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Readers remember battles with cancer

By Victoria Advocate
Oct. 5, 2012 at 5:05 a.m.
Updated Oct. 6, 2012 at 5:06 a.m.

Candy  and Norman Frady

"Project Pink"

Victoria Advocate,

Cancer Survivor Stories

He is greatly missed

Sam was a nurse and a cancer survivor. He and his wife raised three wonderful children. Their success in child rearing can be clearly seen in Victoria.

When Sam discovered he had cancer, he began to reflect on his life. The mistakes he had made - mistakes we all make - and he decided to turn his life over completely to God.

And his cancer disappeared. From that time on, people would see Sam at nursing homes, at Christ Kitchen or repairing someone's house problems in his rental homes.

But thousands of people in Victoria saw Sam standing on a corner holding a sign that said "Abortion Causes Breast Cancer!" or a horrible picture of a baby that had been brutally murdered by an abortion or a "Pray for Obama to Change!" sign.

He handed out thousands of pieces of literature and put them on cars. He was a gentle but fierce debater, stuffed envelopes, addressed newsletters, attended meetings at the Gabriel Project and Life and Family Advocates and he often prayed in a chapel to end the killing.

We will never know in this life how many babies Sam saved from abortion, how many mothers he saved from breast cancer or how great an impact his dedicated service had on our culture.

Eight years after being cleared of cancer, it came back. He left us peacefully last month and is greatly missed. Thank you, Sam for a life well-lived.

Your friends in the pro-life field.

Sincerely, Wm. Paul Tasin, Victoria



A year in the life of Candy Frady

I would like to tell you about the year 2009 in my wife's life. It all started on Feb. 3. We were sitting in her doctor's office when we heard those fateful words, "You have cancer." Our hearts dropped. We did not know what to say. A million thoughts were running through my head at a thousand miles an hour. We had so much running through our heads that we barely heard the next words: "We can beat this!"

The doctor went over our options, including mammosite therapy. This basically means that they remove the cancer spot (lumpectomy) and remove some extra tissue from around where the cancer was so that a small "balloon" can be inserted. Twice a day a small radioactive "seed" is inserted. This process only takes a week to complete, versus regular radiation treatments, which would take about three months. We chose this option. On March 3 she had her surgery, and they removed several lymph nodes to test as well. The doctor came out and told me the cancer had not spread and she was ready to start her therapy. I took her to her first and last appointments and her best friend Donna took her to the rest. We went on about our lives and things were going well.

A few weeks later, her OB/GYN found a cyst on her one of her ovaries. It was decided to perform a full hysterectomy to make certain that cancer would not have a chance there and scheduled the surgery for the end of July. On July 5, Donna, the one who took her to her radiation appointments, passed away unexpectedly. This crushed Candy, as they were very close.

At 7:03 a.m. on July 16, Candy called me with the news that no parent should ever receive: My 19-year-old son, Jake, had been killed in a head-on collision that morning. Candy and Jake were very close. We both took this exceptionally hard.

Two weeks later Candy had her hysterectomy, along with a gall bladder being removed and a hernia repair. I stayed by her side for the next six weeks, making her do her dreaded walks and tending to her every need. She was not a good patient.

On Christmas Eve, her baby sister went to her doctor for a mammogram. A few weeks later, she heard those dreaded words, "You have cancer." We helped her and her family through every step of the way. We have both become very active in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. She is a Reach for Recovery Advocate, helping newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to learn the ins and outs of what will be going on and helping guide them along on their journey. I was named as the 2012 American Cancer Society East Texas Region Hero of Hope, and go around speaking of our journey and trying to convince people to get tested early. After all, early detection saves lives!

I am exceptionally proud to say that my wife Candy is a three -plus year cancer survivor, as is her sister.

I hope that this story will help people realize that they should not take any day for granted; we have grasped a new outlook on life because of our journey and appreciate every single day that we have.

Norman Frady, husband



Holding my hands

I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma during Christmas season 1993. I didn't realize at the time what a good gift it would turn out to be.

Before cancer, I tried to eat healthy and had decided that if I were stricken with cancer, I would never take any of those harsh chemicals in chemotherapy. However, when not one of the many pain medications worked to lessen the pain, I finally agreed to have a round of chemo. Back then, some of the newer drugs were not available, so I received a combination of four potent, cancer-killing chemicals combined into a four-hour drip into my veins. One of these was bright blue and derived from the purple coneflower, a wildflower. Since this regime helped me, it was the beginning of my love for wildflowers.

Back to "the drip." Immediately, the pain left with the first application of chemo. After several treatments, my hair thinned. This meant handfuls fell out on my pillow, at the dinner table, while showering, etc. I've always worn my hair quite simply, but the few remaining little strands were much too "simple," even for me, so I purchased some wigs. The first one was exactly how my hair used to be (never wore it). An undiscovered adventurous side appeared in me, and I enjoyed sporting various wigs: short red, dark kinky, long red (which was transformed into elaborate formal hair-dos) or long blond. And, yes, blondes do have more fun!

My husband never knew who would greet him when he came home!

The chemo, unfortunately, did not eliminate the grapefruit sized tumor in my abdomen, so radiation was required. Back in 1994, it was a completely different setup. I needed to completely disrobe and lie on this webbed, cold table. My feet were tightly secured as were my hands that were stretched up beyond my head. The attendant lined up the laser beams to the tattoos on my body. Each patient has unique positioning of tattoos which must line up with the machine before it would begin. The attendant darkened the room and left. This early machine was monster-sized and made all sorts of terrifying noises. I began trembling from fear and cold. I heard a stern voice from this window high up on the wall, "Mrs. Henneke, you must lie still before the treatment can start."

