Here they are…..our 6 recipients for CANCER FREEZE 2018. From left to right, top to bottom….let’s meet them.
Amy Kay Joyner (48), Abigail Bowen (14 months), Jackson Conway (14), Tammy Prescott (43), Jake Taylor (42), and Isyss Couch (10). We will begin sharing their stories with you very soon.
2018 Cancer Freeze Recipient #1 Abigail Bowen
14 months old from Luverne, Al. She is the youngest daughter of Kevin and Rachel Bowen and little sister to Arianna. Dad is a Police Officer with the City of Luverne and has been recently deployed with the US Air Force.
Here is her story:
Abigail was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia pre b when she was two days shy of being eight months old on December 20, 2016. On December 9th Abigail started to get really sick and had a cut on her finger that got infected so we took her to the doctor where she received medicine for the cut and for being sick. We went back the next day and she wasn’t better, she couldn’t keep anything down. She got shots to see if that would help. Two days later we went back to the doctor where she decided it would be best to start her on IV antibiotics. She believed she had been hit with strong and multiple things all at once. They started doing blood work daily and we were told her counts were off but it’s nothing to worry about. After five days in the hospital we were told there isn’t much else that can be done, and if we wanted to transfer to Children’s we could. We transferred to Children’s where we were told it was very unlikely it is cancer of any type, she didn’t have signs of cancer just low blood counts. After two days there we decided to do a bone marrow biopsy to rule cancer out. Within two hours the team was coming back to tell us our little baby has cancer. That night we moved to 8QB where we stayed for eight months off and on. We would stay for 36 plus days each time and would be home for a few days before going back. There has been many ups and downs during this. Abigail has had to have countless IVs, two central lines, one PICC line, and now has a port. She’s had reactions to medicine that landed us in PICU. She has had an infection that was extremely rare that has only been found in 50 people in the world and none under 32 or in the state of Alabama. The chemotherapy has caused delays in her development. But none of this has gotten her down. Our Abigail has remained a happy baby who never lost her smile during all of this. While at the hospital she said her first words, took her first steps, and learned many things. We are finally home now where she receives chemo daily and we do clinic visits once a month. Abigail is a happy toddler running and playing. She gets into everything and is learning about life outside the hospital.
2018 Cancer Freeze Recipient #2
Meet Jackson Conway from Evergreen, Al. He is the son of Terry & Kristy Conway & big brother to Chloe.
Below is his story:
Jackson Conway turned 14 years old in May 2017. He is an athletic, energetic, funny, kind hearted young man who goes to Sparta Academy in Evergreen, AL. He loves God, Alabama football, basketball, baseball, fishing, hunting and being with his family. Jackson’s journey began one morning in May 2017. Jackson woke up with a painful bump inside his mouth on the bottom right side of his jaw and was taken to the local ER for treatment. Doctors initially thought it was a cyst or an abscessed tooth and treated it with antibiotics. After several appointments and tests to find out what the growth was, Jackson had surgery to biopsy the mass and send off for testing. Jacksons results were received In late July and showed the tumor was malignant. Jackson was sent to UAB Kirklin Clinic where additional scans showed that the cancer had metastasized to his lungs. Jacksons final diagnosis is Metastatic Ewing’s Sarcoma. Jackson’s family decided to get a second opinion at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas on August 3, 2017. After more tests, scans and doctor visits, Jackson was enrolled and accepted into a clinical trial at MD Anderson. Jackson has completed 6 cycles of chemotherapy therapy treatments which consisted of 6 different drugs. Jackson will have surgery November 10, 2017 to remove the tumor from his jaw. After surgery, Jackson will continue another four (4) months of intensive chemotherapy treatment, same as the original treatment. After the second treatment of chemotherapy, Jackson will continue on three (3) months of the clinical trial chemotherapy drug.
