Meet Sheila. She loves celebrating birthdays and family traditions. Perhaps the celebrating of a birthday is so impactful because you’ve reached another year in your life. Sheila’s family tradition is to race to be the first to call a family member at 12 am to wish them a Happy Birthday!! As she states, “it’s like being bombarded with love”.
Sheila was excited for her retirement in January 2018. She joined a mall walkers club and stayed active. She was looking forward to this stage in life where it was ‘her time’ to enjoy.
Unfortunately a few months into retirement, in April, she had a sore shoulder, so her doctor ordered an x-ray. The x-ray revealed suspicious lights in the bone of her arm, unrelated to her sore shoulder. Tests were ordered and confirmed that it is cancer. Her doctor told her that it wasn’t the kind we can scoop out. It is blood cancer, Multiple Myeloma.
She was shocked, went silent. She kept it together until she got to her car and then she screamed and cried. She called her sister who worked across the street from her doctor’s office. Her sister said she was coming right away to take her home. But Sheila just couldn’t wait. She was in shock. She had to do ‘something!’ She decided to drive home, and her sister followed her.
Later that night, after sharing the news with her family, she just felt the need to be alone and have a talk with God. “I’m always thinking and analyzing so I mauled over the tests. I’d always taken good care of myself. I hadn’t abused my body. I asked God what I had done to deserve this.” He said, “Do not worry and be anxious for nothing”.
Her primary care doctor referred her to oncologist Dr. Dallas and assured her that he wasn’t abandoning her and that he would still be following her with expert and kind care.
Her thoughts were running rampant. She had retired before being eligible for a Medicare plan. She did have a COBRA from her work, but after a few months the costs increased and caused a financial strain.
The initial chemo regimen was very difficult. She had allergic reactions to the chemo medicines and had to be hospitalized several times.
Later that year, Sheila went on to have a stem cell transplant at Duke University’s Cancer Institute. Fortunately, her insurance plan covered the transplant because she had met her deductible. The treatments after stem cell transplant were tough and exhausting and there were days that she had to use a wheelchair because she was so weak. Her husband took care of her with love and devotion. He cooked for her, but because of chemo her taste buds were off, and foods tasted differently. She said coffee is her favorite, but it tasted awful. On her last day at Duke following the transplant, she had a crash moment and needed a few more days of IV and meds.
A few weeks after returning home, the moment she dreaded happened. Her luscious long hair started to fall out. Sheila called herself a cry baby, but now looks back and laughs. She had her daughter shave her head bald and got a wig.
Phew, follow-up visit to Duke, and she was feeling and looking refreshed and ‘Alive’. People in the clinic were shocked at how great she looked, felt, and acted. Bingo, the test results showed NED (no evidence of disease). She had gone into remission!!! Another Birthday ahead! And now she has two birthdays, her born day and the new birthday when stem cell gave her a new life.
“I don’t care how much your family and friends love you, nobody can understand unless they’ve been there”, Sheila concluded. “I saw where Oncology Specialists of Charlotte had a callout for sharing of patient’s stories. This caught my attention both in mind and spirit to reach out and tell my story to give others Hope.”