This is Chapter 2 in its entirety from Real Life Interviews.
Darlene passed away on Jan 9th 2014 – may she rest in peace.
Darlene would have wanted to be remembered as an inspiration to others…
Darlene is a mature woman that has as overcome many obstacles in her life. Two of these circumstances involved cancer. In several instances she thought she may be a goner, along with her family and friends.
There was something that kept her going through all the hardships and helped her through the adversities. She is a two-time cancer survivor and here is her story which is the epitome of perseverance.
She is an inspiration to many and whether or not you or someone you know has had cancer, her experiences will help you through your own challenges. Let’s pick up the telephone and do a conference call with her now.
Russ: So tell us about your journey…
Darlene: What I have learned is that whoever gets cancer and survives are the people that believe in themselves, believe in God, and believe their going to survive. If I thought I was going to survive, I would. And that was my attitude about it.
R: How did you find out that you had cancer?
D: There had been a tornado through our town and the house I was living in had been severely damaged. I went in there the next day after the tornado, to check my belongings and salvage what I could. I found out later, from FEMA that you cannot do that because everything is contaminated. And I should not have been in there breathing the air because of the potential danger of asbestos.
I was involved with the church choir at the time and was having difficulty singing. I was having difficulty with taking deep breaths and figured it was because of the tornado’s after-effects or just a cold.
So, I went to a doctor and got some x-rays.
She diagnosed me with bronchitis and gave me some medication. Two weeks later I was still sick and could not breathe well, especially while I was singing. After a while it got to a point where I couldn’t even sleep.
So I go back to my doctor and she runs some more tests. She says it wasn’t bronchitis and that something else had to be wrong but wouldn’t tell me what she thought it was. The doctor kind of suspected something but wasn’t going to say anything until it was confirmed by some blood tests.
It got to a point where I could not wait anymore. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t sleep. So my mother took me to the emergency room and they did a scan on me and located some cancer. The cancer had blocked off my right lung and it had collapsed. That’s why I could not breathe.
Did they know what type of cancer or how severe it was?
Not at that time. We didn’t know what kind of cancer it was but knew we were probably in stage two and it was pretty advanced. Just that news alone was very depressing.
What was your reaction to the news?
I was very surprised at first. After the shock wore off I got really sad and depressed. I thought I was going to die and had pretty much given up on myself in the beginning. Followed by a period of joking about it because I did not want to be sad, so I would tease and make light of my situation.
Then I went through three months of pure hell with them trying to figure out what kind of cancer it was with some biopsies. They would stick a long needle down my throat to my chest trying to extract some cancer from my lungs.
Each time it hurt like heck because I could feel it when the needle hit my bones. They tried four different times and couldn’t do it. The cancer had grown to the size of a grapefruit and blocked off the opening to my lung.
I was so sure I was dying and had no idea if I had a chance of surviving. But, I did what they told me to do and tried to remain positive. It was hard, but I kept joking and laughing about it.
By this time a few months had gone by and the doctors had to operate on me to find out the type of cancer. They entered into my throat in order to perform the biopsy. The tests later revealed it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer; which can be overcome with some real effort.
However, the doctors also told me I was actually in stage three and the cancer could spread. The way the stages are determined depends if it has spread somewhere else or like as in my case there were three parts balled into one which is why it was classified a level three.
Could the doctor operate on it and remove it from your lung?
They couldn’t operate because it was too close to my heart and they were afraid it would kill me if they did. So, I was put on chemo therapy.
There were four different types of chemo and one of them was experimental. So I would go every two weeks it and would take them half an hour to mix the formula up and then checked my white cell count.
It began to work and they taught me how to give myself a shot every day for a couple of weeks. Each shot cost around $3000 and it boosted my white cell count, so I could take the chemo therapy.
I started going in once every two weeks for about 4 hours, and I would get so sick I couldn’t keep food down. I went from 200 pounds to about 130 pounds and just sitting down hurt my bones. We did that for about five months and quit the chemo and tried radiation treatment.
We did another CAT scan and found out the cancer was growing again. So they put me on a stronger chemotherapy once every two weeks for two months. That didn’t work either.
I was always sick; my immune system was so low that if somebody came by with a germ, I would catch it. And I caught pneumonia three times and the flu twice and even got shingles. Shingles was the most painful thing.
It got to the point that I did not want to go back to the hospital as I was afraid of catching something in the waiting room. So they would have to isolate me.
Were you still keeping a positive attitude and sense of humor?
Oh definitely. My Doctor said Hodgkin’s lymphoma was one of the easier cancers to cure. My doctor kept reassuring me that those that had beaten this cancer were ones that were really stubborn, positive and religious. After he told me that, I thought to myself I really have it made.
