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Most of you know my sister, Becky, as the fun-loving, extravagant, life-of-the-party girl who gets us all going at any family gathering. For as long as I can remember, she has been the one with a flair for theatrics with a big singing voice and big personality to match. If you are a fan of community theater, you may have seen her performances in local productions of "The Sound of Music", "Annie Get Your Gun", and "The Music Man", to name just a few. Becky is a long-standing member of the choir at St. John's Church in Benwood, West Virginia. Her powerful, soprano voice has filled that church for more than 50 years, first as a member of the children's choir and later as a member of the adult ensemble. Her presence in that church has been felt in many other ways as well: street fair worker; fish fry volunteer; religious education teacher; parish council member; lector; Eucharistic minister.
As a kid, Becky took a lot of teasing because of her weight, something she has struggled to keep in check all her life. That teasing seemed to spark a determination in her to prove to the world that she was so much more than her outward appearance. After graduating from Bishop Donahue High School, she went to college, earning degrees from West Virginia Northern, West Liberty and, much later, a Master's Degree from WVU in Morgantown. Studying was never easy for Becky, which made her academic accomplishments even more meaningful. She went on to a 30+ year career in the field of Mental Health until losing her job two years ago. Then the weight started dropping, dramatically. At first, Becky was thrilled, although she really couldn't say exactly why she was losing so much weight so suddenly. She went through her yearly bout with the flu, a kidney infection and some digestive issues she blamed on antibiotics. And the weight kept dropping. She had trouble keeping food down, experienced other digestive problems and still felt as if the kidney infection was hanging on. A visit to her primary care physician led to a barrage of tests, including a colonoscopy--a test the doctor could not complete because he encountered a mass in her colon. A biopsy led to the diagnosis of colon cancer. Suddenly, the reason for the weight loss was obvious. As Becky puts it: "I don't recommend this diet."
On April 28th, Becky had abdominal pain severe enough to send her to the emergency room at Wheeling Medical Park. Doctors there determined there was a bowel blockage but were unable to find a way to relieve it. They could not insert an NG tube because of Becky's strong gag reflex. The medical team made the decision to transfer Becky to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. Doctors there were able to place a stent in the bowel to relieve the blockage (This is the Readers Digest Condensed Version of the story!) The procedure itself went well, but Becky woke up from the anesthesia coughing up the contents of her stomach. Sooooo. . . . they inserted an NG(what?) tube AND a ventilator to help her NOT aspirate the contents of the stomach. While all of this was going on, I was trying frantically to get hold of someone at Ruby who could tell me where my sister was and what was going on with her. We later found out my phone number had been misplaced, so Becky remained in SICU for hours without any family around to comfort her. (Oh, there will be MUCH more about this later.)
Becky stayed at Ruby until this past Friday, when her friend, Nancy, kindly traveled to Morgantown to bring her home. The next day, Nancy picked up Becky's prescriptions, got her a bedside commode and a shower seat and got her settled in before moving on.
Here is where I need to say a huge "thank you" to the people in Benwood/McMechen/Wheeling who have helped her on so many days when I couldn't be there: Nancy Moore; cousins Angela Provenzano-Jones and Joycelyn Adkins; Cindy Uarich; Toni Bulian; Trudy Forster, and many others who, I am sure, I will be writing about in these pages in the days to come.
So here's the deal: Becky is facing many weeks of chemo and radiation followed by a brief respite, then surgery sometime in August. The plan is to shrink this huge tumor enough to enable surgeons to remove it with as little damage as possible to the colon and surrounding organs. My husband, Jerry, went along with Becky to one of her appointments and he passed along the doctor's description of the tumor: the main part of the tumor, which appears to have originated in the colon, has sent out tentacles through the vaginal wall, and one just barely touching the bladdar. Our hope is that the chemo/radiation will shrink back the tentacles and reduce the tumor in size. There does not appear to be cancer anywhere else in her body. Good news! However, doctors will not know for certain what all needs to be removed until they actually get in there to take it out. Not so good news.
To complicate matters, as I mentioned before, Becky is unemployed and therefore lacks an income and benefits. Right up front, I am going to tell you there will be at least one fundraiser associated with this site. The other mitigating factor is housing. Becky's current living situation is not the best for someone who will be undergoing cancer treatment. We are looking for temporary, alternate living quarters for her during treatment. After we are able to make those arrangements, I hope to take a crew of "angels" to Becky's house to whip it into shape so she can return to a clean, safe, comfortable environment after her hospital stays. In the weeks and months to come, we will be asking for more "angels" to join us to support Becky in any way they can.
If you are still reading this unbelievably looong post, I hope that is because you are moved enough to consider being one of Becky's Angels. I have already named a few, but she is going to need many more supporters to get her through this. If you are on Facebook, keep watching for notifications for fundraisers, meal plans, home repair projects, etc. Phone calls are always welcome, as are prayers. Visits are good, too, but may need to be scheduled during treatment so the patient can get the rest she needs.
I may regret this, but I made Becky a co-author of this blog. That way, she can fill in the parts I left out and share her feelings and thoughts with you. To all of the angels who are already helping, thanks again! To the rest of you angels out there--thanks for your support.