Look for Beth Adams at Friday’s Relay for Life. She’ll be the one with the tight red curls and big, bright smile.
You can’t tell from looking at her, but beneath that curly red hair and those twinkling eyes is one tough little cookie.
It took kicking cancer in the teeth for her to realize this.
During a routine hysterectomy in 1998, doctors discovered she had leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer of the smooth muscle tissues.
She was treated and had periodic checkups, but stayed healthy. Then, two years ago, when she was 48, it returned, this time attached to her vena cava and
Just hearing the word “cancer” filled her with dread.
“It’s scary. When they did the hysterectomy and told me, it was a shock, you know? And when it came back again, that really scared me.
“They always told me it could come back and if it came back, it would be in the lungs. So they did chest X-rays every six months.”
She remembered how her husband, John Adams Jr., had died so suddenly after surgery for a brain tumor just a few years before.
“I thought I was going to leave my kids (Mandy and Andrew). I cried every day. I thought I wasn’t going to live.”
“It took a lot to talk her into having the surgery,” said Glen Securo, a longtime close friend.
“She’d given up. I wasn’t going to let her give up.”
Reading what she called “horror stories” on the Internet certainly didn’t help. They said her cancer was incurable and she didn’t have long to live. When she saw the picture of one woman who had died from the same kind of tumor, she thought she was doomed.
“She was wearing the same dress I owned,” she said, laughing at the memory. “That made it even scarier. I thought, ‘I’m gonna die, too, because she owns the same dress.’”
Of course, now she knows none of that is true. But at the time, she was so despondent she was put on antidepressants.
During surgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in January 2005, the 17-centimeter burst. She was given 26 units of blood and the tumor was removed. She was placed in a drug-induced coma for more than a week.
“They didn’t know if she would make it or not,” Securo said softly.
“They didn’t know at the time the tumor was attached to my colon,” she said. “There is still a tumor on my vena cava. They can’t remove it.”
She started chemotherapy treatments that January and ended them that April.
“It was rough,” she said. “I had the really hard stuff, too. My first chemo was very scary. I’m the type of person who doesn’t even take an aspirin unless I’m really dying.
“With that first dose, I just sat there and cried. ‘They’re poisoning me,’ that’s how I felt. But I guess that ‘poison’ really made me better.
“I was very, very fortunate. The only bad side effect was I lost my hair. And I didn’t miss a day of work, either.”
A CAT scan in January indicated that the tumor is still here but is dying. She has another one scheduled for July.
“They can’t remove the tumor because it’s attached to vena cava. I kind of need that,” she said jokingly.
With a clean bill of health, life is good.
“I wake up every morning and thank God for another day. I’m very thankful to be here.
“I feel wonderful. I’m so happy to be alive. I live every day to the fullest. Don’t worry about the little things. Be happy. You don’t know what tomorrow brings.”
Rain or shine, she’ll be at this week’s Relay for Life.
“I went for the first time last year. I didn’t realize all the clapping and all the joy and all the tears of the other people ... It’s cool.”
She’s a stronger woman now, she said.
“Oh, yeah. In my younger years I wouldn’t have fought so hard. I’m more of a fighter now.
“Don’t give up,” she advises new cancer patients. “I really think you can will yourself to die.”
She’ll never forget how Securo has been there for her “every day, all day.”
“He’s just wonderful. He’s very helpful and very supportive. If I have any kind of problem, I can go to him.”
“She’s the most fantastic woman I’ve ever met,” he said. “She’s one of a kind. She always thinks of everybody and doesn’t ask for anything in return. A real champion ... yes, she is. And she’s mine.”
E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.