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Couple finds strength and hope when cancer strikes twice

Renton resident Yvonne Hamilton presents some quiltsTerry Kelly doesn't know why he's alive seven years after doctors discovered a softball-sized tumor in his lungs.
 
He's not sure why he survived advanced lung cancer when so many don't, but he's grateful. Because five years later, his wife, Jodee, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had spread through her stomach and colon.
 
She had supported and cared for him during his battle with the disease. Now it was his turn.
 
Facing death yet again, the Glenoma, Washington, couple kept the faith. "You don't give up," Terry says simply.
 
The couple's cancer siege began in 2002, when a doctor who had X-rayed Terry's cloudy lungs grimly advised him to get his affairs in order.
 
Seeking options, they took a tip from relatives and called Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), a network of hospitals that includes Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center in Renton.
 
The center and its affiliates take a "whole person" approach to cancer care, combining traditional therapies like chemo with complementary treatments, including naturopathy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and mind-body medicine.
 
"They never talked negatively to us," Jodee says of the doctors and staff they saw. "You want a doctor who believes that there's always hope."
 
Terry spent 17 days in intensive care at the CTCA's hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before starting treatment at the Center in Renton. There, he received six months of chemotherapy with oncologist Dr. Nick Chen and a diet and supplement regimen under the guidance of naturopathic physician Heidi Lucas.
 
Terry is officially in remission, having passed the seven-year mark this fall.
 
"Seven years in a patient with advanced-stage lung cancer is almost unheard of," says Dr. Chen. "Metronomic chemotherapy," in which the drugs are given in lower, but more frequent doses over a prolonged period of time, helped put Terry's disease into long-term remission, he says.
 
Certain genetic traits of Terry's cancer also might have made it more susceptible to chemotherapy, Chen says. "These are all important areas of research that we're pursuing so that we can help more patients with cancer like Terry's."
 
A man of strong faith, Terry nevertheless feels like one of the lucky ones. He had been a smoker for 30 years.
 
"You have your doubts," he says. "You see people with lung cancer and it's a killer. Why I was picked to survive, I don't know."
 
Jodee has her own theory: "He was too bull-headed to leave," she says with a wink.
 
The couple, who will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary this year, thought they had beaten the odds.
 
Then, in 2007, Jodee's cancer was discovered during bowel surgery related to her Crohn's disease, which causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Doctor's found carcinoid tumors, a less-common, slow-growing cancer, in her stomach and colon.
 
The couple returned to cancer treatment, this time to focus on Jodee. She remembers thinking, "Oh well, we'll get through this because we got through his."
 
It was a difficult chemotherapy regimen because of Jodee's severe bowel obstruction, says Chen, but she slowly regained her appetite and was able to put weight on.
 
Following chemotherapy, she went on an oral kidney cancer medication and doing so well that she's back at her old job as a bus driver for the White Pass School District.
 
"I feel good," she says.
 
On those days she's feeling down, Terry is quick with the pep talk. "He's really stepped up to the plate," says Jodee, adding that her own caregiving stint was "a picnic" compared to his.
 
Besides each other, Jodee and Terry have the support of their three grown children and of people from throughout Eastern Lewis County who heard of their plight. In their own community of Glenoma, residents and school district employees raised thousands of dollars at fundraisers to help the couple with expenses.
 
Drawing strength from friends, family and their faith, the couple vows to stand firm against cancer's one-two punch. "You've got to have a fighting spirit," Jodee says.
 
Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center is an affiliate of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a network of hospitals that integrate oncology with complementary and natural therapies. For more information and cancer-fighting tips, call (206) FOR HOPE (367-4673) or visit www.seattlecancerwellness.com.

Pam McGaffin of Moore Ink. PR, writes articles about important health, family and community issues for non-profit organizations.




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