Mary Derck's Positive Attitude Carries Her Through Cancer Treatments
Mary Derck’s aggressive ovarian cancer couldn’t withstand her determination to survive.
In February during her annual examination, gynecologist Dr. Lisa Judge found something seriously wrong. “You could tell it in her face,” Mary says.
There were no symptoms, so without the exam, Mary believes the cancer might have gone undiscovered.
Days later, while heading to Atlanta market to buy for Lily Pads and the other stores she and her husband Tony own, she got the results of a blood test. The CA-125 blood test, that can detect ovarian cancer, showed a level of over 200. Levels should be below 35.
She turned her car around.
“There are bigger things in life than going to market,” she says. “I didn’t have a little cancer, I had a lot.”
Dr. Judge contacted gynecological oncologist Dr. Steven DeCesare at Sacred Heart Medical Group in Pensacola. It generally takes weeks to get an appointment, but Mary saw him in three days. She asked for the worst-case scenario when she, Tony and her son met with him. The worst was that the cancer spread so far that surgical removal would be difficult. Mary said any other outcome would be better.
The doctor asked if she wanted to think about the surgery for a couple of weeks and Mary responded, “what’s there to think about? I face each challenge in life – I don’t dance around it.” Dr. DeCesare agreed she was ready. That was Monday; she had the surgery Thursday.
“Friends asked, ‘Of all people why you? You are healthy, you eat right,’” she remembers. “I believe the Lord never gives you more than you can handle. I had no doubt I would survive. The doctor said I had a 50-50 chance; I told him I was going to turn it to 100 percent.”
She told the doctor to take out everything he wanted, but to leave her vital organs and her spirit. During the exploratory surgery, they discovered the cancer had metastasized to other parking spots, as Mary describes them, but thankfully it was not in her lymph nodes. “I didn’t have that, thank you sweet Jesus,” she says.
But she did have a battle, the tumor was so large – the size of a grapefruit – the doctors did a total hysterectomy. Following surgery, she proved her determination as she took the initiative to push herself to get out of there.
“I have a strong constitution and have never been a complainer," she says." I don’t like pain meds, because they make me feel funny. I was ready to get out and get solid food. You never appreciate food as much as when you are so sick and you can’t keep it down.”
After a six-week healing period, she met with Dr. Mose Hayes, a young and uplifting oncologist at Sacred Heart Medical Oncology Group. He said the aggressive chemotherapy would cause her hair to fall out after three treatments. He advised her to have fun with it, do something crazy, as she was only going to go through this one time.
When her hair started to thin, she took the doctor’s advice. She poured a glass of wine, grabbed the razor she used to shave her legs and went to work, creating a Mohawk. She went to her son’s room to show him, and his comment was that she shouldn’t do something like that while drinking. At her next appointment she showed Dr. Hayes her haircut. “He said he was proud of me,” Mary says showing photos.
When her remaining hair started coming out, and she felt she looked like a troll doll, she shaved the rest.
After Mary's mother gave birth to her, she sent little Mary back to the nursery because the infant had a full head of hair. Having previously given birth to bald babies, Mary's mother thought maybe they had brought her the wrong baby. Now, although her mom has been gone five years, Mary called out to her, “Now you have a bald daughter.”
Her strong constitution was tested after each chemo treatment, which could last three and a half to five hours.
“I was able to tolerate it,” she says. “I’d leave there, Tony would pick me up, and we'd go have lunch with a glass of wine. Then I’d go to work. “Don’t get me wrong, there were days, but I had a lot of people counting on me and I pushed through it.”
Originally Mary was scheduled for 22 rounds of chemo, but the blood test showed her numbers were decreasing. After three treatments, it was 174. The doctors said they hadn’t seen anything like that. Mary says she always tried for good grades on tests, but on this one she wanted a zero. She was told that’s unheard of. After six weeks, it was 26. Although they told her not to expect it to go down anymore, it dropped from 18 to 11 to 6. They halted treatments when her number dropped to 18.
“I would have done more. I would have done hundreds if it were needed, but my body responded real well,” she says.
At her last visit with Dr. Hayes, he asked why she was there. She was sure she had an appointment. Then he smiled saying coming there was just for sick people.
While she is cured of ovarian cancer, there’s no guarantee she won’t get cancer again. She plans to have the genetic test to determine her susceptibility to breast cancer. If the results are positive, she will have a double mastectomy. “That doesn’t scare me,” she says.
Mary stresses she has been fortunate. She wants other women to schedule annual checks. It saved her life and she believes having an exam by a gynecologist can save other women.