything but just ‘get me through this day,'" she said.

But on other days, she was missing being in the classroom with the other students, and yearned to visit the community in Colorado that she calls home.

Then in mid-September, she heard about flooding in Colorado.

Lyons was one of the hardest hit communities as devastating flashfloods washed out roads and bridges and destroyed homes and businesses. Glickstein waited anxiously for word from Gold.

She said that not knowing what was happening was really hard: Gold was without phone service until evacuating and again when he returned to their home to work on cleanup.

Because of her compromised immune system, and the presence of bacteria and mold in flooded areas, she doesn't expect to be able to return to Lyons until spring. She still has chemo and radiation ahead of her, and has one more surgery scheduled for summer 2014.

She plans to be back at UNC that fall, ready to finish the last courses in the classroom, then looks forward to starting her new career.

"Just because I have to give up control for a while doesn't mean I'm going to give up school. I'm in the fight of my life," she said. "But if I win this fight I know I can graduate, because then I can do anything."

- UNC News Service