Finally, I sensed a higher presence holding my hands to calm me. I thanked the Lord and calmed down. Treatments were daily for a month. They left me weak, but still able to function.

About this time, Jackie Kenedy Onassis was also diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I am sure she was taken to very good doctors for her treatment, but, as you may remember, she died. This was very devastating for me and caused many questions about my own existence. Why would God take such a famous person and spare little old me? I concluded that my life was indeed a precious gift.

The radiation worked, and the tumor shrank. The cancer experience was a wake-up call to my husband and me. Since moving to Cuero, we hadn't taken any kind of vacation. My husband, an ex-Navy man, decided that a cruise would be relaxing and open up opportunities for us to see new parts of the world. Seeing how the rest of the world lives and its beauty continue to be extremely enjoyable gifts.

I was clear for a few years, but then the nHL came back in a different form, of which there are many. My oncologist explained that this form was easier to treat, but that no cure had yet been found. Over the ensuing years, I had numerous tumors - all in the abdomen and all inoperable. A new immunotherapy treatment was available, and I was administered several rounds of it over the years. The mental anguish and the physical discomforts were increasing.

If it hadn't been for a special gift, life would have turned out much different. I've always enjoyed of putting words on paper. In 1994, the DeWitt County Wildflower Association asked me to be in charge of publicity and keep DeWitt County's beautiful wildflowers in the news. This project gave me a reason to look forward to each new day: How could I get the word about DeWitt County's plentiful wildflowers out to the world? It was satisfying to work with the skilled photographers and knowledgeable people in the area. It was a gift and another reason for living.

The year 1998 was a particularly memorable year. I was diagnosed with yet another tumor, which did not respond well to treatment. Cuero endured the big flood. Our ranches were inundated with much devastation of property. Expecting my life to soon end, I began teaching my husband some cooking skills and housekeeping. You'd think a former research physicist with a master's degree in physics could learn how to sort dirty clothes and punch a few buttons on a washing machine.

But then, Harry began to feel ill himself, and I found myself rushing him to the ER in San Antonio quite often. Since his problem related to hematology, a small gift was that I could park in the same parking lot for both his visits and my treatments. Then the completely unexpected happened - my beloved husband died. This suddenly left me in charge of a herd of registered Simmental cattle scattered on five places. Everyone advised me to sell the cattle. However, fortunately, I took things slowly.

Now, having downsized to only two places, I find each day full of many unexpected blessings a few of which are witnessing the miracle of birth, being amazed by the intelligence of a cow and seeing the changing beauty of God's creation, especially the various wildflowers. Each day is a unique gift.

The modern radiation equipment is now quite different and much advanced. The treatments have finally successfully conquered the cancer challenge. The doctors have declared me "cured." Yes, indeed, life is a miraculous gift.

Dee Henneke, Cuero

Pain of cancer may be far worse

My name is Beverly Ledington, and I am a cancer survivor, age 79. All my family - mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins and sister-in-law - all died of cancer, so all my life, I dreaded it happening to me. And finally, at age 78, I had my usual yearly mammograms in April 2012, and I was asked back a week later for another one and an ultrasound and biopsy because of a suspicious spot in my left breast. Then they said it was cancer, stage 1, and on May 15, 2012, I had a lumpectomy. My surgeon, Dr. Hamilton, did such a good job that I was told I wouldn't need any treatments and put on a five-year pill. I'm so thankful I had no extenuating problems and I'm in good health again.

Now I have all the leftover bills to pay, and since we are without insurance other than Medicare, we will be doing that forever. I was an Avon rep for 10 years, and my husband was a security guard for more than 40 years, but we were never able to save any money. We have been married for 46 years, and without Charles, I would never have made it this far.

All you women who are afraid of the pain of a mammogram and haven't or won't have one, believe me, the pain of cancer and, maybe, death are far worse. I am glad my faith in God brought me through this.

Beverly A. Ledington, Victoria

The lump had cancer

I was 61 years old when I detected a lump in my breast. I had some lumps when I was younger and the doctor gave me some small pills to take and they went away, but he showed me how to check my breasts, so when I felt the lump I went to see him right away. He sent me for a mammogram, and it showed a lot of calcification in both breasts. They removed the lump and checked it along with some of my lymph nodes. The lump had cancer, but not the lymph nodes. They removed the breast, but I did not need any type of treatment. I was very lucky and thank God that I didn't have to go through a lot of treatments.

I am 86 years old and have no sign of cancer. I am very grateful to be free of cancer for all these years.

Virgie Vincent, Victoria

'Why me again?'

I wasn't scared when I was told I had cancer the first time, because I remembered how my late grandfather, Mr. Antonio Villarreal, lived his last few years with his cancer. He never complained of pain, never said he couldn't do things because of his illness. He worked every day until he passed away. We were blessed with a lot of people who took their time to be by our side and did not ask anything in return.

When our child was born, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My parents, Miguel and Olivia P. Villarreal, took my family and cared for them, although they had a house full of their own children, until I was able to come home from Galveston hospital. "Thank you!"

A few years later, I had trouble breathing and swallowing. It's thyroid cancer, the doctor said, three tumors and each one has its own different cancer. An operation follows and isolation for two weeks is needed for treatments. Doctors at DeTar Hospital tell me I will not be home for Mothers Day, but with the Lord's help and prayers from everyone, I'm home a few days early. During this time, we found out how people can come to your aid, help you with caring for your child and take you back and forth for checkups.

