June 12, 2023

My Cancer Story: Florence Wells


My cancer experience

People are often surprised by the irony of someone who works in oncology to also being affected by the disease. As we in the field know, cancer is no respecter of persons and there is not always an explanation as to why it occurs. I had been working in the cancer registry field for years when I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Since my symptoms had only recently begun a few months prior, and the imaging demonstrated mild involvement, my surgeon was very surprised when my pathology report came back with at least 6 high risk features for potential recurrence. Based on our knowledge of the disease, we knew it was a guarantee that I would have disease recurrence without any additional treatment beyond surgery and that recurrence would end up leading to my death. There were cancer cells circulating in my lymphatic system, and I needed to have chemotherapy and radiation to provide my best chance at long term survival.

My first day of chemotherapy came and within 5 minutes of infusion, I had an allergic reaction. The medication uses a preservative that about 5% of the population is allergic to. They switched me to a similar drug within the same “family”. I had another reaction 2 minutes into that medication. Both medicines are formulated from a specific type of tree, and I was allergic to that tree family. There was no other classification of chemotherapy drugs that was approved for my early-stage cancer. My oncologist said she had no other option than to send me on to radiation. We both knew that without chemotherapy, the errant cancer cells would not be removed in total. She said she would wait to speak with my surgeon and see if he had any other ideas. To say I was downhearted when I left her office that morning is an understatement. My thoughts went straight to my family. My husband and our 2 children need their wife and mother. If I can’t have the needed treatment, will I live long enough to see my children graduate high school? Will I be able to still support my family, or will I become a hardship to them? I was scared.

Fortunately, by the time I had gotten home, my oncologist called saying that my surgeon had recommended one more drug to try. It was the same medication as the first one, but this manufacturer had a protective protein coat over the medicine. I was able to receive the necessary medication without incident and finished my chemotherapy regime.

Two weeks after completing my systemic treatment, I fell, breaking my leg and dislocating my ankle. I had surgery to repair the damage and was unable to walk for over 6 weeks. During this time, I still had to receive my radiation therapy. Hopping on and off the table every day was definitely an experience to remember. I also had to return to work the same day I started radiation. Being able to work remotely was an opportunity that I did not take for granted. Having physicians and employers that understood my need to provide for my family even during times of hardship was critical for me.
It was not an easy time for us, but we had a lot of support from friends and family. I have several family members that are also survivors and they have been an inspiration for me. I thank the Lord for giving me another chance at life, for the many blessings we received during that trying time and for the ability to share my story.

How has this affected my life and career?

Being a cancer survivor has made me appreciate everything even more. I am still in the early part of my follow up, since it has only been 7 months since my final treatment, but I look forward to a long life and plan to enjoy every moment.
Working in the cancer registry was a huge benefit for me while I navigated my diagnosis and treatment. I wasn’t in the dark about my diagnosis and understood what the best options for me were. I now am even more dedicated to this profession. The value that our work provides is what saved my life, and my experience will save others in the future.

What do I have to say to other survivors for National Cancer Survivors Month?

Cherish each day’s blessings. Your battle was fought and won! The war is not over until we eradicate cancer for all. To those that are in the thick of fighting, my prayers are with you. For those that have lost loved ones, I grieve with you as well.