Readers share their experiences with cancer

The following essays were finalists in the October contest:

Walking miracle

My dad is literally a walking miracle.

He has had cancer five times and is currently in the process of getting a stem cell transplant. He's the most bravest, courageous, fearless and selfless person I have ever met in my life, and I don't say that because he's my dad - I say that because it's the truth.

His journey stared in December 1993.

He had been complaining of back pain for several months, and finally, an X-ray found a mass (Non-Hodgkin lymphoma) the size of a football in his back/abdomen area. He underwent chemo and radiation and went into remission.

In 2002, a routine PSA exam revealed that he had prostrate cancer. He had surgery and was again in remission. In 2006, his PSA levels rose once again, and he was treated with radiation for prostrate cancer.

His fourth occurrence was in 2008.

This one was by far the worst. You see, all the other times, he seldom missed work and would even drive himself back and forth for treatments.

In February 2008, he started having severe abdominal pain, which ended up being his Non-Hodgkin lymphoma again.

He took treatments every three weeks that literally sent him to the hospital every time.

In June 2008, he was admitted into the hospital with a bladder infection, got a fungal pneumonia, had MRSA in his lungs and had a stroke. He was on life support for almost a week, and we didn't know if he was going to make it.

He spent 32 days in the hospital and came home and began therapy to help some of the effects from the stroke. But that wasn't the end of it. From all the chemo, some of his vertebrae in his back had degenerated, and he got ostiomylits, a bone infection.

He had to have two surgeries to clean it out and repair the disks, and he had to be on IV antibiotic treatments for six weeks and then again when the infection came back for eight weeks.

He had to go to the hospital daily for IV antibiotic therapy.

Fast forward to 2013, after a routine PET scan, his doctor found a suspicious spot behind his right clavicle, which leads us up to today. Since dad has had lymphoma three times, the doctors want to do a stem cell transplant, which is the best chance for a cure.

Dad is currently going to MDA for treatment. He will be his own stem cell donor (autogluous transplant).

They will harvest his stem cells once he is in remission again, and then he will go under more chemo, and then they will do the transplant. To say he has been through a lot is an understatement. And through all of this, he has never once complained or asked why. He could be the poster child for the perfect cancer patient. He celebrated his 66th birthday on Sept. 9, 2013.

He and my mom have been married for 41 years. I'm an only child, and my husband, Dave, and I have two amazing children: Mary, 16, and Dave Douglas, 12. They are my dad's everything.

And my dad is still working to this day, except when in the hospital for chemo. Hopefully, his transplant will be in the next few months.

Submitted by: Michelle Garcia

Mom's cancer doesn't keep kid down

Hello, I am going to tell you about my mom.

I was 8 years old when she got cancer; back then, I was still considered a "little" kid.

Well, one day she felt a lump on her breast. The first thing that came to my mind was "EWWW," but, later, when she went to the doctor, we were all shocked to learn she had Stage 2 breast cancer.

I was very depressed at school for about four months. My grades dropped from straight A's to B's, and I wouldn't come out of my room for hours; sometimes, I even skipped meals.

My mom took chemo and lost her hair; therefore, I was very upset because she was bald.

Her breast was removed, and she was very weak.

One time she got a fever, but I knew what to do with that; I put a wet towel on her forehead to bring the temperature down.

The doctors didn't want to take any risks, so to make sure her cancer was gone, she had radiation, and her chest got all burnt. I saw how brave she was because it was very painful, and she never cried.

In the end, it was worth it. The cancer cells that were lurking had been neutralized, and she came home a completely happy and healthy person.

It took me awhile to destroy my depression, but I eventually got rid of it, and I recovered my life where I left it off.

Submitted by: Jake Risinger, 11

My friend, Rudy

When I was a teenager, smoking cigarettes or pot was a very cool thing to do.

My dad, his parents and his friends all smoked. My friends were experimenting with cigarettes, and some had been smoking for some time.

Billboards, magazines and movies depicted smoking as a very glamorous pastime.