"Thank you," Nelda Garcia, you cared for our child as if she was your own and took her back and forth to school. Mary Nell Nance, "Thank you," for taking me to the doctor visits and treatments. "Thank you," Dr. Chen and Dr. Posada, you are great doctors. Jearldine Earl, Pat Trapp and Mr. Lionel Cardosa were always ready to help us. Thank you!

During a physical, a lump was found in my left breast. Dr. Rojas and DeTar staff, thanks for all you did for me, from the surgery to the treatments, the caring and helping my family. Our families and friends came to our aid again and again, showing us that when you least expect it, the Lord will send you wonderful people to lift your spirits up.

I could tell you about how scared I was, wondering if I would pull through and go home some, feeling weak, throwing up, losing my hair, asking, "Why me again?" and wanting to just scream, "No more treatments!" but with the support of our Lord, my husband, Abundio, daughter, Sandra Lee, and family and friends, I'm doing wonderful today, able to help our daughter in her sports (member of the Victoria Shining Stars Special Olympic Team). I still have my checkups every year and I'm glad I'm here to tell these wonderful persons, "Thank you!" and "I love you!"

Maria Elena Sandoval, Victoria

But it was OK

I am a cancer survivor. In 1961, I moved to Key West, Fla., with my husband and two small children. In 1963, I noticed a small lump on my right side of my neck. I went to a doctor on a base - my husband was in the Navy at the time - and he ran a test and said I would have to have surgery. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had surgery and then they told me I had to have another one in one month, which I did. They removed the rest of my thyroid glands and parathyroid glands. It affected my nervous system and I was on a lot of medications. They told me not to even lift a broom or do anything. There is no way that I could do that with a husband and small children. In 1967, my cancer came back. I had surgery at Lackland Air Force Base Hospital. Had one surgery and had to have another one month later. I almost didn't make it that time. But you can't give up. I was determined to make it. I had my children to raise and, by that time, my husband and I were separated. I had several treatments and went before the tumor board and the doctors said the best solution for me was to just have surgery when it appears again. They said that I lived too far away and that the treatments would make me too sick. So I said OK. It was a slow-growing type cancer. They had told me at the time my bones would change and I would develop more health problems. And they were right. In 1975, another small lump came up and I had to have it removed at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. But it was OK.

Since then I have had both knees replaced, osteoarthitis, degenerative disease in the lower back and it has moved up my back and into my shoulders and neck. And I have heart problems, too. I take 28 pills a day to live. So I still can't give up.

One of my doctors who treated me at Lackland AF Base Hospital wrote me a few years ago and said he was working at a research hospital in Iowa and ran across my name. He was kind to write an article in the medical newspaper about me and he sent me a copy of it. I thought that was so nice. No one expected me to live very long. I was 23 at the time and now I'm 71. So I am very thankful for the military hospital and their wonderful doctors back then. I have my good days and bad days, but I am still working part time. So that is my story. I love my family very much.

Gloria J. Henderson Spencer

It is getting better

My name is Rudy and in August of 2011 I was diagnosed with cancer on my left tonsil, stage three. I went through difficult times with chemo and radiation but thanks to God and all the prayers from friends and relatives, I managed to get through it. It is still difficult to eat and swallow but it is getting better. I just want to thank Dr. Sabbath, Dr. Chen, Dr. Richards and all their staff for the great work.

Rudy Ortiz

Courage in face of adversity

Courage, admiration, determination and grace in the face of adversity are words that come to mind when I think of my sister-in-law Elaine Mayer's battle with cancer at age 47.

Elaine faced radiation, chemotherapy and major surgery after she was diagnosed with cancer about five years ago. Keeping a 24-hour chemo infusion by her side for weeks at a time did not stop Elaine.

She continued to work her full-time job and played the organ at her church on the weekends, her second job. She even went on an Alaskan cruise with her family in the middle of her treatments. What a great time she had.

Despite the side effects of her cancer treatments and the difficult recovery from surgery, Elaine rarely complained and woke up each day determined to beat this disease. She displayed courage although her future was uncertain. Giving up was never an option. Her positive attitude never wavered.

Elaine is involved in the Pink Firetruck Program, which visits cancer victims. She generously gives her time to others since she understands what it is like to deal with cancer.

Elaine's strong faith in God was clearly evident each and every day. Her way of dealing with this adversity is a true testament of her strength and faith as well as an example to others.

Elaine, I admire you so very much. You are a survivor!

Lynette Myers, Victoria

Charles Michalec, colon cancer, 1985. Evelyn Michalec, colon cancer, 1991. Life savers: Dr. Bauknight, Dr. Bill Wagner.

Charles and Evelyn Michalec, Hallettsville

You will get through this

My name is Umbelina Lisa Saenz Flores. I am 46 years of age, and I live here in Victoria. I am a paralegal for the Law Offices of Bernard T. Klimist. I have worked for Mr. Klimist for 20 years this October. I remarried on 1-1-2010. My husband is Pino Flores, a sales manager for Palm Harbor. Between he and I we have five children. My oldest daughter turned 19 on Aug. 23 and my youngest turned 12 on Aug. 31. In my life, like many others, I have dealt with many ups and downs. I had a good childhood and my parents did a great job in raising me. I graduated in 1984 from Stroman High School, with honors at the top of my class.

I married at 19 and divorced six months later. I remarried a few years later and spent the next 16 years dealing with a husband who was an alcoholic, and because of his habits, I pretty much raised my children by myself. I supported our household. My youngest daughter is a twin. When my twins were born, no one could have prepared me for what I would have to go through for the next five months in order to care for him ... 24-7. My son was born with an illness referred to as Partial Trisomy 13 and, at 5 and 1/2 months, because of the effects of his illness, he passed away. As hard as things were, I had to push on. After all, I still had two children I had to support and take care of. My then-husband just buried himself further into his bottle of beer. I worked hard and pushed myself. I became a workaholic. In 2006, I decided I'd finally had enough and filed for divorce. Starting all over was going to be hard, but it was all for the best. My children had been exposed to enough turmoil. So we moved out of our home, leaving everything behind, except for my clothes and what belonged to my children. We moved into an apartment and started all over again.