2018 Cancer Freeze Recipient #3 Isyss Couch
Meet 10 year old Isyss Couch, daughter of Jamila Couch from Andalusia, Al. Below is her story:
Isyss has always been an outgoing and active child. She participates in sports and social clubs. She is a member of F.B.C in Whatley and a youth usher in the church. Among her friends and teachers, she is always counted on for giving a helping hand. Isyss loves to participate in arts and crafts.
While playing basketball, Isyss began having weakness on the left side of her body. At first, she thought her knees were sore. As time passed, her balance begin to change and she developed double vision and slurred speech. After all test were given, we were told that Isyss had a rare brain tumor that shows up in children between the ages of four and eleven called DIPG…Diffuse Intrusive Potine Glioma. Hearing that information made time stop and I felt sick to my stomach. Because she changed so quickly, this diagnosis was unbelievable.
Instead of crying and being depressed, Isyss did a great job with her appointments and medication. With the help of family and friends, she has been able to just live her life. Isyss diagnosis made me appreciate everything. Something as familiar as your ability to swallow can become a problem. But throughout everything, she has never lost faith or given up. As humans, we do not know what God has in store for us. But through it all, it’s all for a reason.
2018 Cancer Freeze Recipient #4 Kay Joyner
Meet 48yr old Kay Joyner of DeFuniak Springs, Fl. Kay is blessed with an amazing family, her husband John and 2 daughters Kristina & Kaylie. Below is her story:
My story began in 1995. At a routine dental cleaning, a very intuitive dentist noticed a purplish spot in the roof of my mouth and biopsied it. The results were malignant, specifically mucoepidermoid carcinoma of my left hard palate. I was 26. The Dr’s said they’d never seen that type of cancer in female patients under 50 years old that were non-smokers like me. I had the area excised and was cancer free for many years. I always had that little nagging feeling that it would recur as I’m sure most cancer patients do.
Fast forward to 2016. I thought I had an abscess on my tooth and noticed some swelling in my gums in the same area. The oral surgeon at LECOM in Defuniak Springs listened intently to my recount of my past history of malignancy and immediately referred me to oral surgery at UF/Shands in Gainesville.
After my first consult at UF in November things started progressing quickly. As we all know, the medical field is an ongoing practice. Unfortunately the biopsy that the oral surgeon did was reported as “benign” and My husband and I were so very happy to hear that. It’s actually exactly what I thought. They gave me an order for a follow up CT scan and sent us on our way. I sort of put the CT on the back burner, I figured I’d get around to it. The Dr himself called me a month or so later and said I really needed to get it done and follow up right away. Even that didn’t clue me in on what he had in mind of course. After the CT my husband and I took the 3 and a half hour drive back to UF for the results. I fully expected to hear that all was fine, maybe follow up on one year.
Well, I, among many other unfortunate people will never forget when the Dr said “It’s cancer”…..WHAT? …but he told us it was benign! I’m thankful that he told us that given my history he just wasn’t satisfied with the pathology results and went back and forth with pathology a few times before they determined it was definitely cancer. We were shocked, at a loss for words. Another thing I will never forget at that visit is the Dr asked my husband, my 10 year old and myself if he could pray with us. We all joined hands and I had the feeling he’d done that before. He said a very comforting, moving prayer for us, it touched my heart. I knew we were looking at a long road ahead and it was about to get rough (little did I know how rough). I just had to turn it over to God and trust the Dr’s knowledge and skills.
I was referred to an otolaryngology surgeon. He seemed very young to my husband and I but also quite confident and knowledgeable. He assured us he does this type of surgery all the time. He recommended that I have a maxillectomy. He explained it’s an excision of my whole left upper jaw and my left palate along with 6 teeth with an object called an obturator (more about that later) similar to a retainer with a piece built up on top of it to fill in the hole that would be left in the roof of my mouth about the size of a silver dollar – as well as a skin graft from my left thigh about the size of a business card to basically patch the area up.
