We met Betsy through a friend at church named Brain Smith; she is his sister. Betsy was diagnosed with an Astrocytoma 3 in late 1999. If, after reading her story you have any questions, please feel free to email her by clicking here.
She emailed this testimony to me July 4, 2001.
Hi Frank & Donna,
My 'story' begins in the fall of 1999. I had moved with my two daughters; ages 16 & 14; into a new condo in Kissimmee from St. Cloud, Florida, just a year earlier. I loved the area and enjoyed walking around the development; but I could hardly walk up my stairs at the end of the day. I worked part time for my pastor, who was beginning a new church, and part time for a chiropractor who was a member of our church.
Little things began causing me to have difficulty handling tasks as normal; such as one morning Mark Daniel, our pastor; sent me to Office Max to purchase a list of supplies for the new office. I was gone over 5 hours, but I could not understand why he was questioning me about taking so long (Office Max is only 10 minutes from the church office). Another example ~ I was planning to take my 16 year old daughter to an informational meeting at a community college, held at the East Orlando campus, and entered the highway going west; we were late by that time, so we went to the Mall! (Fine with her!) And, I felt while shopping at the grocery store other shoppers were too close to me.
Shortly the excruciating headaches began; I also had flashes of light before my eyes for a period of time. I never sought medical attention, but I did look for symptoms in the Chiropractor's medical journal, and diagnosed myself with migraine headaches which could include cluster headaches. The chiropractor's would adjust me using pressure points for patients they treated with migraines. I was too embarrassed to let them know nothing helped! Apparently, I was hateful with my daughters because my father-in-law saved emails from myself to him stating how I had acquired migraines and the girls were 'annoying me terribly'. Haley, my 16 year-old, had also written him an email stating; "Mom hates us, she says her head hurts and yells all the time." No over the counter medications helped ease the pain of these headaches. I remember grabbing my desk and breathing through them as I did when giving birth! I never left work with a headache in the past; however, with these I could not function. I suppose somehow in my sub-conscious, I knew I was in danger, because I would drive to my mother & grand-mother's home about 30 minutes away to avoid being alone. I began to try to track the cause of my headaches; allergies, age, weather, hormones; nothing was consistent or made sense.
While I was working for the chiropractor's office, (4 doctors on staff) the day was extremely busy as it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 1999. All the doctors were with patients, and it was only 10am. I was suffering from one of my headaches ~ I hardly remember telling the front desk receptionist how badly I felt; she looked at me and said; "Oh another headache"…I know they thought I most likely wanted to leave early for the holiday. I did leave and do not even remember driving home. I do not know how the girls arrived home from school; Haley could drive, maybe she picked up her sister at her school - I simply do not remember. When they did get home, I was lying on my bathroom floor on the cold tile, and was very nauseated. I missed Thanksgiving, was still on the floor or in my bed. Family members called throughout the day (as I was told ~ do not remember) and they thought I had a bad case of the flu and was possibly dehydrated. My sister-in-law and her husband, from Miami, were staying at their Cocoa Beach condo (an hour away) and invited us over on Saturday, and I apparently stated we would be there. I even told her I would be shopping on Friday.
The Friday after Thanksgiving my mother called about 9am. I remember answering the phone, and her asking me where the girls were; I confidently stated that they were still in their boxes. She said to go get Haley - I did not feel like moving - she was literally screaming in the phone; so I did as she asked. She must have told her not to leave me, because she sat on my bed until my mother found one of her sisters to sit with my elderly grandmother, and drove to our home.
When she arrived, I was still in the same clothes as when I left work Wednesday morning. She MADE me go to the Emergency Room; I remember thinking…"Why are all these people here, why aren't they shopping?" After a series of questions asked by the staff, they realized I could not answer validly; such as my age, what year it was, who the president was, etc., I was taken quickly to the Imaging unit for a CAT scan. My life would radically change from this moment!
The scan revealed a plum-sized tumor in my left lobe above my eye. I was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Orlando for emergency surgery. I had no idea what was going on….but my daughters were still at home; Haley called the ER shortly after the Scan, and asked for her grandma, the staff knew who she wanted to speak with, and my mother bluntly stated; "Honey, you mom has a brain tumor". She cried hysterically! Haley called our pastor's wife, who was 8 ˝ months pregnant, and she was at our home in 10 minutes, drove them to the hospital and stayed until past 1:00 am that morning! Haley also called my sister-in-law in Cocoa Beach, Suzanne, & RC & Julie (younger adult sister), who was in town for the holiday as well; they arrived at the hospital in Orlando quickly also. Apparently, Becky, our pastor's wife, called many friends, and they began to arrive at the hospital to pray over me. I thought it was a huge party - still out of it, unaware of the danger of my condition. The surgeon said I could have had a major stroke at any moment. I remember the surgeon said to me we are going to operate on your brain - and I replied; "I've never had a brain operation, what should I wear?" Tears were running down Haley's cheeks because she knew how much I was unaware of my actions that day and in the past few weeks/months.