I've always been the kind of person who was always on the go. My job is stressful and busy at all times. Some time in 2009, I started having severe acid reflux. I visited the doctor and was given a prescription for Nexium. Over the next year I started to have symptoms of ... "just not feeling good." I was having trouble eating, and swallowing food became painful to the point where I was avoiding anything solid. From not eating and feeding my body, I became weak and tired, and one day, just broke down and realized there was something really wrong with me. So I made an appointment to see my doctor. He ordered an upper GI, gave me results that indicated there was "something" there, just not really sure, so he referred me to a gastroenterologist for further treatment. Upon consulting with the gastroenterologist, he agreed that the upper GI showed "something" but was inconclusive, so he ordered an endoscopy. All the while, I'm thinking, it's probably just erosion from my acid reflux. I truly was not prepared for the news I was about to get. While still under from the twilight meds given in order to perform the endoscopy, I came to and saw my husband Pino by my bedside ... with a very somber look on his face. He held my hand and, being the strong person he is, broke the news to me and told me that the endoscopy had detected a tumor in my stomach at the opening where the stomach meets the esophagus, and that the doctor was more than sure that it was malignant. I would have to wait another three days before I could get confirming results. I was kind of numb for a bit, but could only think about how the family was taking the news. The doctor then came in and gave me his rendition of the news and in the midst of all of that, also informed me that my labs indicated that I was severely anemic due to the lack of nutrition. So, he kept me overnight and ordered a few pints of blood for me. He assured me that everything would be OK. The following Monday, I met with my regular doctor who confirmed that the tumor was malignant.

Over the next two weeks, between my husband and my doctors, numerous and continuous attempts were made to get me in for a consultation at MD Anderson. My condition was dire. I was on a liquid diet and my doctors were really concerned about my condition and rapid weight loss. I needed to lose weight, unfortunately, this was not the way to do it. Finally, after much harassment, I was given an appointment at MD Anderson. I consulted with Dr. Linus Ho, a specialist in the GI clinic at MD Anderson. He was up front and although very quiet spoken, he meant business. He was ready to go to work.

My cancer being at a stage 4, the next few months of my life would forever change me. [They were] a real test of my faith, the faith that I needed to have the energy and courage to fight.

I have attached a timeline of my treatment at MD Anderson that kind of gives you an idea of what I have been through since being diagnosed in August 2010. My type of cancer is called Adenocarcinoma. It is rare in women, being more common in men. When initially diagnosed, the cancer had spread into my lungs and abdominal lymph nodes. Since undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, the tumor in my stomach has been eradicated. Unfortunately, there were some lymph nodes in the abdominal area that could not be radiated because of their location. These are the lymph nodes that will continue to resurface. I've been told that chemotherapy treatment could be an indefinite thing for me. Radiation is not possible, and surgery is not even a consideration. I was in remission for about 10 months after the first rounds of treatment, and at this time, I am now about three to four months post chemotherapy treatment and in remission, not knowing how long it'll be before I have to back on chemotherapy or, for that matter, not knowing if it will spread elsewhere.

I truly believe that God has a plan for each and every one of us. Looking back on my life and the decisions that I have made in my life are all part of that plan. From losing my son to making the decision to divorce after 16 years to meeting the wonderful man who I am now married to. I see it as all of God's plan for me and where I am today. My outlook on life is different. I enjoy my work and what I do, but unlike the workaholic I once was, I no longer bury myself in my work. My boss has been very understanding of my condition and the limitations it has placed on me. I have a life outside of my job: a family who needs me, from my children to my husband to my parents, so on and so forth.

Being a patient at MD Anderson makes a person humble. Though there are thousands and millions of patients who have walked through those doors at MD Anderson, as you walk through the buildings through the different departments, you see others and realize that maybe your condition isn't the worst, that there are others much worse off than you, and that, in and of itself, gives you the strength and courage to push, to want to get better, to remind yourself, "you will get through this." I thank God for every waking moment of every day. Though my body hurts and aches and the fatigue is sometimes so overwhelming that I would rather stay in bed and sleep all day, I can't. I know there are people depending on me to do certain things.

My maternal grandfather has been a great inspiration. He suffered from leukemia. He too was a patient at MD Anderson and he beat it. He was in remission for more than 20 years and he never gave up. I have a great support system, from my husband to my children to my mom and my sister. They have been there every step of the way for me, setting aside their own personal lives to be here for me. And you need that. Otherwise, it's a lot easier to just give in and give up. For so long as I am able to wake up to another day, I will continue to live my life to its fullest. Because no one should take life for granted. Because you just never know what life will bring from one day to the next. I have made peace with much of the discord that I used to carry in my heart and whatever God has planned for me, well ... I've accepted that.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell my story.

Umbelina Lisa Saenz Flores, Victoria

To my co-survivor

To my co-survivor and husband:

The journey begins with two words

It's cancer!

It's replaced with five words

Am I going to die?

Hours become days, days become weeks and weeks become months

And all along you have someone help you co-survive.

How did you get so lucky

To have such a buddy

The ups, the downs

How can the world be so up when you are so down?

