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Divine Help Just In Time

Louise Perry's daughters, Jana and Jill, can hardly look at their mom without choking with emotion. A year ago, they feared that they had lost her.

The Buffalo, West Virginia, farmwife began experiencing shoulder pain in May 2009. She's a busy woman, keeping up with her and Noah's cattle ranch, family, and church. She pushed through the pain, thinking it was normal for life after 60.

Yet it got worse. "We travel every spring with friends," Louise says. "When we went last year, I could barely lift our luggage."

As her symptoms worsened, she made an appointment with her general practitioner in July 2009. X-rays showed nothing abnormal. Neither Louise nor her doctor thought about the fact that she'd had breast cancer 28 years earlier. She had a lumpectomy and 27 radiation treatments in her early 30s and moved on with life. "After all that time, I wasn't really connecting my shoulder pain with cancer," Louise says.

A Story Turns The Tide

Her doctor sent her to an orthopedic specialist, who thought it was a nerve issue in her left shoulder and prescribed physical therapy. Not much changed. A couple months later, he gave her a cortisone injection. It helped with the pain, but not the range of motion in that arm.

By November, the pain had passed her tolerance threshold. She could barely lift her arm more than a couple inches away from her body. And just then, something happened that turned the tide.

A few days before Thanksgiving, her husband, Noah, stayed up late one night to thumb through his copy of Successful Farming magazine. As he looked for his favorite story, "All Around The Farm," on the back page, he says divine intervention led him to another story, "Three Lessons From Jan." It told of a woman's back pain, which turned out to be recurrent breast cancer, spread to her bones. Noah lingered over the story, mostly because of the name connection: The Perry daughters are Jana and Jill; the woman in the story was Jan and she, too, had a daughter named Jill.

"It was like being immersed in a tub of ice water," Noah says, recalling what he felt after reading the story. He was absolutely convinced that night that Louise's shoulder pain was a return of her cancer. And when he showed the story to Louise, Jana, and Jill the next day, they agreed.

That led them on a quest to see a preferred cancer doctor, who confirmed that Louise did indeed have a large cancerous tumor in her shoulder. When she began six rounds of chemotherapy just after Christmas, the tumor could be seen as a large swelling on her shoulder.

The doctor gave her a 60% to 70% chance of positive response to the chemo treatments. After the first one, the tumor was gone. "I still have shoulder soreness, but my range of motion is tremendously improved," Louise says with a smile, lifting her arm above her head.

Now nearly a year after discovering the tumor, with all the treatments behind her, she says, "I feel healthy, and I'm very optimistic about my continued recovery. I'm getting stronger all the time. I get fatigued easily, but I know that with God all things are possible."

The family now rejoices in Louise's return to good health. Jana, Jill, and their kids -- Drew, Courtney, Kasey, Jillian, and Vivien -- look at Louise and smile. They know she is sticking around for a while longer.

Three More Lessons

Louise and her family think there are at least three lessons anyone dealing with cancer or a serious health issue can learn from their experience.

1. Get More Opinions. If you have any doubts about your doctor, don't hesitate to get second and third opinions. "I don't really like to put it this way, but I believe it is true: Doctors can get lackadaisical and complacent," Louise says. "Maybe they see too many patients. I've switched doctors because I lost faith in her through this and the time it took to get answers."

2. Find An Advocate. Louise is lucky to have a very concerned husband and two RN daughters. "If you can't advocate for yourself, find someone who can," she says. Says daughter Jana, "Mom's nature is to be passive about things. Jill and I are not. Maybe due to our nursing backgrounds we don't see doctors as gods on a pedestal. It's your responsibility to question them until you get answers."

They pushed very hard to get Louise to the favored oncologist, possibly cutting months off of the wait time. "We thought we might be burying our mom in the spring, and we just wouldn't accept that," says Jill through misty eyes. Just days before Christmas, the oncologist made room for Louise in his jam-packed schedule and put her on a healing path of therapy.

3. Lean On Something Greater. Louise has always been a spiritual person, but the last year has sharpened her focus on God. She maintains a calm serenity on even the hard days. "It's like being in a pool of deep water," Jana says. "If you relax, you float. Mom relaxed, and she has floated."

Louise's friends at the Wade Chapel United Methodist Church have surrounded her with love. She didn't have such a support system 28 years ago when cancer first struck. "I couldn't talk about it with anyone," Louise says. "I'd go up in the back of the farm and sit on a log and cry. My daughters were 12 and 10 years old, and I prayed, 'Lord, just let me see them raised.' He answered that prayer.

"This episode with the shoulder tumor has been much different," she continues. "I'm ready to accept whatever happens; I'm OK. My kids and grandkids have a good family; they'll be OK. I'm not afraid to talk about my cancer and my emotions. I want to talk about it if I can possibly help someone. And if I don't make it, well, there's something better beyond this place."

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