Cancer has been an un-welcomed guest in my family ~ I lost my late husband, Dru, with an illness called Cushing Syndrome; a tumor in the pituitary gland which causes the body to produce too much cortisone, at the young age of 32. He was able to keep his pituitary gland, due to high doses of radiation. He wanted children and we were able to have two beautiful girls. However, the illness affected his adrenal glands, which were removed surgically at the young age of 19. He was required to take synthetics to provide an alternative burst of adrenalin we receive before we wake up each day. He took a combination of steroids daily ~ and we all know how difficult those are on one's body. He felt great or felt terrible, when he felt great, life was wonderful, however, and I only wish we knew then what we know now about the disease!
My father passed away with lung cancer, which metastased to his brain at the age of 48, leaving my mother with 5 children. My mother and mother-in-law were stricken with breast cancer within six months of each other. My mother is a 27 year survivor, but unfortunately, my mother-in-law had a recurrence after 15 years and she passed away with lung cancer.
I have been blessed; I am nearing my 10th year of being Cancer Free - I am still required to have an annual MRI, and see my neuro-oncologist, have lost hair and eyebrows, but that is nothing compared to what some have been through.
Many of you who know me, know I faint easily ~ I was terrified of the blood work necessary before each round of chemotherapy. God was with me, my chemo was a tablet, and I had a wonderful lab tech that had me lay down each week, gave me a Coke and a blanket!
However, after the first 6 ˝ weeks of radiation, another MRI was taken; the radiologist, oncologist, and surgeon found new growth. I received a call at my office from the oncology nurse stating same, and that the surgeon would be calling to schedule another surgery, which would include inserting a chemo-chip in my head; she continued, stating I had a very fast growing cancer and that I may need more additional surgeries. I cried hysterically!
When the call came, I was working at the church office. He came out of his office, we called the surgeon who was stunned the oncologist nurse was so blunt - Pastor Mark told me to pray for what I could believe. I asked him to allow me a couple of days to pray and simply seek what to believe ~ Two major events happened; the first call came on a Thursday morning; Friday, the surgeon scheduled a PET Scan of my brain, and that following Sunday, Pastor Mark approached me and asked if I had made a decision as to what I could believe - I replied…"I can go through the surgery one more time, but no more".
That morning Pastor Mark called me before the church and asked for the congregation to come forward to lay hands on me. They DID AND HE PRAYED FOR A COMPLETE HEALING! Again, I cried tears of comfort.
The very next morning, the first call of the day was the surgeon - the PET scan revealed the 'new growth' was a huge patch of scar tissue!!! He was ecstatic; 'You will be fine!" I will never forget that call!!!
The American Cancer Society was absolutely wonderful during my radiation (6 ˝ daily treatments) at MD Anderson in Orlando. I was fortunate to have friends and relatives drive me daily; The American Cancer Society reimbursed all my tolls; over $200! They also gave me a "free" wig. Another program the American Cancer Society offers is "Look Good Feel Better". Cosmetic items are donated for women who are undergoing treatment and have lost all their hair, eyebrows, and sometimes eyelashes. Beauticians volunteer their time to attend these classes and show patients such as myself how to apply these cosmetics to help feel better about their physical appearance while enduring this illness. The American Cancer Society will also provide free prosthesis of any sort at any time needed. The American Cancer Society is the reason I participate in Relay for Life!
My favorite part of Relay for Life is the Opening Ceremonies ~ After the Color Guard, a soloist sings Amazing Grace, a Survivor Speaker shares their experience, all survivors are introduced, and THE SURVIVOR WALK BEGINS…The elation of being one of the many survivors in the Walk brings many emotions for me; it is fun, it is sad, it builds community for a common cause, it is honoring, it brings HOPE, and always ~ Tears of JOY to my eyes. All the survivors together indicate monies that have been given to increase our health through further research and new treatments. As we walk that first lap, it is one of the greatest experiences I have ever been a part of ~ seeing faces of those who helped me through my illness clapping and cheering for me and others.
It has been stated hearing you have CANCER is a "club" no one wants to be a part of. However, through this trial, whether you are honored or remembered, you are still a "member"; some of us may receive our Heavenly Reward before others. Always keep your faith in your Heavenly Father, Jesus. He will be with you ALWAYS!!
May each of you be richly blessed,
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