No boobs

The tubes

Bad Hair Days

And days you wish you had hair days

The days you can't eat

And the days any food would be a treat

It's not all as bad as it seems

You might be able to get into smaller jeans

How can someone love you?

When you look so ugly

But through it all they see the inner beauty

Why do I worry?

They love me in all my glory

A day, a week, a month, a year, how they fly

And where would I be without my guy

Love never ceases to amaze

How the time does race

Years and years go by

And I still have the love of my guy

The two little words change

I am going to beat this by dang

Two little words become three

I love you

Three little words become four

I'm going to survive

Because you are by my side

Loving you more and more each day

I don't know how to show it in any other way

You are my light, my inspiration and the reason to start each day

Others are just starting the journey

May they have the love of their honey

Thanks for helping with my fight

And taking away all the fright.

Terry McGuire

Meet Donna R. Maxey

Permit me to introduce you to my wife. Her name is Donna R. Maxey. She is the bravest, strongest, kindest and most positive person I have ever met.

In 1999, Donna became very ill. After being hospitalized the third time, emergency surgery was performed. Our fears were realized. It was colon cancer. A tumor was removed where the small intestine connects to the colon. Infection treatment and chemotherapy followed but chemotherapy was stopped due to sickness.

In 2001, our fears returned with a tumor in Donna's liver. Donna's health care was now transferred to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Surgery was again performed and 60 percent of her liver was removed and 17 days of critical recovery followed. Numerous returns to MD Anderson for testing followed for 11 years. MD Anderson doctors told us in 2011 that the colon cancer was likely behind us now.

In 2011, our fears returned with a new cancer. Donna's right breast was removed and our lives had changed but God blessed us with good tests again.

Our lives are now faced with the greatest challenge yet. Donna is now battling the worst of mental diseases - Alzheimer's. If we were asked the question which horrible disease would we rather have? We would pick cancer, for in cancer there is hope.

To end, we thank God for answered prayer and blessing our lives in the face of tragedy.

David L. Maxey

The best gift ever

The year 2002 started out as a very good year for me - I celebrated my 50th birthday in January, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with the renewal of our vows. We even went back to our hometown of Carrizo Springs to do the celebration there with all of our family and friends. I was planning and doing all of this and yet not knowing what was in store for me. But I do believe now that God had a hand in this and was watching over me. He knew that soon I was going to need the love and much needed support from my husband, my family and my friends.

I recall that shortly after my birthday, my gynecologist recommended that I have a mammogram. I still recall him telling me that he did not detect anything but to have one as a precaution. Since there was not a history of breast cancer in my family, I kept putting it off. After having the mammogram, I received my results telling me I needed to schedule an appointment with a surgeon. I had the biopsy done and the results and pathology report confirmed it - ductal carcinoma/breast cancer.

You always see it in the movies or hear about the patients sitting across from the doctor as he/she is telling the patient about the cancer. However, that was not the case with me - I was home alone having to hear that I had breast cancer. The hardest part for me was that I was told over the phone by the surgeon's nurse that I had breast cancer. I remember being frightened, disbelieving and seeing a vision of my death and asking, "Why me?" I kept asking God if this was my battle, my challenge and my lesson in life? I felt physically and emotionally drained, but I prayed a lot of my healing, courage and strength. I know now that the power of prayers helped me overcome everything that I was going through.

After an initial shock and after meeting with the doctors who would be treating me, I decided that I wanted to have a mastectomy and the right breast reconstructive surgery done at the same time. I knew that I did not want to wake up after surgery and look at myself and be missing part of me. Then aside from dealing with the pain due to surgery, I was told that I was also going to need chemotherapy. No matter what you hear about chemo there is nothing that can prepare you for the effects of it. Now, not only are you missing a part of your own body, but have to face the traumatic time when you lose your hair. Once again, with the support of my husband, family and friends I dealt with this too and realized that the beauty was not my hair, but my inner soul.

We all face cancer differently. I chose faith to help me. During the time I was going through all of this I had the best gift ever. I had God giving me the strength through his love. I also had prayers and support and from all my family, relatives, friends and all my co-workers at both Hopkins Academy and Alimento Catering. I also had the best local doctors - Dr. Peter Rojas, Dr. Gary Branfman and Dr. Ahmad Qadri - helping me on the way to my recovery.

I learned how to live for each day, to have hope for tomorrow and to never give up. I hope that this offers hope to others so they too can discover and know that there is life after cancer. I also learned that from the time that I was diagnosed with breast cancer and with each day that passes, I am a survivor. I am no longer a cancer victim because the victory is mine!

Diana Trevino, 10 years cancer survivor

Making the Survivor Lap

One of the biggest reasons my dad Gordon DeLoach does Relay for Life is that he is a survivor. Thirteen years ago, he was diagnosed with asbestosis and given three years to live. He has proven that the doctors are not God and has since battled prostate, colon and skin cancer. My dad was determined that he was going to drive himself to all of his treatments and has continued to work through everything. There were many days after his radiation that he would have to sit in his truck after treatment and cry because the pain was so bad, but he would go home and rest a little and off to work he would go. He always said he had to work so he could have money to buy his grandchildren milk and cookies. The grandchildren are the joy of his life.

Dad continues working, although his step is a little slower. His radiation for the prostate cancer has not been nice to his hips. He may not make a lot of laps at the relay, but he will somehow find enough strength to complete his Survivor Lap, with Mom right there with him.

Being a daddy's girl, I am so amazed with how awesome and strong he is. He continues to struggle, but is determined to survive. People telling him he can't only makes him want to try harder. His pride keeps him from asking for help or taking a helping hand, although he knows he has us all here if he needs us. He always says he has to do this by himself. No matter what, he always thinks he needs to help others because they are worse off than he is. He has a big heart and loves to help others. Keeping going is helping him survive. Survive because he loves us and wants to spend more time with us. I am so blessed and lucky to be able to call him my dad.

