“I have been battling cancer and other related issues since 2014. My husband, daughter, and I were taking care of my dad in St. Louis. He was battling prostate cancer and many other issues, and my mother was disabled, too. I started having symptoms that caused stress and anxiety, and I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. I was afraid I was dying, but I was afraid to talk to anyone but my husband about it. I didn’t even have a doctor or health insurance, so I was afraid to go to the doctor or emergency room.
My periods seemed to be getting more intense, and one evening, I started bleeding all over myself, uncontrollably, while I was in class studying for my Master’s. My instructor was very compassionate and looked like she was as scared as I was. I couldn’t think of what to do. I called my husband, Rob, and told him, ‘Please come get me.’ When Rob arrived, he admits now, he was scared, too. He tried to calm me down and got me home. We both thought I was having a miscarriage.
We went to the emergency room shortly after—in April 2014—and the discharge instructions indicated I had ‘fibroids’ and ‘should follow up with my primary care doctor to rule out uterine cancer.’ I had neither a primary care doctor nor health insurance. I was somehow directed to a clinic in South St. Louis City which would accept patients who do not have health insurance. The doctor at the clinic saved my life. I told her, ‘I am bleeding and in a lot of pain.’ She asked us to get the CD from the emergency room doctor and we brought it to her the next day. She pushed forward the next appointment and told us, ‘Something is dying inside of you.’ She was adamant about doing a biopsy right away and scheduled a D&C right after. She showed Rob pictures and told him, ‘I’m sure she has cancer.’ She said, ‘I stopped doing the D&C right away because I didn’t want the cancer to spread.’
She referred me to an OBGYN oncologist, but I was not able to see him with the insurance the clinic helped me obtain. I was scared and nervous at this point, but I finally agreed to see another doctor, Dr. Hoff, who would take my new insurance. I quickly felt at ease with Dr. Hoff, and my husband liked him, too. Dr. Hoff promised, ‘I’ll treat you like my own wife or daughter.’ He never let us down on this promise. He did his own biopsy and we scheduled my surgery for removing the cancer and fibroids for August 29, 2014, a few months after the emergency room visit. We had to be at the hospital at 5 a.m. to prepare for the surgery.
This date turned out to have another significance for me and my family. My dad had been sick for years and was unable to take care of himself. Rob, my daughter, and I moved into their home the summer of 2011 to take care of my parents. We had been planning on selling their home and moving to two smaller mobile homes close to each other in the same community, to allow for independence and still allow us to take care of them. Dad was anxious about the move because he was used to having us in the same house. We were scheduled to close on the sale of their home on the same day as my surgery, so we ‘pre-closed’ the day before, because Dad was too scared to leave the home without us and hadn’t driven in years.
It was 12:27 a.m. on August 29, 2014, 4 and a half hours before we had to be at the surgery center, and my 35th birthday, when my daughter yelled up the stairs, ‘Mom, Rob! There’s something wrong with Grandpa!’ Rob and I jumped out of bed and ran as fast as we could down the stairs to their bedroom. The door was closed, so Rob had to force his way in, discovering that Dad was face-down on the floor between their bed and bedroom door. Mom was trapped inside and quickly rushed out. Rob attempted CPR while I called 911. Despite the fire station being across the street, Dad was dead and could not be resuscitated. I had lost my dad a few hours before cancer surgery, on my birthday! I was so overwhelmed with grief I wanted to postpone my surgery. My daughter and Rob convinced me even Dad would want me to have the surgery.
We wrapped up the necessary details and got ready to go to the hospital shortly after my dad’s body was picked up from the house by the funeral home. When we arrived at the hospital, I was grief-stricken and crying still. Rob calmed me down and pointed out, ‘The good news is you can get to sleep through most of the day.’ I did get to sleep, but awoke to my estranged sister and other family members trying to tell us to put my mom in a nursing home and ‘move on with your lives.’ How are we supposed to move on? We promised Dad we would take care of our mom. She couldn’t take care of herself, but we promised she wouldn’t have to go to a nursing home.
We moved to Festus, Missouri. My doctor suggested, ‘You should do radiation therapy.’ I was scared to death. I had been engaging with support groups online, and so many people on there said things that scared me even more about radiation therapy. I went to a couple of appointments to prepare for radiation treatments and the doctor and his staff were rude to me. People in the support groups said they and/or their loved ones went through so much anguish and pain during radiation. Dr. Hoff said, ‘Stay off the internet.’ I couldn’t keep away. Rob said, ‘It’s your decision, honey.’ What should I do? I froze from fear. I don’t want to die. I can’t take this anymore. I’m scared. The doctor doesn’t care. I’M NOT DOING RADIATION!
Time passed. We moved to St. Genevieve, Missouri. The PET SCAN showed no cancer. The cancer didn’t come back, but I thought, ‘What if it does? I’ll try to get a job. God, please don’t let the cancer come back. I don’t want to die. This job makes me tired. Is the cancer coming back?’ I was in pain every day. It felt like the cancer was back. Doctors said, ‘There’s nothing wrong.’ But I was in pain. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to live like this anymore. Why didn’t they believe me? Another trip to the E.R. Something doesn’t look right. I get another oncologist, Dr. Easley. ‘Cancer, metastatic, attached to your colon.’ Dr. Easley removed it then recommended chemo. Rob said, ‘Can we do what the doctor advises this time?’ I thought, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea. I’m scared. I don’t want to die. Let’s schedule the chemo.’ On my way to my doctor’s appointment to schedule my chemo, I got a phone call. It was Rob. ‘I totaled my truck. Uncle Cy ran me off the road.’
I postponed the doctor’s appointment to go to the accident. I thought, ‘God, please don’t let Rob die. How did Uncle Cy run him off the road?’ I got there. Rob thought it was 2015 and Obama was President. It’s December 1, 2017. Rob had a traumatic brain injury. I got a letter from the Healthcare Marketplace. My insurance had to change carriers. I have to change oncologists. They referred me to Dr. Powell with Washington University Physicians at BJC Hospital in St. Louis. They’re a top hospital in the country. It’s a long way to drive but he comes highly recommended. I’ll give it a chance. I met Dr. Powell and he also recommended chemo. We decided to do chemo. It was rough, but we got through it. The PET SCAN showed I was cancer-free again. I was nervous still. Another scan said I was cancer-free again. I had hope. I have other health issues, but I don’t have cancer. I thought I was going to be okay. Dr. Powell is a great doctor.
Then, Rob got cancer. I hoped I was strong enough to support him through his treatment. COVID-19 hit and Rob had to go inside the cancer center for chemo alone. I did the best I can to be there. I survived and he will, too. I got back into support groups and tried to support people without scaring them. Rob said he loves me and thanks me. I’m able to help people. I felt better.
I am happy to say I have been cancer-free since 2018. I used to think I was all alone in the world and not strong enough to deal with this kind of adversity. I have learned my husband and my daughter have been supportive and will stand by me, no matter what I am going through. I have learned my faith in God and the support of my family give me the strength to fight any battle I will face.
I have also learned I can support other people and be supportive for them while they are facing their own battles. My support network and my newfound ability to share my strength help me to understand God never allows us to go through anything that cannot make us both stronger and more compassionate toward other people in their times of need. Together, we are going to be okay.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cathy VanderMyde of St. Louis, Missouri. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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