Jeri is an old school friend. I met her in seventh grade. She was one of the most tenderhearted people I knew and as I said, she had the most (and still does) winsome smiles. Nothing ever seemed to shake her.
And then we lost touch.
She got married. I got married. She had children. I had children. She got a dog. I got a dog. And then, this past year, we reconnected and she signed up to do aid in the effort to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease. Only, as she put it, with a spin on it. She would swim 30 miles in 30 days instead of walk.
Jeri did swim. However, I didn’t realize that in the back of her mind, she was toying with an idea all her own. A much bigger goal.
Eleven years ago, Jeri was diagnosed with cancer. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. This is Jeri’s story.
Jeri was having problems with her right eye. It affected her reading. It seemed to be protruding. After multiple diagnosis possibilities, her doctor called it Graves disease, an autoimmune disease where the thyroid is overactive, producing an excessive amount of thyroid hormones. Her doctor wanted to start her on radiation and it was at this point she says, “I saw God first.”
“The radiologist was an interim radiologist at Dominican. She did not feel comfortable doing radiation for something not confirmed. I was sent to Stanford to a Thyroid Specialist. After a half an hour, this large, kind Sottish Doctor told me why I did not have Graves nor a thyroid disorder. He sent me to an eye disease specialist. I had had a biopsy with my eye doctor in Santa Cruz, done in January on the tumor but it was inconclusive. The new specialist said he would not stop until he had something. He thought he might have to break my jaw and go through there, but was able to go through my eyelid. Another answer to prayer. He found a section that made it clear. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
“How did I feel? Relieved that it was finally something I could fight. To watch my eye protrude and not know how to stop it or why it was doing so was worse than hearing cancer. The kind Scottish, thyroid specialist called me with the news. He had such a gentle delivery I considered it another gift from God.”
However, Jeri adds the comment that she thinks having a disease is harder on the caregivers. She and her family were ready for previously planned ski trip and had the car packed when she received the news of her diagnosis. Instead of taking a trip to frolic in snow, she took a short walk to the phone and started calling family. She says, “To just watch someone and guess at how they are feeling is harder. I knew how I felt.”
After her correct diagnosis, Jeri was sent to Dr. Sarah Donaldson, a radiologist at Stanford, and as far as Jeri was concerned – another gift sent from God.
They had a mask made for her head which was tacked to the table for each session and each session was daily for six weeks. This was to work on a tumor in her eye socket behind her eye. According to Jeri, Sarah was amazing and is known for her ability especially in sensitive areas.
“The tumor responded very well,” Jeri said. “They were able to shrink it and my vision was restored. Lymphoma is a blood disease however, and travels in the blood stream. This means it is not localized. I had six month check ups to watch. I would have an MRI, CT and blood work done. I began seeing an oncologist in Santa Cruz, Dr. Michael Alexander. After multiple trips to Stanford, it was nice to have some of the tests done locally. Two years later, I realized I was noticing things again. It was confirmed that it had gone bilateral and was now in my left orbit. I was sent back to Stanford and did another six weeks of radiation. I stopped teaching at this point as it was hard on my students to take these breaks. They needed more consistency. After this round of radiation, I went back to the tests every six months. Two years later, spots showed up in my abdomen. There were three. This time, because I had already done radiation several times, and the tumors were small, it was decided that we would ‘watch and wait’. This means that until anything grew big enough to affect an organ or hurt in some way, we would not use the big gun of chemo. ‘You save your ammunition’ was how it was presented. Lymphomas can wax and wane and you really are watching and waiting.”
Jeri is now on what is called, ‘Watch and Wait’. Because she has had so much radiation, she now goes “every other year for the MRI and CT with blood work every year. The tests themselves can play a physical part and do damage. The tumors have not grown.”
This is Part One of Jeri’s story.