Large Cell Lymphoma
Joyce Turner has a to-do list few could match. When she’s not completing coursework for her master’s degree in public administration
The 50-year-old Florida resident is busy setting up a new home business venture, helping care for her aging parents, tending to her garden, or enjoying the company of her two young grandchildren.
The drive that keeps her schedule full these days is the same force that helped her face cancer more than 13 years ago and come out a winner. Turner was just 36 and a single mother of two young children when she found out she had large cell lymphoma, with a mass in her chest cavity, in January, 1990. “I felt like, ‘I have to make my treatment work. I have people here that need me. My children need me and I want to be here for them,'” she recalls.
GOING FOR A CURE
She had known “something wasn’t right” for months before her diagnosis. Swallowing had become difficult; she experienced a sensation of fullness in her chest; she started having some night sweats. But learning she had cancer was a shock. “When I was first told, I was just bewildered. I didn’t know what to do, where to go.” Not content to be treated at the small hospital where she was diagnosed, Turner asked to be referred to the University of Florida ‘s Shands Cancer Center in Gainesville , a large medical center where she was able to enter into a protocol for lymphoma patients. Her doctor’s expertise and confidence were encouraging. “He said from the get-go, ‘We’re going for a cure because I see a very good chance for one.’ I really felt like he had my best interests at heart,” Turner says. Three weeks after her diagnosis, Turner began a series of eight chemotherapy treatments with a regimen of four drugs known as CHOP, followed by 21 radiation treatments to her upper chest and neck.
FINDING AN ANCHOR
Turner relied heavily on her family and church for support during her treatment and recovery. “I knew that I had to have some type of anchor to help me through this,” she says. “I just found comfort in my God and that’s what helped me; that was my anchor.” Her mother accompanied her to every treatment, and taped Bible studies and church sermons for her, which she played during chemotherapy. Her pastor also suggested she read Psalm 27. Turner took his advice and says she felt “strengthened” by the verse. There were some difficult periods. She often felt too weak to walk on the days she received chemotherapy. The radiation burned her throat so badly she couldn’t eat, and caused her to drool “like a teething baby.” “To me, the radiation was worse than the chemotherapy,” she said. Overall, though, Turner says she was “never really infirm” during her treatment. “I had just made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be sick,” she says. She strove to keep her life as normal as possible for the sake of her children, who were just 12 and 8 at the time. Even the late effects from the chemotherapy haven’t slowed her down much. Her doctors had warned her that the powerful drug Adriamycin, part of the CHOP treatment, might damage her heart, and in 1999, Turner was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. So far she’s never had to be hospitalized for the condition; she controls it with medication and a healthy lifestyle. “If I get plenty of rest, take my vitamins, eat well, I’m fine.”
JUST KEEP GOING
And dealing with cancer, she says, helped her cope when her mother became seriously ill a few years later. “By going through (my illness) I was more grounded,” she says. “If I hadn’t had mine, it would have thrown me so much.” She has used that perspective to reassure friends and colleagues dealing with serious health problems of their own. “I say to everyone, just live every day. You don’t have to go like a motor scooter through it, but live every day and be thankful and blessed that you have it. Just keep going.