By Sherrie Norris
With Watauga County Relay for Life just days away, thankfully, many local cancer survivors are still here to share their stories.
As a regular participant in Relay for Life, Teresa Jackson Lawley of Boone not only proved stronger than a cancer diagnosis six years ago, but the determined retired nurse has also bounced back more recently from yet another life-threatening illness that would have stopped many others in their tracks.
In May, Lawley attended the annual Survivor Dinner and Celebration hosted by Relay for Life of Watauga County and was all smiles as she was joined by her husband, Matthew, in celebrating yet another milestone.
Lawley’s journey began to unfold in March 2013, when she was diagnosed with stage 3B colon cancer, which had metastasized to four lymph nodes. Admitted to Forsyth Hospital in Winston Salem for surgery, Lawley required multiple blood transfusions before the procedure could be performed.
Following surgery and several nights in intensive care, she was discharged with a plan of care that included insertion of a portacath and a series of chemotherapy treatments to follow.
“After placement of the portacath, I started on two different chemo drugs,” Lawley recalled. “But after the first treatment, they had to take away one because my blood counts were way too low.”
She continued on the remaining chemotherapy for six months, and despite a rather grim expectation of her medical team, Lawley said, she did well with her cancer treatment. “God had another plan.”
In the meantime, however, she was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease, resulting in almost monthly hospitalizations and complications including an enlarged spleen and continued low platelets. She experienced “major blood loss,” requiring 80-plus units of blood within the past year, alone. Her increased ammonia level left her confused with memory loss and, at times, unable to walk. She was found unconscious in her bed and was taken to the hospital where she remained that way for 24 hours until her ammonia levels were stabilized.
It came as no surprise to Lawley or her medical team that she needed a new liver, but, she said, “I had to be five years cancer free before they would consider putting me on the transplant list.”
Fast forward to last fall when she began meeting with the transplant team in Charlotte and plans began to take shape as her condition deteriorated.
“I tried to be strong for my family because they were worried to death about me and never knew what to expect from one minute to the next,” she said.
Through it all — the waiting, fear of the unknown and all emotions and side effects associated with her condition— Lawley said she never lost faith.
“I had so many people praying for me,” she said. “I thank everyone for their prayers, and most of all, I give all the honor and praise to the Lord for carrying me through it. Family and friends spread the word for people to pray for me and, even though I was at the end of my journey, God was right on time. I wish I could personally thank each person that said a prayer for me but I don’t even know many of them.”
Lawley doesn’t remember much, she said, about the two weeks leading up to her liver transplant on March 20.
“We headed to Charlotte right after we got the call that a liver was available for me,” Lawley said. “ I don’t remember going down there, but 20 hours after my surgery, I was a different person. I felt the best I remember feeling in years. I walked around the nurses station three times and have been up and going ever since! I feel like praising the Lord with every breath!”
There were concerns, early on, of possible organ rejection, but thankfully, too, she said, those issues were resolved.
However, with her new lease on life, Lawley is careful not to forget how it all became possible.
“I am so thankful for the donor and the donor family,” she said. “What a precious gift they gave me at such a difficult time in their own lives. I hope I get to meet them someday so I can tell them how much I appreciate them and what they have done for me and my family. I pray for them often that God will ease their heartache, give them peace with their decision, and allow them to know how much they blessed others.”
Lawley said she hoped her story will inspire others to be an organ donor, and to let their families know of their wishes.
To her own family and friends, also, who helped her during her illness and recovery, Lawley expresses her most sincere gratitude.
“Please know that every phone call, visit, prayer and everything you all did for me will forever be fresh on my mind . . I wouldn’t be where I am today without my husband, Matthew, who took me to Charlotte, Forsyth, and Watauga hospitals many times, and to Novant Oncology for weekly lab work, the same place I received my chemotherapy six years ago. My sweet mama always kept the house up, our clothes ready and still worked 40 hours a week.”
She continued, “ I have three sons who all helped when they could. Jacob, the one still at home, would always walk me to bed, make sure everything was OK and check on me before he went to bed.”
It’s “a given” that her four grandchildren were instrumental in her survival, as well.
Since her cancer diagnosis six years ago, Lawley has participated in Relay for Life” as much as possible.
As a registered nurse with longtime affiliations with Watauga Medical Center and Appalachian State University — who had to relinquish her position due to her own illness — Lawley is no stranger to cancer and all that comes with it.
In addition to caring for countless patients with the disease through the years, her family was deeply affected when lung cancer claimed her father 12 years ago.
Not only does she participate in Relay for Life in her father’s memory and as a thankful survivor, herself, but also for others in her life, including an aunt who also had colon cancer.
“I hope by sharing my story that it is a blessing for others,” she said. “Thank you for allowing me the opportunity.”
More About Relay for Life
Relay for Life in Watauga County will be held Friday June 14 at Watauga High School in Boone. Teams will begin setting up at 1 p.m. A brief opening ceremony will kick things off at 7 p.m. with the survivor lap starting shortly thereafter.
You don’t want to miss the luminaria ceremony and lap beginning at 9 p.m. Prior to the event’s conclusion at midnight, other activities will include live entertainment, a silent auction, team raffles and other items for sale. A kids’ area will be available with large inflatables, concession booths will be open and a lot of fellowship will be enjoyed among all participants.