Monday, December 9, 2013

FAMILY STORY: Mary Fletcher

Tom Fletcher, Mary Fletcher, Nanette Deso, Mike Deso

Today, we continue our series of personal stories.  

Mary Fletcher is a talented singer-songwriter living in Nashville, Tennessee  As a teen living in Texas, her father was diagnosed with sarcoma. This is a story of how a family coped with a difficult diagnosis and months of treatment.

This is Mary's story...

What was your dad's sarcoma diagnosis and when was he diagnosed?
It was late August of 2009. He felt a lump under his ribs and his back had been hurting. He was 50 years old, worked out, and was very healthy.

A biopsy revealed a sarcoma, but the doctors never did really figure out if it was from muscle or fat, so they just called it an Unclassified Retroperitoneal Sarcoma, high grade. It was the size of a small watermelon, and no doctor in Lubbock wanted to operate.

They told us there was a 50/50 chance the chemo would work.

How old were you when he was diagnosed?
I had just turned 17 years old and was starting my junior year at Monterey High School in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas. (I now live in Nashville, Tennessee.)

I was so scared and I had to grow up fast because my parents were away in Houston for treatment for long periods of time. At first, the huge tumor was growing and they did not think they would be able to operate.

I had never even known anyone who had had cancer.

Has he had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, something else? 
Yes, he had three doses of chemo at Joe Arrington Cancer Research and Treatment Center here in Lubbock, and then transferred 500 miles away to MD Anderson in Houston to finish the last three doses of Ifosfamide and doxorubicin (Adriamycin®) and Mesna.

My mom went with him to Houston during chemo, but when he had radiation she had to go back to work, so he was down there for six weeks and only came home on weekends. Luckily, the tumor shrank from the size of a small watermelon to about a grapefruit, and they were able to do surgery to get it out without harming his ability to walk. It was in his psoas muscle, and with a little physical therapy he was good as new.

Mary Fletcher and her dad, Mike Deso

Tell us a little about you and your family. 
Nanette Deso, my mom, is wonderful. She is a commercial lender at Lone Star State Bank and is a very hard worker and loving mother and wife. I can count on her for anything.
My dad, Mike Deso, works in the oil business. He is a petroleum engineer geologist who owns his own oil company. He is also very hardworking and loving. My dad would do anything for the family.

My brother, Tom Fletcher, is 23 and still finding himself. Ha. He is leaning toward a real estate career. I also have loving grandparents.

Most importantly, Dash is my Lubbock Malti-poo, and Bo is my Nashville Malti-poo. They rule!

How well did your family come together during this time to support one another? 
It was a crazy time, but we had no choice but to pull together, and the four of us did. My brother and I had to take care of a lot of things our parents normally did when they were away in Houston.

I definitely struggled in school that year. Full disclosure: with my parents being out of town, I slacked at school because I thought I could. I managed to get back on track in school during my senior year and after my dad had his surgery.

It was also during the Christmas holidays, when I had a performance almost every single night. I usually had my mom help me with my hair and makeup and other things before the performances. Not to mention, they had never missed any of my gigs before, but they missed a lot, and it was hard on all of us.

It was the first time I had to handle everything on my own, and when they were home, my brother and I would do grocery shopping and go to the pharmacy for them, take care of the pets, and clean the house.

I had a lot to keep my mind occupied and I did not want to think about my Dad being in chemo. It was so hard and I didn't want to think about it so I blocked it out. My brother was there for me at this time since it was just the two of us for a while and I would always call my mom to make sure everything was okay. My mom was really into Yoga at the time. It helped her get through everything more than anything, as well as our faith in God.

That Christmas, my brother and I were flying into Houston to be with them because my dad was in the hospital receiving chemo. It snowed they day we were leaving and we got stuck in the Lubbock airport. We missed having Christmas with them. 

We finally were able to fly out a few days later, but they it was the first time we had been apart at Christmas, and it was really hard. They had Christmas dinner in The Aquarium at MD Anderson that year. It was the first (and only) year that Santa did not bring presents, but he left some shopping money in our stockings.

How are the family relationships different now than before his diagnosis?
My mom was a single mom for a while. She and my dad had only been married for four years when he got cancer. He had brought such joy to our lives, we couldn’t imagine losing him. It was unthinkable. 

We don’t take each other for granted anymore.

How involved were you with your dad's care?
Since my mom was with him in Houston a lot, I was not that involved. I think my mom did not really want me and my brother to be involved because she didn't want us to see him so sick.

Looking back now I really wish I had been more involved. I wanted him to know I was there for him.

Parents should know that kids can be more involved – they can handle it and they want to be a part of the process. My mom tried to make things as normal as possible for Tom and me. The thing was – NOTHING WAS NORMAL. Our lives had been turned upside down and there was no getting around it.

We wanted to help, and in many ways we did, just not as much with his direct care.

How has his illness impact you and your life? 
I think I took a lot of things for granted and when I found out he was sick I was shocked and I felt that everything was going to fall apart. My family’s happiness. Possibly losing my dad. My mom got re-married when I was 13 years old. Mike is the father I never had.

My other dad struggled with addiction and wasn't fully the father Mike is. So when I found out that I could lose Mike too, my heart just broke and I did not know what to do. It was as if I was losing a father all over again.

Now that he is better I am more thankful than ever that I still have him in my life. I really do not know what I would do without him. And I don't think my brother or my mom would either.

My mom and dad have the best marriage, and to have my mom possibly lose her husband (again) would have been devastating.

What role has music played in your did that change or stay the same during your dad's illness?
I have been singing since I was seven years old. It has played a huge part in my life, especially when my dad was sick.

Music helped me get through a lot – it was a good distraction when I couldn’t bear to think about things. Some day, I will write a song about what happened, but it is still a little too close to home.

Mike Deso, Longhorn fan

How is your dad doing now? What is his prognosis?
He has been getting checkups at MD Anderson for almost 4 years now and every scan has been clear. He is happy and healthy, and you would never even know he had been sick.

I cannot even tell you how happy I am.

We are always nervous when he goes in for a scan every four months because you just never know what the outcome will be, but his doctor has said he has a 90% chance that it will never return.

Also, going back to MD Anderson and seeing the people who are still struggling with Sarcoma in the waiting room is always humbling, and it reminds us to be thankful every day. Also, it reminds me that we need to do something to help.

What is your biggest piece of advice for family members of sarcoma patients?
Honestly......find a Yoga studio. It changed my mom’s life completely, and now I practice it three times a week. There is a type of Yoga for everyone. It helps you clear your mind without any distractions. Breathing and meditation is very good for you. It is healing the mind, body, and spirit, and you need them all to be a whole person to help your loved one with cancer. 


What is your favorite (clean) joke?
Did you hear about the kidnapping?
He woke up. (it's funnier when you say it out loud) haha

What is your hidden talent?
I do handstands in my apartment, in the park, really everywhere. It relaxes me, and it is just fun!

Please take some time to visit Mary's website and Facebook Page.  Her music is available on iTunes.

Click here to donate to Sarcoma Alliance today. 

As with all of our personal stories, this article is based on the experiences and impressions of one person and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sarcoma Alliance.  Nothing here should be considered medical advice. 

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