Here she was celebrating with her friends and family having dinner at Old Venice when Mary Pat received a call from her guardian angel. He told her Mary Pat. “I know you’re celebrating with your friends and family, but you were right. You cancer is back. There is a spot on your liver. You need to have more test.”
Mary Pat had stepped outside on the patio when the call came through. She turned and looked at Gary. By the look on her face, immediately, he knew something was wrong. He stepped out to the patio to join her. Her friends were inside having a joyous time believing that all was well. Mary Pat and Gary had to yet again break the dreadful news that her cancer had returned. The entire team got quiet. They said maybe it’s a mistake. Even if it is true, we will get through it as we have before. Her friends were very supportive.
NMMC referred her to UAB again. She needed an oncologist/liver specialist. She had to wait about four weeks before one was selected. The doctor, she would be seeing, was ranked as the number 1 specialist in his field. Everyone was confident that this would be the last time she’d have to have surgery or the cancer reoccurring.
The thing is Mary Pat had a feeling that something wasn’t right even before she’d received the call that night. She’d seen Nurse Nan in Walmart and told her that she was wanting them to look again at her scans. With her receiving that clean bill of health, she wasn’t due to go back to the doctor for another six months, but Mary Pat could not shake the feeling of something being wrong. She asked Nurse Nan if she will talk to the doctors to see if they can review her charts again. Thankfully, the guardian angel did so. Her doctor in Birmingham informed her that if she had waited six months after the news of the “clean bill of health” she would not have been alive.
On top of the diagnosis of her cancer coming back, covid hit the entire world. Hospitalization would not be the same. Her surgery was scheduled, but it was not a guarantee that it would be performed the day scheduled because of covid. The hospitals did not know if there would be enough blood to have the surgery. The hospital informed Mary Pat that people could donate blood even if it wasn’t her blood type. A week before surgery, the community of Tupelo and Houston (Gary’s hometown) came together to donate blood. There was an enormous turnout. The blood drive was a success, and the surgery was scheduled.
Prior to covid, the patient’s loved ones were allowed to sit in the waiting room until the patient was sent into recovery. After recovery, family was allowed to stay and spend the night in the room with the patient. Due to no one understanding the virus and how it was transferred, the hospitals around the world had to take safety precautions. Prior to the surgery, Mary Pat was nervous about surgery and Gary being allowed to be in the room. The day before the surgery, the hospital called and stated that Gary would be able to stay in the hospital room with her. On the morning of surgery, everything changed. The staff came to take Mary Pat for surgery. She and Gary told their goodbyes. Gary went to sit back up front. The staff called him to the front desk. She said the hospital received a memo that morning that no one could be in the patient’s room, no one could sit while the patient was being prepped, no one was allowed in recovery, and that was his last time seeing her before he would pick her up after release. Gary became frantic and worried about his wife. He asked had Mary Pat received the news. If so, how did she react? The staff informed him that Mary Pat was distraught and had to have medicine to calm her down. He asked if there was any left for him. The hospital told him that once she was out of surgery he could go back to Tupelo, and they would contact him each day. Even though he wasn’t able to see her, he was not going to leave the city without her. He would remain in a hotel near the hospital and wait on news from there.
The surgery was successful. When the doctors went inside, a second spot had started to develop on her liver. The cancer had been growing rapidly. It was a blessing that she did not wait six months for another review. Because of the location of the tumor cells, Mary Pat would have to have chemotherapy. The tumor cells were close to arteries. The doctors had no way of knowing if the cancer had spread through her body. For safety precautions, twelve rounds of chemotherapy were ordered. It will eliminate the possibility of the cancer spreading. She didn’t have chemotherapy the first time, but this time she would the second round of cancer.
Everything was hectic and stressful. Mary Pat was in the hospital room alone. She wasn’t able to do anything for herself. Because of covid, nurses were pulled in every direction. It was no longer nurses being able to come in draw blood and examination. I know nurses do much more than drawing blood and checking on patients. I want to enforce that other duties of nurses outside of the norm were added to them. Because no one was able to sit with patients, the nurses were having to assist patients with positioning them in the bed, going to the bathrooms, walking down the hallway, and so many others things that were not typical nursing duties.
