Cancer survivor an inspiration to her daughter, many others

Shirley Dearing is a two-time breast cancer survivor.

“Your mom’s next doctor’s appointment isn’t for three months,” my husband chatted happily into the phone. I asked about her monthly bone-hardening infusions. Nope, those are now only every three months as well.

I know it’s not a miracle, but it’s the closest thing to a miracle that I’ll ever experience.

About six years ago, my mother, Shirley Dearing, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through months of chemotherapy, two mastectomy surgeries and weeks of radiation. I wrote a column about her battle back then and how she beat cancer into submission.

She was cured, we all thought. She was healthy. We were thankful.

Not long after that, my father’s health began to decline. He had severe heart disease, among other ailments. After a long, excruciating decline lasting years, my father passed away at the age of 62. That was 2 1/2 years ago.

Not long after my father had passed, my mom started complaining of back pain. I told her she needed to take care of herself. Eat better, exercise, practice yoga. I thought she was suffering from years of neglecting herself in order to care for my dad.

I didn’t know how right I was. But it wasn’t weak muscles or any kind of stress or strain. It was that damned cancer.

It had come back, but this time with a vengeance. When breast cancer reoccurs after mastectomies, it oftentimes goes into the bones, especially into the spine. That’s what happened to my mom.

By the time she was properly diagnosed, the cancer had spread throughout her spine and sacrum. It was Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. The tremendous pain she was in was due to the nerves being exposed. Every time she moved, she hurt. She started radiation in Sacramento while staying with my brother and his family. After that first round of treatment, we brought her home to live with us. She was in terrible shape. She could barely walk any distance due to the pain. She couldn’t sit upright. She only was marginally comfortable lying on one side.

My mom became a regular at St. Mary’s Regional Cancer Center. She was set up with a radiation oncologist and a regular oncologist. She immediately started yet another round of radiation on a tumor in the middle of her spine which was millimeters away from damaging her spinal cord. And she began monthly intravenous bone-hardening infusions. It seems like all we did was go to doctor’s appointments.

Slowly but surely, my mom began to improve. She could sit in a wheelchair for longer periods of time. She was walking a bit easier with her walker.

We were able to do a little shopping and we could eat out. She enjoyed visits from her sisters and brother.

The doctor’s appointments and treatments continued. She could fix her own breakfast, do her hair. She was spending most of her day of out of bed.

Soon she was walking with just a cane. Oh, how I loved going to the doctor’s appointment with her when she flabbergasted her doctor with that. Both her oncologists were very pleased with her progress and more than a little surprised.

Now, here we are 13 months later, and she’s weaned herself off all of her pain medications. She can walk, without assistance, up and down Main Street without much problem. She rides her bike and she can drive herself where ever she wants to go.

My mom just got back from a road trip with her older sister. They drove my mom’s little Subaru all the way up to North Dakota. And they camped most of the way. Yes, she is camping now.

My mother is an inspiration to me and to all those who know her and saw her at her sickest. People don’t just recover like she did.

I know it helped that my 10-year-old daughter, Margaret, shared her room with my mother for many of those months and kept her company. I know that the frequent visits from our adorable neighbor baby, Connor Reed, helped. My mom loved being able to take care of him instead of having someone take care of her.

I know also that the friends and family who visited helped. My mom’s youngest sister painted her a lovely painting of the view of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. That helped, too.

Of course, the excellent medical care she received from the wonderful nurses and doctors set her on her way.

But mostly, my mom recovered because she isn’t yet done living. She’s got places she wants to go, things she wants to see and people she wants to visit. And she isn’t going to let some stupid cancer get in her way.


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