Hi Everyone! Today I am pleased to present a guest post from my business partner/aunt Debbie. After my dad’s scare this year, cancer has been ever present in our minds, and my aunt is no stranger to this terrible disease. As a child, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent significant treatment including surgeries and radiation to survive. My grandmother often told my brother and me stories about the tribulations the family endured and encouraged us to show kindness and compassion toward others regardless of their circumstances. In the 70s, a cancer diagnosis did not always receive the same rallying support cry it does today. My grandparents nearly lost their home paying for medical bills–an ongoing problem which has yet to change, and with no Go Fund Me or social support system, it meant sacrifices and long hours working multiple jobs all while caring for an ill child. In some working class, religious areas like where my grandparents called home, neighbors and friends justified their often cruel behavior behind the guise of religious piety, claiming cancer was a misfortune brought on by the family’s failure to to be Christian enough or to show their praise to God. Rather than offer any help, they shied away from my family and considered them social pariahs deserving of whatever happened. Even the less religious were content to delight in the suffering of my grandparents and aunt, often pulling unspeakably awful pranks or spreading rumors that Debbie was mentally deranged or contagious. My aunt watched as all her play friends were quickly ushered behind closed doors, leaving her alone in a time when she was most vulnerable. Now, we send money, love, and prayers, even to strangers, but then, a person’s closest friends would abandon them. And so for today’s post, Debbie wanted to talk about her upbringing as well as her own cancer experience and how it changed her.
Growing up wasn’t bad. We weren’t rich but we had food on the table. At times things were tough but my sister and I appreciated everything we got. We were taught manners, how to behave when we were out in public and to respect our elders. “When respect is given, respect is returned,” my parents taught me. My sister and I really did not get along when we were younger because she knew how to piss me off and enjoyed every minute of it, but we had each other’s back no matter what.
Now when I was growing up, I was your everyday kid. Yes, I even ate dirt. I know, you’re saying . . . “Why?” The answer is simple, I wanted to see what it tasted like. Note: Don’t try this; it’s gritty and has no taste. My pop (my dad’s dad) was a farm manager and I loved spending time up there. I can tell you how many acres, how many pastures, orchards, barns and what each one was used for and when. My other grandparents, I loved them as well except their house scared me especially at night and that is why I did not spend a night there unless my sister was with me. Note: It was my sister who made me afraid of the dark because she locked me in the bathroom and turned out the light. These were the things we did to one another when we were growing up.
I guess I was around 7 or 8 when I started having headaches so my mom took me to the doctor and I was treated for migraines. I had to have drops up the nose every night before going to bed. I had to sling my head over the side of the bed and two drops on each side then I had to stay like that for about 15 to 20 minutes then a heating mask and this is how I slept, until my headaches started to make me sick.
One rainy day, I think it was right after Memorial Day, I woke crying because my head hurt so damn bad. I went into my parents room and sat on my daddy’s lap while my mom was getting a hold of my doctor which he told her to get me to St. Agnes hospital. Once at the hospital, testing began and I was also put on a liquid diet because I could not keep anything on my stomach. Everyone knows that hospital food sucks but being put on a liquid diet made it even worse. However, I found a way around that one because I would call my mom and ask her to bring me a hamburger, fries and a chocolate shake when she came over. “Ha! There’s your liquid diet.”
Testing continued and nothing. They could not find what was causing my headaches. Then one day while sitting in my room waiting for my mom, in walked two doctor’s. The one said he was Dr. Crosby and that he was there to take me down to have another test called an angiogram. Dr. Crosby was a tall thin man with white hair and glasses. I told Dr. Crosby that I would have to go out and call my mom and tell her so she would not worry when she came over and I was not there. After I came back, we left and we were talking all the way.
I did not know I was in the OR but I was asked to jump up on the table, lay on my back and to take my right arm out of my night gown. I woke and I was in my room and my mom and sister were there. My right arm was bandaged and hurt like hell to move it. I tried to tell my mom that I had stitches but she did not believe me.
That evening my daddy came over and Dr. Crosby showed up and took my parents out in the hall . He introduced himself and told them that he was taking over my case and that things were going to be done his way. He also told them the results of what was found and that he was going to have me transferred to Mercy Hospital. I had tumor on my brain. My daddy did not care for Dr. Crosby much because he was no longer in charge besides, my daddy was authoritative and bossy and he told you what to do, you did not tell him.
