Educator deals with cancer three times

Lois Herbel teaches at Flowerfield in Harrisburg in 2018. Herbel, after a lifetime in the classroom volunteered at Flowerfield after retiring from teaching to help students see what school was like in the late 1800's.

Lois Herbel of Gering has been in education since she was 21. After retirement in 2004, she did consulting work for the Nebraska Department of Education and helped teach fourth graders during the historic Flowerfield School event at the Banner County Museum.

It was during a session at Flowerfield when Lois started on her journey dealing with cancer.

“I was visiting with one of the volunteers at the school when she asked how I liked her hair,” Lois said. “I said I liked it because it was styled differently. Then I found out it was her real hair that was growing back after chemotherapy. And that got me thinking about how long it had been since I’d had a mammogram.”

A routine exam in 2016 discovered a non-cancerous cyst, but doctors wanted to keep an eye on it. After two months, it has grown and a biopsy was scheduled. The results came back cancerous.

“My husband Alvin was with me when I got the news,” she said. “The support is so critical to anybody with any kind of cancer. And he was with me for every appointment and procedure.”

Because the tumor was small and at stage one, a lumpectomy, along with a number of tests, was scheduled.

With tumors that small, a blood test usually isn’t done. But Dr. Vince Bjorling, who handled the procedure, decided to include one.

“It was so glad he did a blood test and my breast cancer was actually a blessing in disguise,” Lois said. “My blood test came back with a white count at 20,000 when it should have been 10,000.”

After more tests, it was discovered she had stage three kidney cancer that was completely unrelated to her breast cancer.

“I had no symptoms or any idea it was there,” Lois said. “If I hadn’t been checked for breast cancer, they never would have found the kidney cancer until it was too late.”

Lois had a lumpectomy at the same time one of her kidneys was removed. A third cancer was also found at that time, chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

“I was told that if you have cancer, that’s the one you want,” she said. “It’s in remission and it’s never been a problem. Dr. Bjorling told me I was a unique patient because of the three cancers I had, none of them were related.”

Having a strong support system is vital to going through the cancer process. Lois said she was terrified when she came in for a CAT scan. But a voice over her shoulder gave her encouragement and reassurance about the test. It turned out to be a former student who’s now a radiology tech.

“I was so fortunate to have the doctors I had,” she said. “They did so much more than just the routine stuff. They went above and beyond. If cancer can ever be a wonderful experience, I had one. But I had to get past the misconception that cancer is always a death sentence. I had to learn to live for today.”

Every August, Camp Hope is scheduled at Camp Kiwanis for cancer survivors because as Lois said, once you’ve had cancer the journey is never over. It’s a journey that lasts a lifetime.

“If you don’t have faith, I don’t know how you get through it,” she said.

Through her cancer experience, Lois met a new group of friends that were also going through their own cancer journey. Because that journey is into the unknown, the group supports each other no matter what happens or the results of any future diagnosis.

“Through that group, I’ve discovered there are people that are facing even bigger challenges than I am,” she said. “I don’t have a thing to complain about.”

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at

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