I, myself, was very curious and tried to smoke. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, I would get really sick and told myself to forget about it.

My first husband was a four-pack-a-day smoker.

I thought that was really neat until later when all that smoke got to me. The kids were always complaining that they couldn't breathe.

Our house and clothes always smelled of smoke.

Sadly, he died at the young age of 41.

I really think his massive heart attack was caused by all that smoking.

Then, I married Rudy. He was a three-pack-a-day smoker, but his coughing was so bad, his face would turn beet-red.

This time, I insisted he go for a checkup. The doctor told him he had the beginning stages of emphysema.

He quit smoking the very next day. That was 23 years ago.

This brings me to the present. Rudy has had four kinds of cancer. First, it was cancer of the larynx. He had 33 radiation treatments but still had to have a vocal chord removed in Houston. He was left with a very rough voice but luckily no cancer.

Then, he had lung cancer. At MD Anderson, they opted to remove two-thirds of his right lung. His left lung was in bad shape, too, but showed no signs of cancer.

It was not an easy operation. They had to go in twice more because stitches weren't holding.

A plastic surgeon had to be called in to patch things up.

So far, he is cancer free but requires constant oxygen to get through the days.

The other two were different types of skin cancers. One, on his left eyelid, was removed and reconstructed in Houston. The others were the ones on his bald head. His doctor here in town takes good care of those.

Rudy, I just want to say that I applaud your courage and tenacity. It can't be easy to go out to make a living at age 82 with the oxygen tank constantly at your side. I admire that you walk with your head held high, and your step is lively. You are very strong, and it will take a whole lot to bring a tough old halfback runner from St. Joseph down. Kudos and love to you, my friend.

Submitted by: Dina Eberle

Let my story be your warning

This is my story of going through breast cancer.

In October 2007, I felt a lump on my left breast. My birthday is in November, and I was turning 65.

I had no insurance at this time, so I waited until January 2008 for my Medicare.

I made an appointment with my gynecologist around the first of January and an appointment for a mammogram at Citizens Medical Center around the last part of January 2008.

My gynecologist, Dr. Robert Hicks, found a lump on my left breast. The mammogram, shortly after, confirmed a lump.

A few days later, a biopsy confirmed it to be malignant.

March 23, Good Friday, was my choice of the surgery date. Dr. Sean Hamilton did a lumpectomy on me.

I chose Good Friday because I said, "Jesus died on Good Friday and rose again on Sunday, and that's exactly what I did."

I was never scared except when I was first told I had breast cancer.

I am a member of Faith Family Church, and my family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ prayed for me.

God put all of those people in my life - the best doctors, the best pastors and the best Christian people anyone could have.

My surgery was a success. Shortly after I heard, I was sent to Dr. David Janssen, a radiologist at Citizens Medical Center, talked to me, and we scheduled radiation Monday through Friday at 1 p.m.

I was at Citizens every day for 36 treatments of radiation, and I never missed an appointment of course.

I burned until my left breast was purple, but it never hurt; it just itched.

During all of this, I also had to go see a chemo therapist, Dr. Hassan Sabbagh. He put me on a hormone therapy pill that I had to take for five years to prevent the cancer from coming back.

My five years was up March 23, 2013. For five years, I periodically went through blood tests, CT scans, MRIs, mammograms, chest X-rays, ultrasounds.

I am now cancer free!

Praise Jesus!

Sure, the $100 at Regal Jewelers sounds and is a very nice, loving gift, but it is not really why I wrote my story.

I am trying to send a message to all women.

Do not ignore getting a mammogram once a year.

This disease is an evil, deadly disease that was put on our beautiful earth by the devil, but we can win.

Keep your faith and think positive and pray a lot. God listens.

God blessed me with great doctors, nurses, Citizens Medical Center and the best church in Victoria.

These people all stood by me, even my pharmacy Castle Hills. I am not advertising or soliciting. I'm sending my story that I had the best of the best through my ordeal that God and Jesus put in my life. Ladies, never lose your faith and always think positive thoughts. Be strong and pray, pray.