Relay for Life gives you a chance to see how wonderful it is to be a survivor, allows you to see that you are not alone and together may make a stand fighting cancer one step at a time. No matter what, "I'm gonna love you through it!"

Gordon DeLoach's Daughter

Life - Interrupted

In July 2006 I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Five days after my 32nd birthday, I had a modified radical mastectomy. Why me? I thought to myself. I'm too young, I eat right, and I live a healthy lifestyle! I even nursed both of my children, the youngest just four years prior.

Following surgery I survived six months of "dose dense" chemotherapy. My oncologist prescribed three other chemo "cocktails" with the traditional AC-T regimen. With the help of 40 growth factor injections, my body was able to tolerate the "poison." My body trembled, my bones ached, and I had terrible fevers and night sweats. I never want to go through that again. After many secondary infections and blood transfusions, I completed the hard chemotherapy.

For the first time in my life, I did not care about my appearance. Some days it was a good day just to be strong enough to get out of bed and walk. A majority of the time I just existed like a poisoned rat. All I could do was breathe - I stayed home and laid in bed or on the couch. While my husband worked and the kids were at school, I stayed there in the silence with just the chiming of the clock on the wall counting the hours of that day. Television and radio did not appeal to me, neither did talking on the phone. I felt like death; all I wanted was silence. Many days I did not eat or drink unless someone fed me. All the energy from my body was gone. Each day I woke early in the morning hoping to have a better day as the nurses said would come - many days it didn't. I was grateful to my co-workers for donating to me all the time off I needed to recover.

It was hard for my young children to understand what was happening to me. My husband cooked, did laundry and tried to keep a sense of normalcy in the house, all the while keeping up with his demanding job.

There were times that I was too weak to even feed myself. I looked down at my plate of food that was prepared for me but just did not have the strength to lift the fork. I sat there, looking down, crying, tears running down my cheeks. My husband fed me as if I were a baby. I was so helpless.

Looking back, I wonder how patients who do not have caregivers survive chemo.

This was a time on which I relied on family and friends for the smallest things.

My deepest gratitude remains for those who drove me to treatments and lab, cooked meals for my family, visited and cleaned my house. The calls of concern and get well prayers helped carry me through those dark days.

My diagnosis has taught me that cancer must be fought three ways - mind, body, and spirit. Attitude is everything. I am blessed to have supportive family and friends. Today I live more in the moment and do not worry about yesterday or tomorrow. My faith sustained me during the dark and painful days and calms my fears of what my future may hold.

The mind game cancer plays with my thoughts is one of fear and uncertainty while I am searching for the new normal in life. I am firm in my thoughts that God is in control, and this is his plan for me. I've learned to "Let Go and let God. If he brings me to it - He'll see me through it." For all the pain I have been through he must be preparing me for an awesome future, I keep telling myself. With the new treatments available, I refuse to lose the battle and give cancer any more bearing upon my life. I want to look back at my diagnosis and treatment and remember it as life - interrupted.

Forward: in February 2008, I was diagnosed with a breast cancer reoccurrence. It was a "chest wall reoccurrence." My treatment consisted of six more months of chemo and radiation. My oncologist told me looking back my chances were less than 1 percent of this happening following my original treatments. But - that's cancer.

Currently I have no evidence of disease and am living life to the fullest, enjoying watching my children grow. My son plays high school football and my daughter is in the junior high pep squad. Precious memories being made.

Jeannie Mican

Making a difference in others' lives

When recently visiting my parents, I spotted the Project Pink article. and I was so pleased to see the Victoria Advocate honoring cancer survivors. I am grateful to be able to share my Mom's 11-plus years cancer survival story. I know that I am biased, but her story will inspire all to think of others whenever faced with life's challenges. Darleen Dolan was told in March 2001 that she had aggressive breast cancer and that she needed immediate surgery to improve her chances of beating cancer. Mom had a radical mastectomy on March 14, 2001, and never looked back; she was the strong one though all of this.

She always has a loving, positive attitude about the life she has been blessed with. Mom's birthday on June 6, 2002, was when she received her certificate of completion for training from Hospice of South Texas - this was her best gift ever. Mom has been on the Lay Pastoral Care Team and the Angel Watch Team for Hospice. Mom loves her patients and always has pictures and loving stories to share with family and friends. I know over the years she has had more than 50 patients at Hospice of South Texas and Accolade Hospice. Mom recently had to take a leave of absence due to my Dad's ongoing battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). My Dad started treatments in November 2009 and my Mom has been there every step of the way. My parents have been married for 55 years and blessed with four children, eight grandchildren and six great-grand children.

My Mom has always been one to think of others, over the years she has been a foster mom to more than 36 children, an active member of Golden Crescent Regional Antique Auto Club and a faithful volunteer/member at Cuero Church of Christ for more than 30 years.

My Mom is a cancer survivor who makes a big difference in others' lives and feels so blessed doing it daily!

Guy Dolan, Cuero

Still going strong 33 years later

Approximately 33 years ago, my pap smear came back abnormal twice. The waiting was horrible, over a weekend at that. Right away, my family doctor said get a hysterectomy. I was so young, only had one child and had all these old wives tales I had heard. Anyway, I decided to see what MD Anderson could do for me. I was diagnosed with dysplasia, precancer of the cervix. I had a freezing, or cryosurgery, procedure.

