I would like to share a story of my favorite valentine, my husband of 38 years, Terry.
He stood by me through more than any person should be asked to do, willingly and with his infectious sense of humor. My college sweetheart put his love in action. He even won an award.
The journey really started in 1994. We were enjoying our life with a wonderful son, Matthew, who was 7. Matt was looking forward to first grade and started playing little league. I just found a new job close to home that we were excited about; however, I wouldn’t have insurance coverage at work. So before my full coverage expired, I asked my family doctor for tests he recommended.
At age 37, he did a baseline mammogram. His suggestion found an extensive intraductal cancerous breast tumor Stage 3 with no node involvement.
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After various interviews of surgeons and oncologists, I decided on a female breast surgeon in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a young breast cancer oncologist, Dr. Randy Drosick, at Oncology Hematology Care. My parents were close to Cincinnati to provide child care, and my sister was a nurse there.
Surgery was a modified radical mastectomy, followed by six months of CMF chemotherapy and five years of tamoxifen. My husband was my rock during this time. He handled all of the meals since the smells made me sick, school duties and care of a first-grader. He drove me to every appointment and sat through every treatment. He stayed positive and insisted we would conquer this together.
After recuperating, I wanted to be proactive in the fight against cancer, so with several other young newly diagnosed mothers in Seymour — one a nurse at the hospital — I joined a new breast cancer support group at Schneck Medical Center.
I worked at the first Jackson County Relay for Life at Tanger Outlet Mall and thereafter at the high school, forming relay groups, fundraisers, doing the luminaries and planning the activities during the relay.
I continued my yearly checkups with an oncologist. I thought we had beaten the cancer beast.
Cancer was beginning to fade to the back of our minds. It was 2013. I completed the sale of my tax business and started a wonderful position at Schneck in the accounting department.
An employee wellness fair highlighted all of the problems my family doctor in Columbus brushed off as getting older and the results of a desk job. Per the health fair results, Dr. Dan Walters at the Schneck employee clinic investigated my fatigue, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, shortness of breath, high triglycerides and weird blood work with scans my previous doctor should have done.
Tests revealed an unknown mass in my chest cavity. A search for a cardiothoracic surgeon brought us to Dr. Geoffrey Answini at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. The surgeon didn’t think it was cancer because of the area it covered. The plan was to open me up like open-heart surgery and remove it. I would come home in a few days.
For the convenience of my husband, I set up a Caring Bridge account to pass on information to co-workers and friends when surgery was completed and when I would be home. He didn’t think it was needed but promised he would post something. Little did he know this would be his main source of communication on my situation for 10 months.
The growth had been there longer than imagined, and when opening me up, the surgeon cut through a main collateral blood vessel. The collaterals were in an area that should not have blood vessels, which grew to compensate for the blood supply that was choked. I bled unexpectedly. They closed me up without removing the tumor.
A biopsy showed it was Stage 4 breast cancer, but it wasn’t in my breast. The tumor was choking my superior vena cava, my heart and lungs. Terry started his fight to bring me home.
During my stay, the sternum wouldn’t heal because my body was so compromised, resulting in infection around the wire. The end result was removal of the sternum and ribs where the antibiotics didn’t work.
A wound vacuum was applied on my chest to suction out infection. My body broke out all over. I had blood clots in my arms, legs and lungs. I couldn’t tolerate blood thinners. I had countless blood transfusions for internal bleeding. A filter was inserted to catch floating blood clots. A port (a catheter that is used to draw blood and get IVs) was inserted in my thigh, the only place available.
My lymphatic system shut down, so my body swelled to more than 200 pounds with fluids. My entire body was covered with Ace bandages to squeeze it out.
I was on a ventilator for more than two months, so I couldn’t talk. My husband rigged a wireless doorbell to my bed so I could get his attention. He was very patient trying to decipher what I wanted.
My lungs were filled with infection. To hold my ribs together and protect my heart, a stomach muscle was moved to where my sternum had been.
