You'd never know it by simply meeting her or being a student in her class, but six years ago, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater assistant professor Heather Neimeier had her life turned upside down when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
"It is life changing. The first thing that went though my mind was my son," Neimeier said.
Neimeier's symptoms started mild -- tingling and numbness in her hands. After a visit with a neurologist and an MRI, she suddenly found herself battling a brain tumor.
Despite an unsuccessful operation, Neimeier is back in the classroom today because a radiation treatment was successful. But the tumor is still there -- only smaller and growing slower.
"The difficulty for me is that once you have cancer, for a lot of us, it's not over -- there's no cure," Neimeier said.
Neimeier considers herself a survivor, and she continues to find support and guidance at Gilda's Club of Madison. It's a place where people can gather -- even children and families -- to talk, to educate and to comfort. Patients, survivors, family and friends are all invited, and it's support that can make a world of difference.
"They're more likely to have successful outcomes," said Lannia Stenz, executive director of Gilda's Club of Madison. "Their stress is going to be reduced. They're going to be able to better deal with financial aspects of what's going on in their life -- all of those pieces come together for better quality of life."
Neimeier said Gilda's has changed her life and has given her a positive outlook on her life with cancer.
"It's changed how I deal with the cancer," Neimeier said. "For me, having cancer is a bit like standing on a trap door. It feels like I'm living my life -- and I have a wonderful life -- and I know that every time I go in for a scan, my life could change again, and I could fall down that trap door."
This survivor, however, knows that if that trap door were to ever open again, she'd be greeted by the iconic red doors of Gilda's Club, behind which waits a community to help her through it.
"I feel like it has provided me with a community that will be there for me, and my family," she said.
All of the services Gilda's offers -- from professionally licensed support groups, to family dinners, child care, even yoga and children's karate -- are free. It's why donations are vital to keep Gilda's going, and it's why they're very excited about the 2012 Gilda's Run on Oct. 21.
Gilda's Club hopes to bring in more than $35,000 to provide these important services to cancer patients, survivors and their families. All of the funds raised will stay in the Madison area.
For more information about the Gilda's Run, go to http://www.gildasclubmadison.org/.