Cancer survivor beats statistics

  • Published
  • By Bill Orndorff
  • 309th Maintenance Wing
Michelle Beery's recent bout with cancer has been anything but routine.

Statistically, she is too young to have contracted the disease, doesn't fit the common ethnic and national origins and, according to her doctors, she shouldn't be alive.

Yet, Mrs. Beery has returned to her job as a budget analyst for the 309th Maintenance Wing Financial Management Office, and says she feels fine.

It all started in 2005 with discomfort and pain in her right side, something the doctors first attributed to gallstones.

"When they removed my gallbladder, the doctors found something that wasn't quite right," Mrs. Beery said. "They took it to the lab to find out what was going on and that was when I got the word that it was gallbladder cancer, and that it had spread to Stage 4 -- the last stage before the end stage.

"It was shocking -- not a good prognosis. At that point, I knew nothing about the disease -- I'd never heard of it."

Now a few days shy of her 39th birthday, Mrs. Beery is not the typical patient of this form of cancer.

Gallbladder cancer is rare in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society web site, and usually affects people age 70 and older. Statistics show twice as many women develop gallbladder cancer as men, and the disease is more common among white women than among black women. The disease is also more common among Mexican Americans and Native Americans than among the general population as a whole. The only other incidence of cancer in Mrs. Beery's family is her 85-year-old maternal grandmother who recently developed multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects plasma cells.

Mrs. Beery went through liver resection surgery, which removed cancerous areas of her liver and bile duct, but the specialist wasn't able to remove all the diseased cells.

"He pretty much told my family that this was it -- that I wasn't going to make it very long," she said. "I went to see another doctor with a cancer clinic near Davis Hospital and he didn't have a very good prognosis for me either. I got another opinion at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Some told me it could be six months and showed me statistics with and without treatment, and some showed that I would be gone by now, and without treatment, I would have been gone months and months ago."

Following the resection surgery, Mrs. Beery chose alternative treatments including ozone therapy, Reiki (sometimes called "healing hands therapy"), detoxification and supplements. Eventually, she went through chemotherapy.

"Something is working," she notes, "because I'm doing very well." A recent PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) showed she has fewer traces of the disease than she did after the surgery.

And too, a lot of non-medical assistance has helped Mrs. Beery through the year-long ordeal.

"First there was the love and support from people I didn't know to begin with and of course my family -- that was huge," she said. "I read a lot of books and I found out that your attitude plays a huge part in how well you do. I had to learn how to be more positive -- even though it's hard to be positive when you're facing something like this."

Surrounded by her parents, brothers and sisters, as well as friends, Mrs. Beery found there was always someone to do the housework or accompany her to appointments.

"My grandpa would call me almost every day to tell me a joke and keep me laughing," she said. "My husband made it easier, my kids made it easier -- they would do everything they could to keep the stress out of my life and focus on being happy and positive."

Her husband, Rick Beery, even helped her forget her ailment for awhile by taking her to a football game between her two favorite teams -- the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts.

"I wasn't feeling well that day, but boy, the game was worth it!" she recalled. "My husband and my family kept reminding me that the prognosis is 'based on statistics from groups of people, but nobody is studying you. You're different, you have to believe that you'll be one of those people who survive.' Every kind of cancer has a survivor, so I just focus on being that one survivor."

Additional support came through the Hill AFB Leave Sharing program where current and former co-workers and even strangers donated her portions of their annual leave once her own annual and sick leave were exhausted. Additional help for the family came from the 388th Fighter Wing where her husband served as a maintenance supervisor before his retirement in March.

"It's been 16 months since my surgery and while nobody's telling me I'm cancer free or anything, I'm feeling good and doing well," Mrs. Beery said. "I thank everybody in the Hill community for all their support, prayers and love -- it's been incredible."