On November 5, 2018, Deb Myers turned 68 years old, and she received the worst birthday present ever.
She had a lump in her underarm. It was stage III breast cancer. Even before the diagnosis, she was pretty sure she had cancer. Her mother and little sister both died of cancer.
Despite that, she was ready to battle.
“It was emotional and upsetting, not surprising really,” she said. “Cancer runs thick in my family. I’ve said all along I’m not sorry I’ve gone through this. I’m sorry my family has gone through this. My husband and my youngest daughter have really stepped up.”
After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Deb Myers’ most recent PET scan shows no signs of cancer.
“I’ve always had this attitude of, ‘I have cancer, cancer doesn’t have me,’” she said. “God forbid if it comes back, we’ll deal with it. I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.”
Tony Pironello, Deb Myers’ treatment nurse, said Myers was determined to beat her prognosis despite all of the odds.
“Her first day was one of those negative 20 days. It was so cold,” he said. “Sometimes when it’s like that, you think, ‘Maybe I’ll call in, stay home.’ But I remembered we had a new patient coming in and there she was. She was here to fight, so I was here with her.”
Going to the Community Howard Oncology Center wasn’t a negative thing for Deb Myers. She said over the course of her treatment she got to know not only Pironello but the staff. The conversation could range from Pironello’s kids to where the Myers would go to eat after treatment that day.
“You don’t just talk cancer, chemo,” he said. “Everybody knows what you’re here for. It’s not all doom and gloom. We talk about life.”
The support at the oncology center was only magnified by the support of her family. Her youngest daughter, Billie Jo Vettel, has been particularly supportive. She makes t-shirts for her mother with a special zip opening to make access to the medication treatment port on her chest easier. Her shirt spelled out her motto, “I had cancer, cancer never had me.”
Myers also wore a pink paracord bracelet and breast cancer ribbon crocs. Even her socks donned the little pink ribbon. Her husband, Mahlon Myers, stood behind her, wearing a shirt that said, “Her battle is my battle.”
“Our youngest daughter has been a rock,” Deb Myers said. “If my husband wasn’t with me, she was. I haven’t had to be alone for one second during this.”
Mahlon Myers took on household chores like cooking, cleaning and laundry while his wife underwent treatment. Cooking didn’t bother him, because he was cook when he served in the military during the Vietnam War.
“It’s been a change,” he said. “But it didn’t bother me one bit. All I cared about was making sure she was ok. I was scared at first, but she’s so strong. I was confident she’s beat it.”
The side effects Deb Myers experienced were mostly exhaustion and hair loss. The exhaustion got to her because she was used to regularly rearranging furniture and keeping busy around the house. So she used puzzle books to occupy her mind.
Even when she shaved her head, it was a supportive experience with her family.
“I started to losing my hair so I chose to shave my head, because I couldn’t control cancer, but I could control when I was going to lose my hair,” she said. “When we did it, all of my family was there. Like, ‘We shaved Nana’s head!’”
One thing Deb Myers wants to impress on everyone, especially women with a family history of cancer, is to be vigilant about health.
“Be aware of your body,” she said. “I waited for about six months before I went in because I think I knew it was cancer, and I was scared. I should have gone in earlier.”
Like every patient of the oncology center, Deb Myers celebrated completing her cancer treatment by ringing The Bell of Victory outside the center.
“I learned I’m stronger than what I thought was,” she said. “At first I thought, ‘I don’t think I can handle this.’ I watched my mom die to cancer, I watched my aunt die to cancer.... But every time I got a tinge of sadness, my husband reminded me I don’t give up. I’ll never give up.”