Submitted by: Rebecca Peschel

These essays were also submitted:

Young women can get breast cancer

Bad things are not supposed to happen to young people.

June 14, 2005, just three weeks into her new marriage, my 27-year-old daughter Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors took both breasts.

At first the doctors did not think Jennifer had breast cancer despite worries from the family. We just wished doctors had diagnosed her earlier instead of taking a year to do so.

Early detection is crucial for several reasons; to catch the cancer before it spreads, and, by doing so, to potentially decrease the amount of treatments needed to beat it. I just want to stress how important it is to follow up on any kind of suspicion no matter what age.

Jennifer went through 18 months of chemo and follow-up therapy. She also endured treatments to save her fertility, because at that time she had no children of her own.

Jennifer thought it was so strange because everyone who was taking treatments at the time was so much older.

I finished treatments to beat lymphoma in May 2002; Jennifer began her treatments three years later.

Nationally, one teenage girl in every 2,152 develops breast cancer before age 20, according to About.com. By 30, the risk of breast cancer in women increases to one in 251. By age 70, breast cancer risk is one in 23.

I was totally shocked because she was a young healthy woman and no one in our family had ever had breast cancer. I prayed a lot, it hurt my heart and soul. The pain was indescribable especially since she is my only child.

All of the articles I have read seem to focus on women in their late 30s or older. My daughter was diagnosed at the age of 27.

It's true that some U.S. health organizations suggest that women need to schedule a mammogram at age 40, and others suggest women do so at 36.

If you're a woman, you have a 1-in-8 chance to develop the cancer - and this year it's estimated 215,000 U.S. women will be diagnosed with it.

When Jennifer was diagnosed, the doctor told her, "well not so good news." She went home and told her husband "the honeymoon is over".

Since that horrific day in 2005, my daughter not only has stayed in remission, but has gone back to school and is now an oncology nurse and has two beautiful daughters of her own.

Submitted by: Julie Fox

Team Dorsett

Little did we know that in 2012, the Dorsett family would never be the same.

In June we lost my Dad, Jeff Dorsett to an unexpected heart attack at the age of 49. He left behind his wife Blandine, and his four children Jared, Clayton, Alyssa, and Matthew.

Times were tough but with the help of God, family, and friends, we as a family grew stronger and closer.

September 2012 came around, just three months after my dad passed, Matthew, then 16, was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma.

My mom quit her job to take care of my brother as he received numerous chemo and radiation treatments at MD Anderson.

My mom was by his side the entire time and catered to his every need for almost a year.

In August 2013 Matt's scan came back in our favor and had his mediport removed a couple weeks later. Matt was now on his road to recovery and our family couldn't be happier.

Overwhelmed with Matt's struggles and achievements, mom was blinded by her own health. On Sept. 20, my two oldest brothers came into town from Houston to celebrate Matt's Birthday, which was on the 18th. My mom sat down with us in the living room and told us that she had been feeling a lump in her breast.

She saw a doctor and had a biopsy and they told her she had breast cancer.

In complete shock, I couldn't help but think there is no way this could happen to us. Mom called MD Anderson to set up an appointment, and with the help of Matt's oncologist, she received on appointment on Oct 11. Blood work, biopsies and numerous scans were performed.

Mom recalled that when she was in the waiting room she was overcame by a feeling that everything was going to be all right, whether really good or really bad.

By Oct. 15, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. She is on oral medication to fight the cancer from further spreading.

Mom is trying to lead a normal life to the best of her abilities. She continues to work on her house and go out dancing with friends with a smile on her face. My mom is a living inspiration and I couldn't ask for a better, stronger, loving mother. Her attitude and outlook on life touches my heart as well as others.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

Submitted by: Alyssa Dorsett

My story of breast cancer

My name is Diana Ordonez. I remember when I got the news about my breast cancer.

I wanted it out then and there. My husband was with me and said don't worry I am here and we will get through this.

