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Cancer survivors stress health tests

“I cried. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t want to tell my kids, I was afraid of hurting them,” said Kelli Boyd, nurse assistant and nursing major at OCCC.

Boyd is just one of many survivors of cancer. In 2008, there were close to 12 million men and women in the U.S. battling cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Boyd said her uterine cancer was discovered in 2009 during a hysterectomy performed for other reasons.

“It was stage one, uterine cancer. There were a lot of different options for treatment I could go through. And we were discussing them when I ended up in the emergency room.”

Boyd’s said her doctors found a growth on her ovary and said they did not think it would be anything to worry about. But it was. The doctors biopsied the growth, and a week later, Boyd received a call. The growth was cancerous.

“I just dropped the phone and fell to my knees. My options had just vanished. I didn’t want chemo, or radiation therapy, I’ve seen what it does to my patients,” she said.

“It’s terrifying. Part of you just wants to give up, to say, ‘I have the C. It’s all over.’ But I said, no, I’m going to fight. And I’ll fight until the day I die.”

Boyd said she began treatment with a trial medication three times a week, and went into remission after a year. She said the entire time, she hadn’t told her children.

“I just kept thinking what if this doesn’t work? That was the scariest part. How will I take care of my kids?” she said. “What I thought I’d had a lifetime to do, I suddenly didn’t. And it really put life into perspective.”

That shift in perspective comes with battling cancer, said Michelle Hendricks, cancer survivor.

Hendricks’ son attended OCCC up until his untimely death in a head on collision in late 2010, she said.

Hendricks said she and her family were visiting Texas, six weeks after the loss of her son, when she discovered a tumor in her breast.

“At the doctor’s office, I felt I’d already figured out it was cancer,” she said. “When they asked me if I wanted to call anyone, I said no.

“It was devastating.  I was worried more about my family than I was about myself.”

Hendricks’ tumor was over four centimeters, roughly the size of a tennis ball, she said.

“And it’s like, ‘how do you miss that? How do you miss something that large?’  she said.

Hendricks said she received a lot of support from friends and family as she began and continued her fight with cancer.

“I took it as another challenge, another way to get closer to God, to rely on him.”

Hendricks said she believes stress also played a role in her cancer.

Stress, and the need to prioritize life around the sources of it, was what led up to English Professor Stephen Morrow’s cancer diagnosis, he said. Morrow was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007.

“Once you have the ‘C’ word in your life, it changes things,” he said.

Morrow said he went for radiation therapy, and said he knew his chances were good, as it was an early diagnosis.

“But I knew that the relationship between me and my body needed to change. I believe that when we get that ill, our body is speaking to us.”

Morrow said it was a wake-up call, that made him realize how much more attention he needed to pay to his health.

“As a father of three, I got so busy just taking care of things, that it was very easy…to let (my) body and health slip off the radar.”

Morrow urges others not to do the same.

“All those basic truths of health don’t matter to us until we hit a serious illness that says, ‘Hey, stupid.’ You have to take care of yourself.”

Preventative measures against cancer are widely known, Hendricks said, but all too often ignored.

“There are a lot of things we already hear, that we don’t pay attention to.” she said.

“One thing that really gets left out of the preventative treatment program is having your hormone levels checked,” she said.

“Not all cancers are hormone driven, but many are. If the hormones are in balance, the cancer doesn’t grow.”

Boyd said she urged others to perform self-examinations.

“You know your body better than anyone else. If something is wrong, if something feels wrong, go to your doctor. If he or she won’t listen, go to another, and another. Keep going ‘til you find a doctor that will listen,” she said.

As of today, Hendricks and Morrow are both in remission. Boyd’s situation is less certain. At her last test two weeks ago, she got a positive result.

“We’re going (back) in a couple of weeks to do some more tests, and see if the cancer’s come back, or if it’s an issue with the lab.”

Boyd, Morrow and Hendricks all said in various ways that cancer brings with it the realization that time is precious. Hendricks said she urges others not to waste time.

“People matter. Memories matter. Things don’t matter as much. Life is about the legacy, what you leave behind, and you’re always making memories. The only question is, are you making good memories, or bad?”

To contact Jeremy Cloud, email editor@occc.edu.