Cancer … from the other side

Thursday, October 12, 2017
Mitchell and Wanda Shands
Photo provided

Sometimes when we think of Breast Cancer we think of the innocent victims that have been told that they have been diagnosed with it. No one could ever understand the thoughts that go through your head when you’re told.

Not to take away from anyone struggling with cancer, because they are the ones that deal with it on a minute to minute - daily basis, but there are other victims, as well, who suffer because of this disease. Family and friends have to watch their loved ones fight this unnecessary illness, and sometimes see their spirits decline.

I have several family members and friends who have had to or are still fighting through cancer. It’s so hard to watch what they have to go through, sometimes wondering if they can beat it. I’ve seen them sick, grow weak, cry, hide from everyone, and even try to keep it from everyone that they know.

Losing family or friends to cancer is a heart-breaking experience. I lost my father, Mitchell Shands, in 1994, to colon cancer. He was one of the strongest, good-hearted men that I have known. He was always determined to complete any task that was put in front of him.

In 1993, my father went to the hospital to have surgery for gallstones. In a very short time, the surgeon came out and told us that it was not gallstones, had sewed him back up, and that was it.

In the meantime, my father continued to be in constant pain on a daily basis. My sister, Sherry, found a doctor in Jonesboro and made arrangements for an appointment. This doctor was astonished to find that my father had a tumor the size of a grapefruit, and because of the recent ‘gallstone’ surgery, the cancer had spread. Our hearts sank. We were all so upset, not only because we had just found out that the strongest man we knew had been diagnosed with cancer, but we were so angry because the recent doctor knew and did not tell us.

After being told that it was too late and that there was nothing they could do, my father was determined to fight. He did not want to hear that there was nothing they could do. Giving up was not an option.

The oncology department made an appointment and we were off to fight this with him. After a few treatments in Jonesboro, they decided to send him to Little Rock where they were working on experimental solutions.

Watching my father go through these treatments was so hard. He was so weak and tired, but would never complain. That just wasn’t him. He was not giving up no matter what happened. “I have to fight back,” was something he would say to me.

I can remember sitting in a hotel room with him in Little Rock, and he walked over to the sink. I noticed he put his head down, and was just standing there. I walked over to him and asked if he was ok. With tears in his eyes, he looked at me and then the sink. His hair was starting to fall out. Trying hard to keep it together, all I could do was hug him. My “Pop” had finally shared his broken heart with me.

After being diagnosed in August of 1993, we lost Pop in March of 1994, just three days after his 60th birthday. Life for me, my mom, my sister, my three brothers, and his grandchildren had definitely changed. He was everything to all of us … the Leader of the Pack.

What were we going to do? The guidance he gave, the lessons he taught, the love he gave … it was all gone. Or was it?

The memories of this man live day to day with me. My two sons, unfortunately, were so young and do not remember very much about Pop. But I remind them that he loved his family so much, and worked hard all of his life to make something for us.

He had his own electric business - Shands Electric, worked for AP&L (now known as Ameren), was a volunteer firemen for 39 years, served as Councilman of Ward 1, a deacon at Everett Street Baptist Church, owned and operated the Kennett Trade Center on the west end of Kennett, and so many other jobs. For those who knew him, knew that he was a busy man.

Then in 2004, my mother, Wanda Shands, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Mom has dealt with diabetes and heart troubles most of her life, but when cancer popped up, she grew weaker and weaker.

Mom was also a hard working parent. Not only did she raise five children, she also worked at many local flower shops, sewed for Skeeter Kell, played the piano and organ at Everett Street Baptist Church, and many other jobs to help friends and family.

When she had trouble living alone, she moved in with my sister, Sherry, at our old homestead on Everett Street. But after a while, she needed 24 hour care that myself or my sister could not provide, and became a resident at NHC in Kennett.

Placing her in a nursing home was one of the hardest decisions that my sister and I had to make, but we knew that she needed special care that neither of us could provide.

Day by day we saw her struggle with her blindness, caused from the diabetes, and because of that she spent all of her time in her room at the nursing home. We would visit with her and try to raise her spirits or try to get her in a wheelchair to take outside, or even take her to our homes for a little while, but she was slowly giving up, and we knew that she missed dad and she made it clear that she was ready to go be with him in Heaven.

The last month of her life we spent telling her that it was ok to go be with him. Hard for us to say, because we didn’t want her to go, but we knew she was tired and wanted to go home to God.

She finally lost her battle in July of 2005. I was honored to be with her the day she “went home,” but once again, I lost a big part of my life that day.

I would never want to take away the thoughts, pain, anger, or sadness that cancer victims struggle with every day, but my heart also aches for all of the family and friends that have to watch their loved ones go through it.

Just last year, my friend, Mary Joiner, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn’t tell me for a while, but after hearing the news it broke my heart.

I kept thinking … Mary is such a good friend. Always thinks of others before herself and always there when anyone needed her. She works hard and takes care of a family without asking for anything in return. How could this happen to such a good person? I did not want to lose my “Mary, Mary.”

Thank God that in May of this year, she got a clean record. I was so thankful to hear of the news. I know that Mary is a strong woman and like my parents, a fighter and now, a survivor.

I am hoping that one day, scientists will find the cure for cancer, and rid the heartaches of anyone involved.

I’ll always remember a saying that mom would share with me, “When you come to the end of a rope, tie a knot and hang on.” Proves that nothing can keep a good person down.

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