Well, I didn't know what to expect even though I had a mammogram done with the advanced technology to put my breasts in these holes for them. so scared and was not unfamiliar with the procedure. This one would be different. The first one I had was a few years before and when they had to locate it with a thin piece of wire so it could be removed from my right breast. Once that was done, I went to surgery with my family in tow.

This time this one was different. It was a right lumpectomy my breast was in a vice grip type of acrylic machine. it was only painful when I felt the pressure of the needle to locate again where the area of cancer was.

I was told afterward, it was in one of my milk ducts and very hard to locate. I went to surgery with my husband and family in tow again. Scared more if was going to have a breast or not. Recovered from that and had to wait for healing and saw my oncologist Dr. Chen on March 18, 2009 for a consult and staff they were great. This was my moms birthday. On April 7, 2009 was my first time going. My husband was with me and I went to another room where other patients were waiting. I felt I wanted to die. Most were so much older than myself. I told my husband I wanted to leave. I was the youngest in the whole room.

He said I am here and we aren't going anywhere.

I would have to leave work some afternoons to attend my radiation treatments until I finished my last one on June 6 2009. And my doctor said you have to take a pill everyday for five years.

Everyday I count my lucky stars that I didn't have to have chemo and it was caught in time that it had not spread.

I was the lucky one. I have not lost anything compared to those who have fought it and won it and those who have lost the battle. So I do support it everyday of my life - not just October.

Submitted by: Diana Ordonez

My mother's battle with cancer

My mother's battle with lymphoma cancer was a sad summer for us all.

Although she kept a smile on her face through it all, she battled it out all the way.

With faith, and the will to achieve, you can do anything. This is one of the many lessons my mother has taught me. As such unfortunate events happen in each of our lives, there can be no preparation for the loss of someone so greatly loved.

Lucy Valadez lived a great life of hardship and sacrifice, but with her faith she was determined to succeed in achieving her dreams. She raised and held together a family of five for more than 30 years.

She worked to provide for them so that they, some day, would have the means to attain their dreams, and at the same time she managed to work for her to obtain a degree.

A degree that would allow her to become to others, what her family always knew her as, a great teacher.

With every lesson we have learned from her, there is still nothing greater, than the lesson of love. She loved her husband, her daughter, her sons, and most of all, her grandchildren.

She taught us to love one another, as you would want them to love you, never allowing hate or fear to take away the kindness in our hearts, always reminding us, " I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) "She could do anything she set her mind on, and to my family, and I, loving us, is the greatest thing she has ever done.

She was a second grade teacher at Rowland Elementary School in Victoria, she was only 52 years old. The technology center there is dedicated in honor of her.

Submitted by: Melissa Foster

My sister's cancer story

My name is Erica Sanchez. I live in Victoria, Texas. I'm writing in to tell the story of my younger sister Alma Escalante. She was diagnosed in February 2010 with breast cancer at the age of 28. Sadly she lost her battle May 27, 2012 at the age of 30.

From the beginning up until the very end she fought a courageous battle. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy. All the while never complaining. As much as it hurts me that's she is gone, I know it is 100 times worse for my other sister, who is her twin. My sister Alma worked at Sonic for many years. Even when she was sick she continued to work part time. She worked until two weeks before she passed. She had a strength and courage that I have never ever seen in anyone during my 14 years of nursing. She never gave up hope. I want people to know her story.

Women and men need to know that breast cancer can happen at any age. We never thought that it could happen to one of us. But it did. I have had a mammogram twice already. The first when I was 32. I'm 34 now and will continue to have one yearly. Alma was a awesome , sweet and caring person.

I still remember the last time I saw her. She was at MD Anderson. I kissed her on the forehead and told her I loved her and would see her the next day. The last thing she said was "I love you too." She passed away later on that night at 2:55 a.m.

I will miss her forever but I know she is no longer suffering and will always be watching over our family. Thank you so much for reading my story.

Submitted by: Erica J. Sanchez