My husband changed dressings and bedding, suctioned out my tracheostomy, gave me tube feedings and helped the nurses and me any way he could. They said I never gave up because he constantly cheered me on, singing and whispering in my ear when I was unresponsive. His positive spirit never wavered. Terry prayed, cried and held me. Whatever I needed. He never left my side, only for a few hours when family members came to relieve him. Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day were just another day trying to survive in the hospital.
When the hospital wanted to send me to a nursing home, Terry spearheaded the search. His perseverance paid off because he got me into a 24-hour rehab unit in the hospital.
After 89 days from surgery, I came home March 1, 2014, in a wheelchair. But three days later, I started the mysterious internal bleeding at home.
The ambulance took me to Schneck, where they started blood transfusions. The emergency room doctor doubted I could survive being moved. My husband called my oncologist in Cincinnati who oversaw my hospital stays. The two doctors talked and decided to airlift me to Cincinnati, getting blood transfusions in transit. Fortunately, I made it through and returned home weakened and to resume therapies.
For four months, I couldn’t leave the house because my immune system was too weak. Six months later, the feeding tube could be removed. A year after the tracheostomy, I was strong enough to have surgery to close the hole in my neck that never healed. Small steps forward.
At home, my husband, with help from our son, took care of me 24 hours, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and handling my tube feedings and IV medications. He carried me from a hospital bed to a chair and back.
Schneck occupational and physical therapists and visiting nurses helped me gain strength and endurance by coming to the house. Our St. Ambrose church family, Knights of Columbus, co-workers and friends provided meals, prayer services, care of our house, goats and chickens and sent cards, which were greatly appreciated.
Every Friday, Terry loaded our car with a wheelchair, oxygen, tube feeding supplies, medications, pillows and snacks for an all-day trip to Cincinnati for chemotherapy treatments. He never complained and kept me smiling with his positive attitude.
The taxotere and taxol chemo shrunk the main tumor. The drugs were stopped when my arms and legs became numb. After stopping, this has improved.
I continued with herceptin chemo until it damaged my heart. This was caught early and has improved, also. The cancer continues to appear in my ribs. The doctors prefer not to do investigative surgery or continue chemo so I can get stronger. I continue with an arimidex pill daily, and the cancer appears stable.
I continued my therapies until July 2016, gaining strength and stamina. I can now drive, walk without my cane, do light activity and do some volunteering at St. Ambrose and the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour a few hours at a time with my oxygen backpack.
I use a home anodyne therapy unit daily for my neuropathy. I still have issues to work on. My goal was to improve for our son’s wedding. On July 23 last year, I was able to dance at his wedding.
We are very fortunate Terry worked for a wonderful family-owned business, Lewis Bakeries, for many years. They gave him the flexibility to be there for me. Our son’s work also allowed him to be by my side.
My husband’s unusual care resulted in his nomination by The Christ Hospital oncology nurse practitioner for the 2014 Caretaker of the Year Award for the city of Cincinnati. He definitely earned it. He missed the award presentation dinner a year later because I was sick again, and he wouldn’t leave my side.
My husband would stress to be sure to take command of your own health and believe in the power of prayer to do what seems impossible. My family doctor in Columbus told me for years my physical complaints were just the result of getting older, and I started to believe it.
I found out later the tumor had caused all of my body to be out of whack. Once the tumor shrunk with chemo, everything went back to normal. I should have listened to my uneasy gut feeling.
Now, we must stay vigilant in watching for cancer growth while enjoying life. Terry doesn’t see what he did as anything unusual. He insists he just acted on our wedding vows for better or worse. I pray that, God willing, I can hold him to those vows for many years to come.
Debbie Meyers is a Seymour resident and cancer survivor. Send comments to email@example.com.
Names: Debbie and Terry Meyers
Ages: She’s 59, and he’s 61
Hometowns: She’s from Brookville, and he’s from Lowell
Education: She graduated from Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg in 1975 and University of Evansville with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1979 and earned her enrolled agent certification in 1997; he graduated from Lowell Senior High School in 1974 and University of Evansville in 1977 with an associate degree in law enforcement
Married: 38 years
Occupations: She’s a retired tax accountant, and he has worked for Lewis Bakeries for 41 years
Family: Son, Matt (Stephanie) Meyers