The next day, my suitcase was packed and we headed to Mercy Hospital. I laid in the back seat of the car because my head hurt and my daddy stopped and got me a hamburger, fries and a chocolate shake which I ate along the way. Once we arrived at Mercy Hospital and were getting all checked in, we went up to my room; there were three beds there and they looked like big metal cribs. A few minutes later, a nurse showed up and said that her name was Rosemary and that she was there to take me to have my stitches out. I looked at my mom and said, “I told you so.”
A little while later, Dr.Crosby showed up and asked, “How was your hamburger, fries and chocolate shake?” We really did not know what to say because we were wondering how in the hell he found out. A few more tests were ran, I guess to confirm what was found and they hurt like hell too. Now Dr. Crosby was really smart man but this case puzzled him because if he removed the entire tumor, it would have left me a vegetable or it would have killed me so, he sat down with several other surgeons to discuss my case and they all came to the conclusion to remove half of it, shoot radiation into my spinal cord during the operation and then more radiation treatments upon release.
Operation day came, and I was told I died on the operating table. About 6 to 7 hours later I woke up in the pediatric ICU laying under an oxygen tent, a 5 pound sand bag strapped to my left leg for an IV drip and all kinds of tubes and wires coming from my head. Dr. Crosby would come in and check out my tubes and stuff and he would joke with me saying, “With all these wires, I could make an overseas call if I wanted to.”
My grandmother was sitting in the chair when he came in and said, “You don’t remember me do you?” He replied, “I thought the last name Skipper sounded familiar.” Dr. Crosby was the doctor that worked on my daddy’s older brother when he was thrown from a car during an accident but he could not save him.
The entire time that I was in the ICU my mom stayed with me. At first, she would sleep in an old broken recliner and then they brought in a cot, and when they would bring my meals, they brought her something as well. We would watch TV which was not allowed in the ICU but, Dr. Crosby pulled some strings.
Slowly but surely, things started to be removed and they worked on getting me to sit up. Walking was something different because my left leg was numb from being strapped down. When they did get me up and moving, I surprised my daddy and sister when they came in and saw me sitting in a chair.
My bed was moved and I was facing the nurse’s station. My mom was about to go to the bathroom one day but she did not get a chance to finish her sentence when I had a seizure and died again. Code Blue was called and crash carts and people came from everywhere. I was brought to and I went to say something and my speech was backwards. No one could understand what I was trying to say and they did not know if this was permanent or temporary so, my sister went down to the gift shop and got me some paper and a pen and told me that if I needed something, write it down.
I was frustrated as all hell because I had the thoughts in my head but they would not come out right. So I would jot down simple words and sound out each letter and vowel and then put them together. My mom heard me muttering something and asked what I was doing. I wrote that I was writing words down and sounding them out. I was determined that I was going to get this turned around.
I was taken out of the ICU and put into a private room and I remember the turkey sandwich they brought me. It tasted so good. A few days after, I was released and said my goodbyes to all my nurses and then it was homeward bound but that was when my treatments started. I went through 26 Cobalt radiation treatments which not only caused me to permanently lose my hair but also caused a rapid growing cyst that had to be removed and sent me back into the hospital 18 months later.
I had to wear a scarf or a wig. You put an adult style wig on a nine year old and see what happens. I was made fun of in a lot more ways than one. The people I thought were my friends really did not want anything to do with me so, I learned to play by myself.
Moving forward, I had a ton of office visits to Dr. Crosby because he wanted to keep a check on how everything was progressing like walking a straight line for balance and staring at a picture on the wall and not blinking. That part was hard to do but once I got used to it, not blinking was easy. I was 13 and my mom got a call from Dr. Crosby telling her the half of the tumor that was left was now totally gone. He did not know where it went or if it would come back but it was gone.
I have been cancer free for 41 years and have been wearing a wig for 45 years. I would make a little joke saying, “I died twice and God thought that I was to damn ornery and that is why he sent me back.”
I am still the same person that I have always been. I have not changed, the people I thought were my friends are the one’s that changed. I was told that people who had a brain tumor were dangerous to be around and this came from an adult of one of my so called friends. Then I was told by a relative that I was contagious.
If you have cancer, you have to be strong and never give up because you’re in for a long uphill battle and cancer will be lurking around the corner with every step you make. Cancer is a wicked disease. It is mean, nasty and shows no mercy regardless of what your age is, so you have to be meaner, nastier and down right ruthless. I am not going to lie to you because there are going to be times that you can’t do this anymore. From me to you—DON’T DO THIS! Cancer thrives on weakness and when it sees the slightest little bit, it will take its first bite, don’t let it get that first bite. Take a deep breath, dig your heels in a little deeper and then fight like you have never fought before and you will win that battle. Then you can kick cancer off the hill and say . . . See ya!