In 2010, Rachel Herring was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), resulting from a rogue gene in the bone marrow that causes immature white blood cells to flood the blood stream. To this day, she battles the disease with chemo treatment in the form of a pill.
Six years into this journey, Rachel received more devastating news. In December 2016, after getting her results from a mammogram, the doctor told her that she would need another more detailed mammogram. The results from this second scan were suspicious too, so they recommended a biopsy. Since Rachel and her husband, Harvey, had planned to travel to Florida for the winter, they sent her mammogram results to the Moffitt Cancer Center near Tampa and asked for a biopsy there.
By the time she arrived for her first appointment, five doctors had already gone over her records and met to discuss her case. She was greeted by a surgeon, who was ready to perform the biopsy right away. The diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer. While this term meant little to her, Rachel did know one thing: she had two cancers in her body at the same time—leukemia and breast cancer. And according to her doctor in Indiana, “If you had to get breast cancer, you’ve got the worst kind.”
Luckily, the breast cancer was caught before it had spread to her lymph nodes, but since it was such a fast-growing cancer, doctors had to perform a single mastectomy as soon as possible. Even though the earliest opening was in late March, the surgeon decided to fit Rachel’s operation into her busy schedule. Rachel and Harvey received a call on a Friday that the surgery would take place the following Monday. “All the way along, I saw God’s hand working,” said Rachel.
While Rachel’s surgery went amazingly well, her experience with treatments was not so smooth. The addition of intravenous chemotherapy to treat the breast cancer conflicted with the chemo pills she was taking for her leukemia. The result was what she refers to as “chemo fog.”
After her first chemo treatment, while Rachel and Harvey were in Florida in the dining hall where they were staying, Rachel left to use the restroom. Minutes later, she called Harvey and told him, “I’m sick. I need you.” Harvey rushed to her aid and found his wife unconscious. Someone called 911, and the restroom soon flooded with people, including a nurse who later said, “I thought she was gone.”
By her last chemo treatment, Rachel had reached her lowest point. According to Harvey, she was in another world. She would sleep constantly and couldn’t answer questions, dress or bathe herself, lift her arms, put on shoes, get in and out of chairs, or do any housekeeping chores she had done before. Her husband gave her constant care and did the shopping, cleaning, and cooking for the two of them. He says Rachel practically lost the year of 2017.
During this time, Rachel’s immune system was down to zero. When the doctor first saw her blood test results, he urged them to be extremely careful with her health. For about two months, she had to protect herself from contact with germs. No one could visit her and she had to restrict her diet. Once her immune system slowly strengthened, Rachel was able to socialize with her friends on monthly camping trips.
Road to recovery
“Little by little she started to show improvement,” said Harvey. “Of course, we considered it all a miracle of God.” Each day, Rachel would try something new and experience small victories, such as being able to tie her shoes, cook dinner and play the piano.
Rachel and Harvey have reached their 80th birthdays and their 60th year of marriage. Rachel is now breast cancer free. Her journey with leukemia continues, but she’s thankful to God for the miracle He has done in her life. When friends and family see her, they’re relieved that the Rachel they know is back.
Even though Rachel’s journey has taken her through some very low valleys, she has remained at peace. “I was that way from the very beginning,” she said. “The peace of God just flooded my spirit.” She says it meant so much to know that many people were praying for her, including those at Gilead Ministries. She’s very grateful for their encouragement through cards with Bible verses, prayers over the phone and supportive texts.
“It’s been quite a journey,” said Rachel, “but God’s been good through the whole thing.”
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Rachel and Harvey celebrate her cousin Iola Seekins' 90th birthday
Iola is currently fighting cancer and is undergoing chemo infusions to battle her disease.
(Reported by Annika Peterson from Indiana Wesleyan University)