Post operatively I wasn’t actually as miserable as I thought I would be, with one exception. I woke up with a nasogastric feeding tube in one nostril and this horrible thing called a trumpet in the other nostril to assist in breathing if all else fails. It’s better than the alternative I suppose, which is a tracheotomy (a tube in my throat). What a relief when those were removed on day 2 of ICU! I was actually discharged home as well on day 2, straight from ICU. Thank God.
To this day (4 months post op) I have quite the love/hate relationship with the obturator. It’s still feels foreign in my mouth but I can’t talk or swallow without it. It’s removable, I take it out to clean it about every 4 hours.. It currently doesn’t have teeth on it like a denture but I look forward to getting that soon.
Another “kick in the gut” moment was when I went for my post op appointment. We were told that unfortunately the margins from the quarter of my mouth that was removed were positive! They recommend 35 radiation treatments to the area I refer to as my “head hole”.
As I write this today I am on #27, only 8 more to go! I shouldn’t complain. My prognosis is actually very good. But I will anyway, I’ve lost 25 lbs. I have completely lost my sense of taste. It’s excruciatingly painful, I’m exhausted but I’m going to make it!!
My family, especially my husband has been tested over and over through my journey but have never waivered. They’ve been right by side every time I looked. My poor daddy passed away soon after I began radiation from a glioblastoma. He fought the fight the best he could. My broken heart didn’t help a thing.
When I first found out I had cancer I didn’t want anyone to know. I don’t exactly remember why to be honest. I guess I didn’t want to be “that person”. I didn’t want sympathy, I just wanted to be “normal”. It is my testimony that I was wrong! I never could have faced this alone. The outpouring of love, support, well wishes and prayers from my family, friends and strangers – people that I didn’t even know cared are what I’ve drawn on many many times. I think if people think I am that brave and strong, well I surely can’t let them down. If I’m being honest, I’ve thought of giving up. I don’t want to do radiation anymore. But I’ll make it one way or another. I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ll be cancer free and my husband and I will dedicate all that we have in us to helping others as they have helped us.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. We are going to make it my friends.
2018 Cancer Freeze Recipient #5 Tammy Prescott
My name is Tammy Prescott. I’m 43 years old. I have lived here in Florala, AL all my life. I am a single mother of four beautiful kids. Two girls, Josie Dorsey, age 21, Katee Prescott, age 12. Two boys, Landon Prescott age 10 and Matthew Prescott age 9. I was diagnosed May of 2017 with pancreatic cancer. My story begins in 2014, when I had my gallbladder removed. After surgery, I would have sharp pains in my side, under my rib cage. With CT scans that had been done, showed no evidence of tumors or scar tissue and was diagnosed as acute pancreatitis. Over time, I got better, until April 2017. I started staying sick , unable to hold anything down. Losing over 20 lbs in a two week time period. I was admitted into the hospital and was diagnosed again with acute pancreatitis. It was not until May, when I saw Dr. Skinner in Dothan, who did another CT scan which showed my duct in my pancreas enlarged. I was sent to UAB for a test which showed that I had a tumor at the head of my pancreas and it was cancer. The doctors at UAB believed this to be a mutated jean from my family history, with my mom having breast cancer and my aunt, that had passed away in 2015 with pancreatic cancer. Looking at me now, I do not look like someone fighting pancreatic cancer. I had no signs of jaundice, tumor markers were normal, blood work normal. I’m currently being treated at MD Anderson in Houston.
2018 Cancer Freeze Recipient #6 Jake Taylor
Meet Jake Taylor and his beautiful family from Paxton, FL. Jake is 42 years old. He is married to his wife Jennifer and has 2 kids, Kayleigh & Branton. Here is Jake’s story.
As I write this story, today marks 376 days since the fight began. 376 days equates to 9024 hours or 541,440 minutes of worry, fear, frustration, anger, jealousy, sleeplessness, pain, fake smiles and prayers.