Over 30 years later, all pap smears normal, thank God. At that time, no insurance, no money, no car; MD Anderson was good to me as were good friends helping me to get back and forth for appointments, and over the years, Yoakum Lutheran Church has furnished gas so many times.

Lastly, when I went to Galveston for surgery, thank you all and the group of churches who donate gas and medicine and help on utilities and rent. Sometimes, people like me, we work but we don't know how we will survive. It's too much. It's overwhelming.

Sometimes at MD Anderson it was depressing. You see people who are so sick. I remember coughing and the tubes and such long corridors. It seemed like another world.

I receive mail from MD Anderson every year and I donate. I can't afford much, but I am grateful to them. For years I worried the cancer would return, but now I rarely give it a thought. Now I have numerous other illnesses to worry about such as diabetes, etc.

Here, more than 30 years later I still work full time at Steven's Healthcare and Rehabilitation and am cancer free and no unnecessary surgery. I have two children and six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Thank God for His blessings.

Sonora Clay, Yoakum

Unsung office heroine

Betty Tovar joined the county on Feb. 6, 1978. Her career expands for 34 years after starting out as a deputy clerk, followed by assistant chief and then in May 2004, when she was promoted to chief deputy.

She is responsible for the daily supervision of the overall functions of the office; assumes the full duties and authority of the office in the absence of the county clerk; and works in coordination with assistant chief deputies in the management and training of personnel within their respective areas of responsibilities in order to maintain a modern, professional and cooperative office environment. As necessary, she serves as backup in a variety of technical and clerical work related to the filing of real and personal property, court filings, probates and other records processed by the office.

She consistently shows her high level of knowledge and skills in the overall operations. Betty is a quiet and sometimes seemingly a shy person. Despite competing priorities she always does her work with a smile and due diligence. It is a pleasure to work with her because she is a friendly, loyal and honest individual with a good sense of humor. She always displays her eagerness to assist customers, counsel subordinates to resolve issues and works very well with personnel at all levels.

Betty serves on the board of directors of the City-County Employees Federal Credit Union and as a volunteer with the Victoria County Heritage Department. In her leisure time she enjoys gardening, playing tennis with friends and enjoys road trips with her daughter. Betty is respected in her community and is an exemplary employee in the workplace for her character and is an example of a positive role model for her integrity, loyalty, and work ethic. You see, Betty is also a breast cancer survivor. This fact is not widely known mainly due to her hesitation to attract attention to herself.

At that point in her life, Betty was a single parent raising a young daughter. Despite all the medical hardships associated with surgery, chemotherapy, loss of hair, financial strain and a divorce that took its toll, Betty maintained a positive outlook and kept a regular work schedule throughout her ordeal with the illness. Although I have only known her for a little over a year since I took office, I soon learned to appreciate and acknowledge that she is truly my right hand. The accounts of her courage and bravery exhibited while facing this dreadful illness were conveyed to me by her long-time friends and coworkers who respect and love her dearly. She is without question an unsung office heroine that deserves to be recognized so the public is aware of this outstanding person who has dedicated her life to serving them for over 34 years.

It is without reservations and with great pride that I nominate Betty Jeanette Tovar.

Robert S. Cortez, Victoria County Clerk

Early detection, key to surviving

My name is Estella Garza, and I will tell you how proud I am to be Emily Estrada's sister. Emily was diagnosed in 2002 with breast cancer, stage one. A small mass was found during a yearly routine mammogram. After discussions with the family and doctors, they decided that the best treatment for her was to undergo a mastectomy. Surgery was performed and the cancer was removed. Due to the mastectomy and early stage one, chemotherapy or radiation was not needed. She continued her checkups and she was considered cancer free.

In 2004, two years later, during another checkup a small mass was found in her right lung. The biopsy results revealed it was cancer again, unrelated to the breast. Because of the danger involved, she was sent to MD Anderson in Houston. Surgery was performed and the cancer was removed from the middle lobe of her right lung. Her lung collapsed after the procedure, but after a few days she was once again on the road to recovery. Chemotherapy and radiation was again not needed. She is now cancer free again.

With her strong faith and lots of prayers, God has blessed her not once but twice. Emily's great family and her doctors by her side have been her strength. A miracle from God.

The key to surviving cancer is early detection.

Estella Garza

My daughter is Supermom

I want to honor my daughter, friend and brave cancer survivor, Donna London. She used to live in Victoria and worked at the Women's Clinic. In January 2011, while residing in Lake Dallas, she began her incredible journey and a fight against cancer.

Her immediate family (husband, Jeff, and two teenage daughters, Karla and Kelly) as well as her extended family, was very supportive. As her mother, I could never have left her in Lake Dallas and returned to Victoria had she not been blessed by a terrific support crew. Donna found the positive in her surgeon, oncologist, family, friends and all with whom she came in contact. As she explained to her oncologist, a day didn't go by without letters, flowers, meals, gifts or visits by a multitude of the most caring individuals I've ever met.

Not only did she have support there, but by friends and church groups in Refugio, in Victoria and an avalanche of prayers by so very many. As her mother, how very proud I am of her accomplishments. In fact, at one point I thought she was my mom. Yes, she tried to shield me from so much.

She was surprised by her coworkers when they honored her for never missing a day at work while she went through three months of chemo and seven weeks of radiation each day following work.

I advised her to slow down, as she was being Supermom, and I didn't want her to jeopardize her health. She wrote notes to everyone who assisted her in any way. When my suggestion was ignored, she said, "Mom, this is my appreciation and therapy for the wonderful individuals who took the time to do so much for our family." She traveled a scary road that none of us knew where it would end.

She, herself, does so much for so many, but never sees it that way. What a delight to see her as a model cancer survivor in January 2012 in Denton.

