VIM & VIGR ambassador Marilyn Fulkerson shares her journey with cancer, and how she finds hope, no matter what the day brings.
Cancer. It is one of the most horrifying words a person can ever hear in their lifetime.
Some women and men stand strong and say, “Let’s get it over with” and move forward with their treatment. Some search for treatments and the very best doctors. Some, like me, say, “I am not afraid because I know God will heal me!" This is exactly what I said to my oncologist on August 12, 1995.
I had been sick with a persistent cough and was very tired the summer after our son graduated from high school. I had a bone marrow biopsy, and four days later, I was given the diagnosis: leukemia. I was not given the choice of treatment or seeking a different team of doctors, because I had no white cells or platelets when I was diagnosed. As my oncologist told me, “You were at death’s door, Marilyn!”
I was told I would lose my hair and be very sick for two weeks. Those two weeks lasted for seven months.
The diagnosis was on a Saturday, the port was put in on Monday, and on Tuesday I began two types of chemo. By Friday - less than a week after my diagnosis - I was in the ICU in a drug-induced coma with a vent to help me breathe. Doctors told my husband and my mom I had pneumonia and was going to die. My organs were shutting down, and I would be dead in three days.
That was 25 years and 1 month ago.
Marilyn celebrates her 70th birthday, 23 years after her diagnosis with leukemia.
For the past 25 years, I have lived with many side effects from the chemo and continue to have more heath issues because of it. I have had pain in my muscles, bones, and joints that continues to become worse with each passing year. I have learned to live with it, because I am very thankful to be alive! I have been able to see both of our children graduate, get married, have children. I am blessed beyond measure as my husband and I enjoy all that we have been given in life.
It Could Happen Again
Cancer survivors always live with the thought in the back of our minds: It could happen again.
In 2015 I had surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon. After six weeks of laying in bed, blood clots I'd previously dealt with came back full force. Since then I have had to take a blood thinner every day and use compression stockings.
I was just getting back to my normal life when I had my mammogram. Less than a week later, I was in the surgeon's office. A lumpectomy showed I had Lobular Breast Cancer. I asked for a double mastectomy and was given a firm no by the surgeon and my oncologist. Radiation after the next surgery was my only option. I was not happy but had no other choice because my body was still weak. I had a partial mastectomy, which removed the rest of the cancer and some of my lymph nodes.
It was a very long summer. I wanted them to get going with the surgery and radiation, but was told it was slow growing. I had to wait 6 weeks between every biopsy. In the beginning, I was brave and didn’t have fear. I told everyone, "I had cancer before and God healed me!" But this time I had too much time to think about the cancer and picture it growing in my body. I wanted it OUT of my body and began to cry every morning and night when no one else was around.
At the time, we had five grandsons, and our daughter and son-in-law had just begun the process to adopt a baby girl. I was afraid that I would not be around to see the boys grow up or to see and hold and love our granddaughter.
Marilyn and her grandson in her garden
On the outside, I was brave, but on the inside I was crumbling away. I wanted to run away to Lake Michigan to just sit on the sand and enjoy my beautiful lake.
My sweet friend asked me how I was, and I told her I was fine. Then she asked how I really was, and I told her the truth. She asked if I had asked for prayer for the fear and I had not. I went on Facebook and asked my friends to pray for my fear to go away.
Peace came within three days, and I was able to move forward without crying.
That fall, I began six weeks of radiation. It did not affect me until the week I was finished, and I developed bronchitis. During that time, I was able to share my experience with other women as we waited for our turn for radiation treatment. I could see the fear in their faces and asked them their names, so I could pray for them.
Cancer? I won, you lost!
I am so thankful that I am still here. I have made it through two types of cancer, and am able to enjoy life with my husband, our children, our five beautiful grandsons, and our precious granddaughter! All six of them are a joy, and we spend as much time with them as we can.
Marilyn and her daughter enjoy a night out.
Do I still have fear? Yes. Cancer survivors are told we have a 50% chance of getting cancer again. It is also a side effect of the radiation. Every time I am told something else has gone wrong, I fear that it is cancer again. I was told in February that I might have colon cancer, but I had surgery, and it was just a bad diverticulitis scaring!
My faith is what helps me get through each day and each time I feel something new happen in my body. It keeps me pushing forward and gives me the passion to help other women going through cancer. And it has. Because of my faith, I will not live in fear. The amount of chemo I was given has taken a huge toil on my body – but I am here, and I am thankful!
Helping Others Find Hope
Every day of life is a gift, and I am so very, very thankful for each single day I am given. I will be 72 years old in October, so I believe I have another 20 years on this earth to help others that go through cancer!
I lead a cancer support group for women in our church. We can discuss our cancer, what we went through with it, and our side effects. It is encouraging to those that are newly diagnosed. We do not tell anyone what to do or take or not do or take because each of us has to make our own decisions along with our doctors and our family.
My favorite word is HOPE because I have hope for tomorrow. I have had and always will have hope that tomorrow will be better.