2008 Lymphoma Hero of the Year Speech


by Cathey Godfrey Ives


I was very fortunate to have known my great grandmother for several years of my life. She was 4'11, French  and very feisty. She had a very simple philosophy of life. If you have a problem and you can fix it then get off your fanny and fix it. If you have a problem and you can't fix it, then don't complain, because no one wants to hear it.? The past four years I have had to rely on that and more little. words of wisdom , like "pull up your big girl panties  and deal with it, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade , see your glass as half full, not ,half empty, and let go let God.

In the early part of 2005 my husband of 42 years was diagnosed with lung and bone cancer. He died in my arms in one month. My world and my life, as I knew it, ended with his death. I existed for almost two years in hopes of joining him soon. I prayed every night to die. But the sun came up in the east and set in the west and I was still here, I was alone, but I was still here .I had to let go and let God.

I have a wonderful daughter and two terrific grandchildren. I have little dogs and a multitude of life long friends. I had to see that my glass was indeed half full, not half empty. But God decided to fill my glass all the way to the top.

I unexpectedly met a big New York Yankee with a n even bigger heart. John had lost two wives to cancer. Vickie died when she was 26 with lymphoma, and Hanna died with stomach cancer in her early forties. John raised and educated his four children alone. For 22 years he prayed for someone to love. That someone was me.

We talked for hours on the phone like teenagers. John felt we both had a great deal of past.To have a future, if we were to have one, we must get passed our past,

The first time I had John over for dinner, he came to the door with two dozen white roses and two Santa  hats. I certainly understood the roses, but Santa hats...it wasn't even Christmas. He gave me a big hug and explained to me that  he had promised God if given a chance to love and be loved again, he would life everyday like it was Christmas. AND WE DO.

We really did not have marriage in mind, but it did not take us long to realize that  both our prayers had been answered. John kept telling me not to love him, "All the women I love die" It's alright, I said, I am the healthiest women in the world."

We married very quickly. A little too quickly for some of my well-meaning friends. They did not know John and he was a stranger and he was a Yankee. But I knew John and I knew his heart. This was not a mistake. There was no doubt in my mind that God had been our match maker, and we did not know why,  but God was in a hurry.

We had a very small special wedding in my home and left the next day for a honeymoon in Mexico. After a week on the beach we returned home to start our lives together, two very happy 60 year old newly weds.

John has a very special relationship with God. Every evening he says his prayers outside. He tells me that I am always at the top of his list of blessings. He thanks God everyday for bringing me into his life. We had been home a couple of weeks when he came into the kitchen after his prayers were said. He had tears in his eyes when he told me that God had told him that our meeting was not for him, it was for me.

A few weeks passed and it became yearly check up time.  I went about having a blood test, bone density, and a mammogram. My mammogram was on Friday. They called on Monday to tell me that they had found a small lymphoid in my side that looked strange. They needed to do an ultra sound and maybe a biopsy. They sent the path report off to New Mexico, and we would have the results in a week.

The following day, Thursday, I saw my internist Dr Kathryn Brewer.  Dr. Brewer is not only an excellent doctor; she is also a very kind and caring women.  Being aware of  the tradgies in  both mine and John's life, she suggested that I have a PET scan done  as soon as possible.  My insurance probably would not cover it since we did not have time to get approval, but under the circumstances I felt it was worth it. A week was too long to wait. I agreed and it was done about noon on Friday.

I had debated from the very beginning whether or not to tell John about all this. After all, I had promised him I was healthy. I did not want our marriage to have any secrets, and besides it was probably nothing anyway, so I told him.

Around 5 PM that evening Dr. Brewer called. She knew that we were going to a friends wedding, so she asked if she waited at the office could we stop by on our way. I will never forget the look on John's face when I told him. His eyes filled with tears. Holding me very tight in his arms, he said, "We are in trouble honey."

By 6:30 that evening I had gone from being a healthy happy newly wed to a women with lymphoma.


"Pull up your big girl panties and deal with it."

Early the next week a surgeon removed a node from my leg The results of both biopsy's came back at about the same time. I had stage four mantle cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, very rare, not conman to women and extremely deadly. 

I begged John to leave me, file for an annulment and run. I would have never married John if I had known I had cancer. I guess we found out why God was in such a hurry. It wasn't fair. John shouldn't have to bury a third wife. He would just smile and say "this is where God wants me to be......remember?"

Dr Brewer quickly found one of two-mantle cell specialist in the U S. M D Anderson in Houston Texas was the place that I needed to go, and go quickly. So we waited for a phone call. Waiting and praying went hand and hand for the next couple of weeks.  John did his waiting on the Internet every night. He was looking for answers. Why her, what can they do, how long will I have her? I did my waiting hoping God would give me the words to tell my grandchildren. They had just lost their grandfather. We prayed together a lot and John's talks with God became longer.

Telling the kids went really well. Toby, 14 wanted to tattoo something really special on my head when I lost my hair. It could be our secret. Holly, 10 did not say much. We have always been very close and I was worried about her. A few days after our family meeting, I took Holly shopping and out to lunch. I told her that I would share anything she wanted to know. She could ask anything and I would tell her all that I knew. "Holly," I asked, "are you worried about Granma". "Oh Granma", she said, "you have God, you have "Big John" and you have me, you will be just fine". Holly is a lot like my great grandmother.

Before we knew it we were at MD Anderson. It is an awesome place. A city with in a city. The people were wonderful. It is truly a place that is filled with love and hope.  All of the test took about four days. The worst was the bone marrow biopsy. Drilling into both sides of my hips was extremely painful, but necessary.  On the fifth day we met Dr. Michael Wang, mantle cell specialist. He walked into the exam room, bowed, shook hands with John and hugged me. With the kindest smile I have ever seen he said "I am glad that you came to me , I can help you."

We made the decision to have my treatment at home where I could be with my family and friends. The treatment was an MD Anderson protocol and it was a tough one. Stay in the hospital six days with different kinds of chemo running 24/7. Home to allow my blood counts to recover, then back into the hospital for five days for more kinds of chemo. When my counts came back up we were on our way to Houston to see if it was working. I wasn't allowed to fly so John drove me. We made a fun trip out of it. We stopped at special places to have coffee and we always timed it so we could have dinner at a wonderful Mexican restaurant outside of Houston.

There isn't any since in me telling you it was a piece of cake. The pain in my bones, shots in my stomach, hair loss, blisters on my head, loss of sight and no feeling in my hands and feet, were the lemons that life had given me to make my lemonade. The sugar that I added was watching the birds use my hair for their nest, visiting with friends, laughing with my grand children and having long talks with my John beside our fish pond. I could always count on falling asleep in John's arms, knowing that I was safe and that I would wake to a new day given to us by God. We did not and will never allow cancer to rule our lives.

I could go from being a blonde to a red head in a matter of seconds, eat tons of ice cream to keep my weight up, and I didn't even have to shave my legs. Everything has good side effects. We laughed more than we cried, and we thanked God for each day and lived with the hope for a tomorrow. I go to Houston every four months for tests. I have responded well to the protocol, and I have been in remission since January.

I named my team for the walk tonight  "Living with HOPE" Isn't that something that we all should do? They say that mantle is a really mean beast. More than likely it will come back and it will kill me, but IF and WHEN is up to God. I laugh a lot, I love deeply, and I will always live with HOPE.

If I have a problem and I can fix it, I do. If I have a problem and I can't fix it I try not to complain and "Let go and Let God" I am no hero, but I am a survivor.

                                                                                                                  Thank you.