Mary Pat remembers one day she had to use the restroom. She waited 45 minutes for assistance, and no one came. She began to unhook herself. She said to herself. It was either her wetting the bed or unhooking herself. One of the nurses came in and asked her what she was doing. Gary had mixed emotions. He was upset that it took them that long to help her. He was sad that he wasn’t able to be with her as she was going through her healing. It was a tough six days of not being able to assist Mary Pat and sitting alone in the hotel room.
I asked Mary Pat how did she feel being alone in the room without Gary. She said that she thinks she was ok because of the pain medicine and being incoherent of what was going on. Her medicine had her very relaxed. She was only breathing five times a minute. It wasn’t good that her breathing was that low, but it was a good thing because she didn’t know what was really going on. While she was in the hospital room unaware of what was really going on, Gary was patiently waiting on news to see how Mary Pat was. It would be two days before she was coherent enough to call him. Gary laughs. He said she was talking mumbo jumbo, but he was ecstatic to hear her voice.
After being in the hospital for six days, they were able to go home. They recalled it as being similar to a carpool line at school. All the patients that were discharged were lining up in their wheelchairs and waiting on their rides to pull up. Just as the other times, her support system was there. Sherrie called Gary and told him to let her know when they were within thirty minutes away. When they pulled into their subdivision, there was a surprise waiting on them. Sherry and other friends lined up on their streets and had a parade for her. Chris, the owner of Absolute Clean, came and disinfected the entire house for her. With covid, it was a necessity for there not to be any germs for her healing. Friends and family made sure they were fed. They would sit the food on the table by the door. The home room parents surprised her at the Tupelo Country Club. All her students and parents presented her with a snack basket, rolls of quarters for her to have during her visits of chemotherapy for the vending machine, and an envelope of cash for her to use for her liking. The last day of school, the students and her parents lined up the neighborhood with signs telling her because of you I can do this now. It listed what the child learned from her. Mary Pat said she didn’t care at all about covid at that moment. She wanted to love on her babies.
Mary Pat had to wait six weeks past surgery before her chemotherapy would begin. In the first post, I discussed how teaching saved her life. Dr. Richard Arriola was the doctor that performed her biopsy after surgery and input her port. Mary Pat taught three of his children at Saltillo. She had to have twelve rounds of chemotherapy. It was once every two weeks. Due to covid, she had to go alone. It would start on Mondays with a four hour infusion. She had to wear a pump. It was in a 10 pound cross body bag. She would have to wear it for two days. The bag had its own place in the bed with them. It would keep her up for the days that she wore it. Once it was off (after 48 hours), Mary Pat’s body would crash. This lasted for six months. It was very tiring, but Mary Pat was determined to endure it to the end. Her goal was to make it to ring the bell. Ringing the bell is the significance of the patient letting everyone know the chemotherapy is complete.
After her chemotherapy, Mary Pat sought professional counseling. Her counselor told her you have gone through trauma. You have survived cancer twice. You have not been able to return to the classroom. As of today, she still hasn’t been able to return. She is waiting on the moment that she can. She lost her mother in law during her time of healing. She had surgery through an entire world pandemic. She was focused on ringing the bell and finishing the race, but she needs to take the moment to process it. That is what she is doing to this day.
She is thankful for all the support she has had through her each and every experience. She is thankful for her friends, Sherry Rial and Julie Halbert, taking her to the beach to have moments of escape from reality. She is thankful for her children for loving her. Lastly, she is thankful for the love of her life for never leaving her side. When they said the vows of sickness and in health, their marriage was put to the test when she became sick. Gary never left her side.
The words of advice that Mary Pat would like to give to anyone that is reading today is to listen to your body. She doesn’t want them to wait until the last minute to have a colonoscopy. Don’t wait just your’e 50 if there are issues going on. She lets people know just because you have not had family history of cancer in your body it does not mean that you are not capable of getting it. If you have to have chemotherapy, there might be hard times. There will be times of wanting to give up and loose hope. She advises anyone to never give up.
Even though Mary Pat has endured a lot, Mary Pat feels that her experience has allowed her to become an advocate for colon cancer awareness. She came across a quote that she used to help her overcome. It says, ” you have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.”