Reprinted from the
November 17th, 1999 issue of the Courier
Battles Cancer With Attitude
By MARGARET DWIGGINS
Just about a
year ago, 23-year old Carla Epperson gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Her
future seemed to be mapped out with caring for her new baby and her 3-year-old
daughter. Little did Carla know that her life was about to take a devastating
When it came
time for her six-week check-up, Carla reported to her doctor that she was still
experiencing cramps so severe they caused her to double over in pain. An
infection was suspected, but two rounds of antibiotics failed to rid Carla of
her symptoms. Further tests revealed the unthinkable -- the young mother had a
grapefruit-sized tumor hiding behind her uterus, and it was cancerous.
the tumor began growing in the last weeks of Carla's pregnancy, although the
cancer did not affect her baby's health. Removing the tumor entailed a full
hysterectomy, an appendectomy and the removal of a section of Carla's bowel.
diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as germ cell cancer of the ovary,
which is not considered ovarian cancer, according to Carla's local oncologist,
Dr. Sharon Cole. It is rare for women to get this type of cancer, as it mostly
strikes men as testicular cancer.
treatments left Carla unable to care for her baby boy, Brady, and her daughter,
Marissa. Her mother, Susie Malone, took a leave of absence from her job at a
local nursing home to take care of Carla and her family.
After two more
surgeries and nine weeks of chemotherapy, there was finally some good news for
Carla -- it looked like the cancer had been eradicated. In May, Carla returned
to work. But six weeks later the roller coaster ride started again. A CAT scan
revealed the presence of three more tumors.
Carla went to the Cleveland Clinic for a stem cell transplant, a procedure
similar to a bone marrow transplant. Healthy cells are removed from the patient
and frozen. The patient then receives high doses of chemotherapy to kill the
cancerous cells before the healthy cells are recirculated into the patient.
the treatment as best as could be expected, although the chemotherapy made her
sick and she was not able to keep solid food down for nearly a month.
situation looked promising, but Carla was in for another major setback.
During her stay
at the Cleveland Clinic, she got out of bed one night and crashed to the floor.
were numb, and I couldn't push myself up," Carla recalled. Her legs were
not just numb -- they were paralyzed.
determined that Carla had developed Guilllain-Barre' Syndrome, a rare nerve
disorder which causes weakness and paralysis.
returning home, Carla required a lengthy hospital stay at St. Rita's in Lima for
intense physical therapy.
"I had to
relearn everything (including how to walk)," Carla said.
Finally able to
return home just a few weeks ago, Carla was nearly unrecognizable as her former
self. She lost her hair as well as eyebrows and eyelashes to weeks of
chemotherapy and a dark red stain had appeared on her hands.
Still weak from
the Guillain-Barre', she required the use of a walker or wheelchair to navigate
through her house.
couldn't even pick up my boy," Carla said.
For now, Carla
seems to be improving. She is slowly getting feeling back in her legs, and she
is regaining her ability to walk.
has given her a wisdom uncommon in most mothers her age.
just stop -- you can't stop loving your kids or tell yourself not to get too
close," Carla said.
makes the most of every day.
"If I do
die, my kids will remember me as being strong and successful -- that's what I
want them to tell people," she said.
Both of Carla's
children celebrate birthdays this month. Marissa turned 4 on Nov. 10 and Brady's
first birthday is Nov. 19.
Carla's Guillain-Barre' symptoms are improving, she is still not able to take
care of herself and her children.
has been taking care of me and my two kids," Carla said. Her voice choking,
she added, "you don't expect people to be like this for you. It's
Even though she
is immensely appreciative of her mother's help, asking for help is not an easy
thing for Carla.
to being on my own, to be independent."
has Medicaid coverage, the family has still been financially devastated. Carla
has not been able to work for many months, and her mother's income stopped when
she took her leave of absence from work.
stepfather, David Malone, organized a successful fund-raiser for Carla with help
from his Teamster colleagues, and Patty Weaver, a close friend of Susie's, has
organized local fund-raising drives for Carla. Several businesses throughout the
area have allowed Patty to leave donation cans for Carla and her children in
their stores, and response has been generous, Patty said. Patty also organized a
fund-raising party for Carla, which will be held Nov. 20 at the Day's Inn.
Carla's most significant benefactor is one who saw to her emotional well-being.
While undergoing outpatient therapy, Carla was befriended by another cancer
patient named Sylvia. The two women developed a close friendship, and Carla came
to rely on Sylvia's moral support when her treatments were difficult.
The last time
Carla saw her friend was when Sylvia dropped by to wish Carla luck before one of
her surgical procedures. Sylvia, a lymphoma patient, died a short time later.
Carla develop a positive outlook through her illness.
Carla told her
mother, "She (Sylvia) made me strong. Now I'm here to make other people
strong, like Sylvia."
attitude is evident in Carla.
pity myself and I don't want anyone to pity me," Carla said. "I can't
say I wish I never got cancer -- I think God gave it to me for a reason. I'm
strong and I can help others."
daughter, Susie now looks at life quite differently.
live one day at a time. Even if she's in remission, it's still in our heads.
It's a devastating disease."
Susie is in awe
of the transformation of her daughter's attitude.
to say, 'why me?' Now she says, 'why not me?'"