Beating the Big C
By D’Cai Rhodes
I’ve been a terrible sister and aunt. Now others will tell you that’s not true, but it’s how I feel at the moment. I knew my sister Niece (a family nickname) and her daughter Chelsi were sick with cancer, and I ran—from fear, from dread, from the unknown. I had lost my Daddy to cancer in 2013, so I was hoping that with Niece and Chelsi there would be this huge universal shift and it would just go away. It didn’t.
Niece, my youngest sister, found a lump in her mid-right thigh in August. It was about the size of a chickpea. By October, it had changed and grown to the size of a golf ball. By December she was unable to work due to the pain and was released from the job at a local bakery she’d had for years. The mass was the size of a cauliflower by then, and, because she had no insurance, she began looking for some type of help. By the grace of God, she found it through the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), where an amazing doctor took on her case, and he was in it to win!
In February of the next year, Niece had an MRI. One month later, she was sent to MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, where a biopsy was performed. The diagnosis that came back was malignant melanoma. Her doctor managed to get approval from an insurance company to allow her to have surgery to remove it. Niece was finally admitted to UTMB in Angleton, Texas, and the tumor was removed at the end of April. It cut out more than half of her anterior right thigh. The scar looks like she lost a battle with a rather large shark.
Two months later a lesion began to form on the corner of the surgery scar—a large, angry blister that resembled a third-degree burn but had a horrid color. When she spoke of it, she spoke with a resolve to beat it yet again. After more tests, my sister was again diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. Treatment included aggressive radiation and chemotherapy. By mid-July, she began experiencing excruciating pain and severe weight loss. The tumor had become a rapidly growing, painful mass, changing from an angry blister to a discolored protuberance that resembled a large, green mushroom.
Cancer had been haunting Niece’s family for years. Her daughter Chelsi was diagnosed a few years ago with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Chemo treatments began within months of the new year and ended in October, during which she lost her hair. Remission was established by the end of year in November.
During a checkup in early summer the following year, Chelsi was informed the disease was back. This terrified her because now she was pregnant. Her doctor suggested an abortion due to the risk chemo posed to her unborn child and to her own life. She refused, and in her second trimester, began more chemo treatments. Her son was born three months premature but otherwise healthy, and she began prepping for a stem-cell transplant. Chemo treatments were completed several months later, and she reached remission at the end of the summer.
Just as she felt she could breathe a sigh of relief and be a mother to her son, tragedy struck again three years after the first cancer diagnosis of another lymphoma in her groin. The doctors aggressively treated it with radiation and chemotherapy. This summer Chelsi went to have a routine PT scan to clear her of lymphoma only to be told the original invader was gone, however she now had the disease in her liver.
My niece didn’t even flinch, never lost momentum. She just picked herself up, dusted herself off, and steeled herself for another battle, determined to win the war within her own body. She took the hair loss with the most eloquent resolve and was so beautiful in ball caps and exquisite wigs. The weight loss was the most drastic effect. Not long after these most recent treatments, we gathered for dinner one night. I had not seen her in about three months, and the sight of her buckled my knees. I wanted to run away from it all again.
And then, a few day later, came my epiphany. I was driving to work, and a song came on the radio about rising up and meeting life’s challenges. It sang of being broken and tired, losing the will to fight, feeling like dying, and then, ultimately, hope: “We’re gonna walk it out . . . and bring the world to its feet.” The song resonated and thundered in my soul.
I wept. Understand, I do not cry. It’s my nature to stand and fight anything that comes my way. But the message in this song ran over me, and I was broken to my core. Fear ran through me along with thoughts like, “What if it’s too late to help?” Guilt swept me up in a whirlwind of at least F2 strength, and I knew I had to do something. I had to try to make a difference and encourage them to fight.
From the car, I called my niece Meagan—Chelsi’s sister—utterly speechless with sobs and squeaked out “I can’t.” It wasn’t that I couldn’t help or that I didn’t have the capacity to get involved, but that I couldn’t take it—the sheer thought of losing my sister or my niece to “that-which-we-dare-not-speak-its-name.” Instead I call it “the Big C.” I didn’t really have anything to say in the phone call, I just needed to know she was connected to me at that pivotal time. We were now a team, she and I.
And at that instant the universe sent me a message. A truck with a trailer attached pulled out in front of me. The darned thing was so close I had to stand on the brake pedal to stop my car from loading up onto the trailer. I began ranting. Anger took the place of my tears, and they dried right up. Then, mere yards up the road, the truck’s driver turned on his blinker and slammed on his brakes to turn into another driveway.
A few profanities flew, as well as a strategically placed hand gesture, but suddenly I was back—the one who faces dragons head-on with armor shining in the sun, ready to defeat whatever beast lies in wait! I giggled just a bit. Meagan asked if I had just lost my mind. No. I explained that this truck was the angels’ way of making me shrug off the self-pity party and get busy devising a plan of action.
First, I visited Facebook, where I quickly wrote the question, “Cancer cures and treatment centers?” and posted it. Within minutes my cousin called me and gave me information on a place in Mexico that had cured his wife’s disease. I read testimonials of other patients who had been told that nothing more could be done and were sent home to die, yet they visited this same clinic and are free of the Big C today.
I sent all the information in a text to my family, informing them that we were taking this thing on, and we were going to win. Chelsi called me later and said she’d been resting, but when she saw all the text messages she thought, “Look at all this my MeMe sent. Bitch on a mission!” She says she felt a sense of relief because she knew that when MeMe set her mind to something, she was going to move mountains. More tears, but of resolve.
This journey will continue.
“All we need is hope . . . and for that we have each other.” Andra Day, “Rise Up.”
Artwork deviantart.com: “RESOLVE” by Jesse Michael Renaud (US) and”Determination” by Carlos Henrigue Reinesch (Brazil)
D’Cai Rhodes is a budding “Honeybee Farmer” and freelance writer who takes a humorous approach to life and a decidedly different viewpoint on journalistic freedom. She is a safety manager in the chemical, oil, and gas industry with a background in firefighting, emergency medical services, and high-angle rescue. D’Cai is new to freelance writing but has been a popular storyteller in safety meetings across the Gulf Coast chemical, oil, and gas industries. Keep an eye on her blog page: dcrfreelance.wordpress.com for upcoming articles, blogs, etc. about the antics of a beginning bee farmer and a few safety tales.