It all started October 6, 2016. As my wife and I watched our youngest child sing with the Paxton Elementary Chorus at the Walton County Fairgrounds it seemed to be such an ordinary day. It wasn’t long before things took a drastic turn for the worse. I started experiencing severe lower back pain and was getting worse by the minute with nothing helping. Just before midnight my wife, Jennifer called my parents to come sit with the kids because she was taking me to the ER. By the time they arrived, I was white as a sheet and on the floor in unbearable pain. Needless to say, she wasn’t driving me anywhere – we called 911 and got an ambulance here. After many tests later, the ER informed us I had a large mass in my kidney and it appeared to have ruptured. They told me I was bleeding into the sac surrounding the kidney, which is what was causing the pain. The ER wanted me transferred to another hospital where an urologist was on staff to get a better idea for treatment plans. Without hesitation, my wife started cleaning up to get me to the next hospital only for the ER doctor to say they did not want me to go by car, they were too concerned about the sac rupturing further and bleeding internally. They only wanted me to go by ambulance. That moment, time stopped. All of a sudden, I was now in a fight for my life when only hours before I was fine. I had no idea this would be one of the easiest days during our fight. No idea what the future fight would look like. When we made it to the next hospital, they confirmed it was Kidney Cancer. Cancer, just one word can take an entire family to their knees. The thoughts that run through your head when you hear the “C” word are so fast and furious, you can’t even process them. “How could I have cancer? I’m only 41. Cancer doesn’t run in my family. The tests are wrong. What does this mean? Why me? What is my family supposed to do? How will we afford this? Why me? This can’t be happening.”
The hospital we were in wasn’t willing to provide neither immediate treatment nor pain relief. They recommended I wait for 6 weeks to see if the bleeding subsided and then see an urologist. I was in too much pain to fight, but my wife wasn’t. Obviously, that was not the answer my wife was accepting. I was sick, and she was getting me treatment. Now. We found another urologist that came highly recommended from my primary care doctor and he made the call for an appointment the very next day.
We rushed to Dothan and met with the man who would work tirelessly to help me on the path for treatment. Dr. Byard reviewed the scans and told us that he wanted to operate as soon as possible to remove the kidney and anything else affected. That was Friday and by Wednesday, I was in the operating room. The surgery took much longer than expected and they removed my kidney and adrenal gland. The doctor was quoted as saying “It looked like a bomb went off in there” because the inflammatory response from the cancer was horrendous. They took hours scraping away cancerous inflammation that had spread to my aorta. I was able to go home 4 days later with 72 staples and an incision from the left flank to my belly button and all the way up to my sternum. We knew at this point that it was certainly cancer and that it had spread into the adrenal gland. Any spread would require Chemotherapy after I recovered from the surgery, but the treatment plan would differ based on the type of cancerous cells found as there are 4 different types of Kidney Cancer cells. On Thursday, October 20, 2016 we received the final pathological report. I had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Renal Cell Carcinoma, Clear Cell type. An immediate referral to an Oncologist in Dothan with an appointment right away. The following weeks were a blur of treatment options, scans and tests and ultimately a referral to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL in hopes of getting on a clinical trial. Because of the stage, a clinical trial was our best option. 11/15/16 we went to Mayo Clinic and met with the team there. At Mayo we were told that my best option to start would be Chemo which would begin ASAP. The team felt confident that I was on the “good side” of stage 4 cancer and we would return to Jacksonville in 3 weeks for scans. For the first time in a month, we had relief that things were happening and I was going to start my path to fight with weapons of Chemo. Good news, plans in place and treatments starting. Sighs of relief all around. If we only knew how wrong they would all be. Thanksgiving Day 2016, I started on Chemo and within hours, I felt horrible and the feeling didn’t go away the whole time. The doctors tried lowering the dose, adding extra meds to offset the side effects, nothing made me feel better. When the New Year rolled around, we decided to return to our local Oncologist instead of Mayo Clinic as they both were offering the same treatment plans and traveling back and forth to Jacksonville every 2-3 weeks was taking a toll. We continued treatments and scans and with each set of scans, more growth was found. By February, I was back in the hospital for another surgery to remove a mass in the abdomen/surgical bed with radiation to start post recovery. I had to be off Chemo for 2-3 weeks before radiation could start. Radiation was slated for 30 total treatments, which meant every day Monday-Friday driving to Enterprise for the radiation, then feeling horrible afterwards on the hour drive home. In the early morning hours on April 10, I started having extreme chest pains and Jennifer rushed me to the ER. The cardiology team worked fast and determined some irregular heartbeats with possible heart attack. After 2 days in the hospital for tests and monitoring, they decided I had inflammation of the area surrounding my heart. They were also concerned about a potential blood clot in my lungs, but a CT showed that was not the case. Finally, some good news! No Heart attack, no blood clot, just some inflammation that’s easily handled with an anti-inflammatory. April 12, I returned to my radiation team to complete 13 more radiation sessions. I was wholly unprepared for what I would hear from the radiation oncologist. While the CT scan showed no blood clot, it did show nodules in my lung. The cancer had spread. What happened to the “good side” of stage 4? It was then that we decided we needed to get to MD Anderson as soon as possible. Radiation was stopped and our local oncologist encouraged us to get our appointment with MD Anderson ASAP.
