Sara Hart’s 84-year life has been anything but easy.
Hart’s husband of 61 years, Gerald, endured heart problems before passing away in April 2013.
The couple’s two children, Stephen and Suzanne, lost their lives prior to that.
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Stephen succumbed to pulmonary cancer at age 40; more recently, Suzanne was 56 when killed in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver.
“Losing both your children is horrible,” said Hart, her voice breaking and her eyes welling with tears. “But I still have a life to live.”
And then six years ago, Hart was diagnosed with diffuse idiopathic pulmonary neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia — better known as DIPNECH — an extremely rare form of chronic obstructive lung disease. From 1992 through 2015, approximately 100 cases had been reported in the United States.
DIPNECH tends to target non-smoking middle-aged women. They, in turn, are left with symptoms such as cough, dyspnea and wheezing.
The cancer is caused by second-hand smoke and affects almost exclusively women. Hart has never been a smoker, though she was employed 35 years by General Motors in Indianapolis — starting as a secretary and working her way up to supervisor before retiring. Smoking was allowed in her workplace.
Hart, a grandmother of three, experienced countless emotions when first diagnosed while living in Spring Hill, Florida, a half-hour’s drive north of Tampa.
Shock, fear and anger are natural reactions.
Only in Hart’s case, there happened to be more questions than answers.
“I had this terrible problem with my lungs, and a doctor sent me to Tampa General Hospital to find out what was going on,” Hart said. “This doctor was very, very good. He thought he found the incarcerated tumors that caused my problem.”
“He knew that it was called DIPNECH. That was the first place I had heard about it. When you hear the word cancer, you go crazy. I was scared to death. But the doctors said, ‘We think we can handle it, and you may never die from that. You may die from something else.’”
Hart, whose children graduated from Ben Davis High School, moved back to Indianapolis in July 2015. She had been born in Bargersville and graduated from Center Grove High School in 1950. She moved back to live with and care for a longtime friend in his southside home.
Earlier this year, he died after suffering a heart attack.
As recently as July, Hart was informed she was in good health.
The months since have been more difficult, however.
Following the passing of her friend, Hart fell down some stairs and suffered slight brain damage. She spent a week in the trauma unit at Methodist Hospital at Indiana University Health and two more weeks at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana.
She is currently staying in an assisted living facility.
Among those closest to Hart is Johnson County resident Diana Craft, a 1969 Ben Davis graduate who was close friends with Suzanne both as a child and into their adult years. Hart lost a daughter. Craft’s mother, Naomi Miller, passed away five years ago at the age of 89.
Craft, who lost a 9-year-old grandson, Carter Means, to Crohn’s Disease in October, has formed a closeness with Hart that can best be categorized as mother-daughter.
“I look up to Sara as a second mother and admire her for all she’s been through,” Craft said. “I can call her with any of my problems, even when she was living in Florida. She would console me and guide me. Sometimes you feel like your life is over.
“Sara is a wonderful woman who would do anything for anybody. Life’s not fair, and God will give you no more than you can handle.”
THE HART FILE
Name: Sara Hart
Date diagnosed: 2010
Type of cancer: Diffuse idiopathic pulmonary neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia (Dipnech)
Treatment: One shot of Sandostatin and one Vitamin B12 shot every 28 days
What cancer taught me
“I love caring for other people. Doing things for other people. By doing that, I feel I’m a better person by not worrying about the cancer like I did when I first got it.”
How cancer changed me
“I’m not able to do some of the things I used to do because I don’t have the same ‘get up and go’. You get worn down easier.”
What I would tell someone just diagnosed with cancer
“I would tell them to try to think it’s not as bad as they might think. I would try to encourage them to go ahead and live their life the best they can.”