But sometimes my friends and family members would treat me like I was dying; even my own mother. One time I got really mad at my mom and told her to quit telling people I was dying because I wasn’t going to die and I didn’t want to hear it ever again.
Even when my older sister visited me, all she did was cry. It got to a point that I did not want her to visit me anymore, I couldn’t take it. Even my twin sister was having a difficult time dealing with it.
I found out that most people don’t really want to be around sick people because it reminds them of themselves. When people who were negative were going to visit me, I did not even want to see them. I did not need that in my life and most of the time I was alone in my hospital room.
So it’s better to be left alone than in the company of sad people?
Well, there’s this one occasion where I wish I hadn’t been left alone. The chemo treatment was so strong it paralyzed me.
I couldn’t walk and I could barely talk. And while I was resting, I’d fallen out of bed and was lying on the floor. I could not get back up.
When I fell, I lost my oxygen mask and could not breathe. The hospital was also working on the speakers that day and I could not call the nurse’s station. I began to panic as I started to turn purple.
It just so happens that a nurse was walking by and found me. The nurse did not know why, but she just had a funny feeling to check in on me at that exact moment and came into my room. If she had not, I certainly would have died. That was definitely a God thing. She really saved my life.
So it wasn’t the cancer that was frustrating, it was the treatment of the cancer? How did you deal with it?
About a year has gone by and I was always so sick. I would go into my backyard and just sit there and cry. Not because I had given up, I was just so tired of being sick all the time.
Every time I would do that my son would come up to me and say, “Now mother, I know that God is going to heal ya. I know you are going to make it through this, so quit that crying.” And that would pick me up and keep me going.
Also, the hospital chaplain would come by and visit me with positive encouragements. I had told the chaplain about what my son had been saying to me about God healing me.
And his response was that God doesn’t tell children their mother is going to be okay if it isn’t true. My energy changed from then on and I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
Did your situation improve after that?
The doctors finally determined that the two week chemo regimen wasn’t doing the trick and had to try something new. They decided a stem cell transplant would have to be done.
So they tested my twin sister and she matched perfectly, of course, because we’re identical twins. And on our birthday in the year 2000, they gave me her filtered blood and the cancer immediately went into remission.
It took me a little while to get my strength back but I haven’t been sick with it since. I still have the lump in my chest, they can’t remove it but it’s real tiny. I still go back every six months for CAT scans and checkups.
And you’ve been cancer-free ever since?
In July of 2006, they discovered a lump in my breast while performing a mammogram. So they did a biopsy and wouldn’t let me go home, so I knew it had to be serious.
After four hours of waiting they took me into a conference room and told me I had breast cancer. I started laughing and said, “Yay! I’m so happy!” …because it wasn’t the Hodgkin’s coming back.
Later, the doctor told me they were impressed and said never in their history had somebody been happy to have breast cancer. I was the talk of the hospital.
I told them my thoughts were: Breast cancer I could handle but I didn’t want to go through the Hodgkin’s again. It was weird but it was a relief.
It wasn’t real big, it was in stage one, but there was so much of it. The downside was that if the doctors only removed the lump it would have leave me really deformed, so they had to remove the whole breast.
I was in shock and told my mother I thought I could cry. She told me to go right ahead. So I cried for a full minute, then I was over it.
When the doctor came back in, I said lets go through with the surgery and a week later we did. It’s been removed and have been in remission ever since.
I have to go back every six months for those checkups too. The weirdest thing is that later my twin sister had a different type of cancer but in the same place and same size.
What message would you give somebody going through cancer or a similar situation if you were to visit with them?
First of all, stay positive. Also, be stubborn and determined that you are not going to die. Don’t let it take over. Find something in your life that makes it worth living for and stick to it.
Every time I got down, my son would lift me back up. That had kept me going, my reason for living.
How is your cancer-free life now?
Most people don’t want to know… I mean really who wants to talk about something like this? Even I don’t like talking about it because I don’t want to consume myself with it. But the chemo had ruined my kidneys and I am on dialysis but I am really grateful I am cancer free. I can’t do as much, but I am just happy. I am truly happy.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
Just a mention of the word “cancer” and people’s moods change instantly as it has a profound effect on everyone.
Darlene is a remarkable example of being brave when faced with such an adversity. Not once but twice.
She is a testament to those that are going through a similar situation to endure and create reasons to stay positive.
And, if someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, do your best to support and encourage them. Be with them in the spirit of love and understanding. It’s rough enough finding the strength to go through treatment, and it’s even tougher doing it alone.
Our challenge as human beings is to find a cure for cancer in our lifetime.