Lake City cancer survivor reaches out to others
Marie George of Lake City, retired art and language teacher, was enjoying her retirement attending EHC meetings, taking part in the Arkansas Art Educators, making beaded jewelry, knitting, and spending time with her family when she began to feel ill.
It was October 2005 when her doctor told her she might have lymphoma but she would need to have further tests run. The first tests were lost.
In the meantime, a large knot came up on her collarbone during Thanksgiving. At first it was diagnosed as thyroid cancer. After more testing, it was discovered the knot in her neck was definitely lymphoma, but she also has another problem…Hashimoto's Thyroiditis.
"I cried for about two seconds and then decided I would not give up or give in," she said. "I made up my mind I would fight it. I also wanted a second opinion so I asked my doctor in Jonesboro to refer me to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas in Houston."
George stressed how important it was to her to get a second opinion.
"It may be the same as the first but at least I wanted to be sure," she said. "My doctor referred me to M.D. Anderson and I went there for a week and a half of tests. I had a great doctor and team working with me. I was diagnosed in January 2006 with Follicular B Cell non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It was inoperative so my only option was chemotherapy. I took eight CHOP-D treatments spaced every three weeks. My doctor in Houston would make suggestions on treatments to my doctor in Jonesboro so I had my treatments close to home."
Following chemo, she underwent a round of eight treatments of the smart drug, Rituxan, every three months for a year. She completed her treatments in June 2007 and had been declared in total remission. She had check-ups every three months in Jonesboro, but now only goes back to Houston for a check-up every six months.
"The treatments were not easy," she said. "Just when I started feeling good after a treatment, another one would be due. My husband (Bob George) was great. He was the chief bottle washer and cook."
George pointed out there is medicine available to help with nausea before and after treatments, for mouth sores, and to ease the hurt of hooking up to the port-a-cath for treatment.
She has a lot of allergies and she was put in intensive care to undergo her first treatment. During her fourth treatment, the chemo had to be stopped because she lost the feeling from the left side of her nose down to her chin, and in her feet and fingers. She said she still can't wear closed-up shoes without making her legs itch.
"Everything is getting better and it has been worth it," she said.
Again she stressed getting a second opinion. She also said it is a good idea to take someone with you when you talk to the doctor. Have a pen and paper ready to write down what is said.
"Really, you will not be able to remember what was said after hearing you have cancer," she said.
George said there are agencies out there to help people who need financial help or support.
"I attended the Look Good Feel Better program through St. Bernard's and it was wonderful," she said. "I suggest to anyone undergoing treatments to attend one. There is information we can acquire from various websites. If searching for information on the internet be sure it is from a reliable source."
George, a 2008 honorary survivor for the Buffalo Island American Cancer Relay for Life, is using her talent to reach out to others undergoing cancer treatments. She creates knitted and crocheted hats in all colors, for special occasions and the popular Chia-Grammy hats (named by her daughter - it is green). Her daughter told her the Chia hats resemble the popular Chia pets. She used a soft eye-lash yarn or fun fur knitting it loosely. Her daughter and granddaughter are talking about learning to make the hats.
Each type of cancer has a color as a symbol and for lymphoma it is lime green. She also makes beaded ribbon pins in the different colors representing different types of cancer.
"The soft, stretchable caps are more comfortable than wigs and are cool in the summer and warm in the winter," she said. "I may be vain, but I just could not go without a hat."
She also decorated colorful ball caps. She has given away hundreds of the caps to cancer patients in Jonesboro and Houston.
"When I am traveling, I am working on my hats," she said. "While I was undergoing treatments, I would work on the hats. I was knitting a purple hat in the doctor's office when a lady asked me if I sold the hats. I told her no and she looked a little disappointed. I was about to finish the hat and when I tied it off I handed it to her. Later she chased me down the hall to give me a hug.
"A young teacher was ahead of me one day going in for treatment. She had a turban-looking scarf and I handed her a hat. When I went in for my treatment I noticed she had the turban off and was wearing her new hat."
It takes her about two hours to make a hat and she tries to always have a supply in a variety of colors to share with people she comes in contact with. She has sent hats across the U.S., to Australia, China, Egypt, and England. She also makes a tighter fitting toboggan-type hat made of stretchable knit material for sleeping."
She is creating a Power Point program instructing people on how to make the hats.
"I don't take credit for the hats. I got the instructions from www.lionbrand.com on how to make the chemo caps," she said. "I was going to demonstrate how to make them at the EHC Conference in Hot Springs, but I did not get to go. I came up with the Power Point idea to share with different clubs interested in learning how to make them."
"When I felt bad, I would do my best to dress up with matching accessories and a matching hat," she said. "The medication makes some people lose weight and others gain weight. I was one who gained a lot of weight. They say to lose weight, because a person might hold on to the cancers cells with the extra pounds. I had gone to the exercise program Curves. When I first started I could not do much but when stopped, I had come a long way in those three months. It has been good for me. There is also free membership available for some cancer survivors."
George was raised in New York.
"My father always told us he was going to take us to the top of the Empire State Building," she said. "He died before we had the opportunity to do that. Last year I had the chance to accompany my granddaughter and a school group on a trip to New York. I finally got to go to the top of the Empire State Building. It was as exciting as I hoped it would be."
George and her husband have two children, Wanda Morrow and Mike George, and six grandchildren.