Now you see why I am so proud to call her my daughter!

Betty Greebon



Winning for the third time

Donna is the strongest person I know. She has already won the battle against breast cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, she is currently in the fight and winning against breast cancer for the third time. Even though Donna is going through a tremendous amount, she has always got a smile and a great attitude. She is such an inspiration for everyone who is around her. Donna, We Love You!

From Mike and the kids (Cowboy and the posse!)



Mom and her girls

Our Mom is such an inspiration. She is 82 years old, double leg amputee and diagnosed with stomach cancer this year. She tried one round of chemo and decided to stop. She is battling the disease each day. However, she still lives independently and takes care of herself with the help of family, as well as weekly hospice visits. She has never complained or given up the fight. She is fighting her fight still but I just feel she is an inspiration to all that know and meet her.

Sharon Diebel



Granny

A picture of Mary Capistran of Refugio at the Goliad County Relay for Life where her grandchildren are part of the Stampede 4-H Team, also in the picture is Mary's loving husband Rudy Capistran and one of her grandsons Cameron Capistran of Goliad. Our granny Mary Capistran is our hero. Granny is currently battling breast cancer, but is a survivor! We love her so much for her courage and desire to beat this horrible disease. We love you Granny. Love, your children and grandchildren.

Jo Ann Capistran, Goliad



Everything is in God's hands, not mine

I am a seven-year breast cancer survivor with a lot to be grateful for, so here is a note of gratitude and encouragement for those who are looking for this.

First of all, I thank my God for always holding me in the palm of his hand, especially when I felt weak and tired.

I thank my Saviour Lutheran Church family for their prayers, smiles, pretty prayer shawls and the wonderful meals they provided. These were nutritious, thoughtful meals provided to my family and myself while I went through chemo treatments. I thank the Sunday school teachers for their help and inspiration too. They have lifted not only my children but me too. I cherish them.

I thank my family immensely. My husband and children were a Godsend and they still are. They have always been strong and have held my hand or hugged me when I was weak. My family carried me spiritually in so many ways and they still do. My husband, sons and daughter are huge motivations in my life today.

My mom was my "taxi driver" to and from chemotherapy treatments. She was very dedicated, not just as a taxi driver but as a mom and friend through it all. She and her friends helped me smile and laugh when I took myself too seriously; I can be too serious.

I thank the mighty fighting Sandcrabs for giving me a mighty fighting spirit. This has served me well spiritually in my fight against cancer. I am still alive today.

I thank Dr. Niratsuwan, my physician, for her knowledge and ability to fast-track me to the right doctors seven years ago. She continues to offer smart sound advice and care.

I thank Dr. Dowell, my surgeon, for his inspiration and for his skilled hands during my surgery. I thank Dr. Janssen and Sabbagh for their medical knowledge, integrity and care too. I thank these hospitals - Wharton County Hospital, Citizens Medical Center of Victoria, and Port Lavaca Memorial Medical Center - for their staff. All have been compassionate in their care.

I thank myself for my own spunk, determination and quirky knowledge, but my knowledge is limited. Ultimately, everything is in God's hands, not mine.

Remember this, everyone is a survivor, even if it's only a short battle. If a person has or had a survivor's attitude then it doesn't matter if the battle is short or long. They are either still alive and kicking, walking, perhaps in a wheelchair or they are with their heavenly maker.

Lauren Howell



30-year colon cancer survivor

This is not a breast cancer survivor story but a colon cancer survivor story.

The last week of August 1982, I was rushed to the ER at DeTar Hospital. I was diagnosed with a large colon tumor. Dr. Del Williams was my surgeon. Dr. Bruce Bauknight was my oncologist. These great doctors took excellent care of me.

I was prescribed 36 daily cobalt treatments at the new Kathryn O'Connor Cancer Center at Citizens Medical Center.

My family, friends and neighbors took turns to make sure I didn't miss a treatment. You don't hear about cobalt radiation as a cancer treatment any more, but I endured no ill-effects from the daily exposure.

I received no chemotherapy. Wasn't I lucky? Through the years I've had colonoscopy checkups and I never had relapse.

The colonoscopies back then were horrid to endure, and the preparation for them was awful. These days, there is no reason for anyone to dread their checkups. A small skin prick and an hour later you wake up under a warm blanket with no memory of it whatsoever. It's a snap.

I give kudos to Dr. Del Williams and Dr. Bruce Bauknight - I feel they are the reason for my recovery plus the excellent care I received at Citizens those many years ago during my radiation treatments.

At that time I was only 44 years old - and a nurse at DeTar even suggested hospice care. Now I am 74 years old, a grandmother five times over plus two great-grandbabies.

I am a 30-year colon-cancer survivor, and by the grace of God I've lived to see my two daughters, Polly and Kathy, grow into beautiful, independent and productive women. I've been able to see my grandsons become handsome young men and my granddaughters become beautiful young mothers. My great-grandbabies make us a four-generation family. I have been blessed many times over.

Paula Schultz, Victoria



God bless the survivors

Theresa Soto, our two-time breast cancer survivor. Theresa's a strong woman who accepted her battle and won. She's full of faith and a blessing to her children and grandchildren. Thank God for survivors and God bless all those fighting the battle!

SA Soto Ramirez

Related stories:

Group keeps money for cancer in Crossroads , click HERE

Namesake of pink fire truck stays positive, click HERE

Flash mob for cancer awareness, click HERE

Victoria mom keeps family strong while fighting breast cancer, click HERE

Survivor honors 8 family members killed by cancer, click HERE

Oceans For Emotions: Seeing pink, click HERE

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