Debra’s Story ~ All in the Family
My career was in full bloom…I just lost my mother to a devastating illness.
I was pressing to get on with my life, when another curveball came my way…
Growing up in a family well acquainted with cancer and long-term illness, you soon come to realize, your life will not be normal, and that God always has other plans.
I grew up in Gas City, daughter to a hard-working blue-collar father and a loving and nurturing stay at home mom. I was my mom's only child.
Needless to say, we were close, spending much of our time together, while dad worked and took care of us.
Unknown to me during my childhood was that my mom was a miracle in herself.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma only months after I was born, my mother was not supposed to be here at all. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, if you were diagnosed with Hodgkin's, it was pretty much a death sentence. She not only had it, but it had spread, even into her bones.
Mom’s desire to see me grow up was strong, so she agreed to go through experimental treatments. It was so difficult that they would make Dr. Mengele blush. My earliest memories were riding in the car with her and my grandmother to Parkview Hospital in Ft. Wayne, almost daily. Those memories still flood my mind.
The nurses became friends as they would let me “watch mom on TV” while she was getting radiation. They bought me toys, and generally lookout for me. I imagine it was sad having a little girl with her terminal Mother who was fighting so hard. But my mom and the Lord had other ideas.
One day we went to the hospital like we always did. But this time was different. This day was to be much different. Mom was told all the cancer was gone. Like completely gone. The doctor, who was an experimental oncologist, was himself, stupefied. He went as far as to invite in several faith leaders to have my mom tell her story. This isn’t normally something that happens in a hospital setting.
My mother was a walking miracle.
The doctor gave her a warning, however. “You may only get 15 years before you start having health problems from all the treatments we gave you,” he told her. As a 20-something that was looking at 6 months of life left, 15 years sounded like heaven!
Time passed…15 years slipped by quickly. Then, as if the doctors' words were spoken yesterday, her health problems started to crop up. Lots of them. Mom suffered from Primary Biliary Cirrhosis, congestive heart failure, an Aortic aneurysm, and a host of other stuff too long to mention. Then, she was diagnosed with Multiple Systems Atrophy. So, when she got MSA, it was that moment you look at God and say, “really?”
God used all of it and he did allow my mom to see me not only grow up, but to get married, and move into late adulthood.
Well, her story and mine are intertwined in a way that is impossible to separate.
My Mom lived to be 65. MSA took its final swing and mom was gone.
After my mother died, it was in some ways a bit of a relief. She had struggled so long and with so many things that it was nice to know her struggle was over. It was also nice to know that the constant worry of something else happening to her that I lived with my entire adult life up till then, was over.
To some, this may seem harsh, but don’t kid yourself. A human being will take almost anything to avoid the constant grief and pressure that a chronically sick person brings on a caregiver and their family. They will take it gladly, and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t want to still call my mom and help take care of her. But at the time, it was just too much.
After mom died I really tried to get on with my life. I dove headfirst into my career, I consumed my days helping my dad through things as he started to live without her. But I found that I was more and more tired. I assumed I was burning the candle at both ends and my doctor assured me that I was grieving. But I just didn’t seem to have any energy.
Doctor visits would discover little “anomalies” in my blood work were “nothing to worry about.”
In the spring of 2014, a combination of an ER visit, and follow up trips to the doctor revealed that the liver disease my mother had was something genetic. I now had it. The disease I have was found to be at Stage 2 PBC when I was diagnosed.
PBC means that my immune system is attacking the bile ducts in my liver, destroying them. Medication will slow the damage to the liver, but the disease progresses at its own pace. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. Abdominal pain, swelling, and mind-sucking fatigue are a regular part of my life.
Once I was diagnosed, I started to feel better on the medication and figured I would be able to do ok. My doctor told me I was more likely to get some forms of cancer with my liver disease. I underwent some testing in 2015. I was found to have Thyroid cancer that year. By God’s grace, it was found extremely early and I was able to just have the surgery and no treatment. However, living with no thyroid and a bum liver makes life a little interesting.
A few months after my Thyroid surgery, a position became available in Grant County (I lived and worked in Muncie), so I moved to another office in Gas City. The commute was hard on me, but I was improving and wanted to make a go of it. It was mentally and physically exhausting.
Although I grew up in Grant County, I was starting over in a new place with my career, my dad’s health issues were difficult, and I was adjusting to my “new normal”. In 2016 I was promoted to a higher position in the company and moved offices to Marion.
I have always enjoyed helping the community, so I initially asked around what organizations I could get involved with to get my name and face out there in my new town. I ran across Gilead Ministries. I was drawn to the faith-based statement of the group, but when I saw that they encouraged patients with cancer and long term illness, I was in the present-day vernacular, “shook.”
I had to reach out to them.
Originally I had wanted to meet people that I could do business with, but when I read what they were about, all that went away.
I had to be part of a group that helped those that needed a glimmer of hope.
People that understood what it meant to have not one ounce of energy left, not one foot to put in front of the other. At the end of my mother’s illness I was so overwhelmed and so exhausted I went to some dark places mentally. The Lord was there with me always, but I also felt very alone.
An organization like Gilead would have made my life so much easier.
In 2020, my life took another turn. While everyone dealt with COVID, I dealt with a merger of my company, my liver disease taking another turn, and now I’m looking at another move of job locations.
But what has always been there is Gilead. Yes, I’m a board member and now an officer. But I know I would get these encouraging cards, texts, and messages even if I had no connection anymore to Gilead in that way.
This organization cares about people. That’s something many say, but its seldom acted upon.
This board PRAYS for people at board meetings. Do you know how refreshing it is to have a business meeting where people pray? Those of you from Grant County don’t know how special that is if you have organizations that do that. It's not happening in other places.
But I didn’t know Gilead existed until I was a board member. Now I have a story. While I didn’t have cancer that was life-threatening at the time, I didn’t have chemo and radiation, I do struggle with a chronic, terminal disease that is slowly killing me.
Sometimes that is overwhelming to think about and it takes a toll on the body and mind.
Gilead is there to share my journey and be there for me.