U A B C O M P R E H E N S I V E C A N C E R C E N T E R 9

I knew from

the moment I

was prepped for

surgery at UAB

that I was in the

right place.

this? Then he takes my hand and calmly tells me, The surgery was more in-depth than they expected. You were in there for about an hour and a half. The tumor was wrapped around your vocal cords, and they had to scrape them to get all of it. They couldn t get a clear biopsy, but they are pretty sure it s cancer.

Tumor? Cancer? What? No. That can t be right. They must have me confused with another patient. I m young, healthy, I only smoked a few cigarettes in college, AND I m a new mom! Maybe I m still under, and I m dreaming this. My doctor comes a little later and tells me the same thing Bret had told me. Not a dream. We should know the biopsy results in a few days, but I need to be prepared for possibly another surgery.

Bret called my mom, Beverly Turner, who was at home recovering from a surgical biopsy on her arm. After he tells her my news, she was really quiet. She had news for us, too. She had cancer, non-Hodgkin s lymphoma. Wait - you mean Mom definitely has cancer, and there is a 95 to 98 percent chance that I have it too, and we find out on the same day? How did this happen? Why did this happen?

Fear. Anger. Determination. I don t think I had ever felt so many emotions all at once. More surgery? What about treatments? How would I take care of Jack? Who would take care of Mom? What if the cancer is a really, really bad one, and I don t survive? Would Jack remember me? What if Mom doesn t survive? No one could possibly ever love Jack as much as me. This was so unfair! I wanted to punch something or someone. Why? Why me? Why Mom?

We have a family history of cancer. My grandmother, Marie West (Mom s mother), was a lung and thyroid cancer survivor. She was still going strong at 85. Once I realized this, the determination set in. Bret and his parents took care of me and baby Jack, and my sweet grandmother took care of Mom.

Fast forward about 21 months later. Mom and I were both cancer-free and doing great! Jack was now a typi- cal two-year-old boy. Our house was full of Thomas the Train, Hot Wheels, Scooby Doo, puzzles, the occasional tantrum, and lots of giggles and snuggles. I had a sinus

infection and went to the doctor. A lymph node was swollen. Thinking it was just from the infection, but also being cautious, my doctor checked me after two weeks. More lymph nodes had appeared. He ordered a biopsy, and a few days later, we received the news that the can- cer had returned. You have got to be kidding me! Was once not enough? The why s crept up again. I remember calling my grandmother and telling her. She calmly said, You will beat this. You have already done it once. You have to take care of Bret and Jack, and that will be what drives you. Do not worry, you can do this.

My doctor sent me to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center to have Dr. Glenn Peters perform more surgery. I met with Dr. Richard Rosenthal first, and then with Dr. Peters. I had a total neck dissection to remove all of the lymph nodes in my neck. I knew from the moment I was prepped for surgery at UAB that I was in the right place. The care that I received during this stay was amaz- ing. Dr. Peters met with us before surgery, and he was so kind and encouraging. The nurses that took care of me in recovery and during my hospital stay were the most atten- tive, kindest ladies. The nurses that took care of me later on during my stays for my third and fourth radioactive iodine treatments were just as wonderful.

I see Dr. Rosenthal every year now for maintenance of my thyroid. The thing I love the most about UAB is this. They see thousands of patients every single day. But every time I go for my check-ups, the ladies at the endocrinology clinic remember me and greet me before I sign in. Dr. Rosenthal doesn t have to read my chart to remember me (well, at least he doesn t in front of me).

We were pleasantly surprised with another son, Luke, who is now five. Jack is now 11 and into Legos, Minecraft, playing guitar and hanging out with his friends. Mom s cancer returned three years ago, and thankfully, she beat it again. Although my family history of cancer isn t such a great thing, I have been so proud to say that I am a third-generation cancer SURVIVOR. The three of us fought hard and won. Sadly, my sweet grandmother passed away in April at age 94. But her strength, inspiration and determination will continue to live on through Mom, me, Jack and Luke.

first-person account