May 3, 2017 was our first appointment with Dr. Gao and his team at MD Anderson. Between the blood work and the multiple scans, there was no doubt they were thorough and I felt confident that I was in the right hands. Dr. Gao and team sat me down and explained what options I had, reviewed every detail of my fight thus far and made some suggestions. First, he wanted to get a clear picture of where the cancer is, check for growth and gather the whole team for a plan of action. This required more tests and more scans, which meant a longer stay in Houston. This trip we ended up being in Houston for 11 days. Food, travel, parking, hotel stays, laundry, etc. added up fast on this trip. During this trip, my shoulder pain was getting increasingly worse, so they also added some pain meds. On May 10, just 4 days before my 42nd birthday we received more devastating news. They determined that my type of cancer is very aggressive and had metastasized into my bones (scapula and humerus) and also some tumors in my liver. These are all in addition to the ones in the lungs. They recommended that I go through the process to get approved for a clinical trial they had going on for RCC with metastasis. I immediately started paperwork and went through the additional tests needed for the selection process which is a 2-3 week long process. I was clinging to hope that this was the answer, the miracle to place my cancer into remission. The clinical trial was finally approved and the first infusion would start on June 8. We were excited, but also nervous, this trial would require trips to Houston every 14 days for a minimum of 2 years. The enormous amount of financial strain this would cause was such a worry, but my wife and I talked and this is what we knew we needed to do. Then, it all came crashing down yet again when I was on my way for my 7th infusion. I was in extreme pain and just trying to make it to Houston to see my team. As we boarded the plane, the pain increased so much I was sweating and unable to keep anything down. I knew I would not make the 2 hour flight and the flight attendants knew as well. They called 911 and offloaded us from the plan and I was sent via ambulance to the ER in New Orleans. The ER confirmed thorough scans that the cancer was in my vertebrae and told us to get to Houston ASAP. As soon as our Oncologist saw me, he told Jennifer to get me to the ER and get started on some IV pain meds. We later discovered that the tumor on my L2 vertebrae was so large, it had fractured my vertebrae. I would need back surgery which required pins, rods and cement in place. At that point, we all realized that infusions weren’t working. It would be back to Chemo as soon as I returned home from this surgery. September 26 started the Chemo. I’m confident this round will work, but I won’t know until I head back for scans in 3 months.
This last year has been a whirlwind of emotions and travel for treatments. I am honored to have been selected as a Cancer Freeze recipient for 2018. This cancer journey so far hasn’t been easy, but it has shown me the love that people have in this community. It has reminded me that there is still good in this world and really hammered home that it takes a village. I am proud to call this village home.
PLEASE remember to mark your calendars and make plans to join us on Saturday, February 3, 2018, at Lake Jackson in Florala, Al, where you can help support all 6 chosen recipients for 2018.
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