with Elizabeth Long Kinler
by Nicole LaCour
People often say when they hear the word cancer from their doctor, they don’t hear anything else that follows. At Miles Perret, our clients often tell us that it takes time to get up the courage to come through our doors and find out about the many ways we can help them. That wasn’t true for Elizabeth Long. As soon as she was dropped off at home from the gallbladder surgery that revealed metastasized, stage IV cancer, she got in her car and drove straight to Miles Perret Cancer Services.
Elizabeth believes in the empowerment of information. “I got all the pamphlets. I read how to tell your children. The library was very useful. I looked at the wigs and the head coverings. I got my “so you’ve got cancer”* bag and my binder.” Her visit to MPCS was one part of Elizabeth’s preparation for what she was about to face.
A professed member of Mensa,* Elizabeth is not the kind of person to take a back seat when it comes to her health. For months, she experienced strange symptoms with abdominal pains and weight changes. Her gallbladder or a pulled muscle was blamed. It got so bad that it was hard for Elizabeth to breathe, and even harder to laugh, which was a big problem in her family, where laughter accompanies every conversation.
She knew something wasn’t right, so she gathered all her scans and test results and poured over them, learning how to read ultrasounds and cat scans. She noticed something odd. She couldn’t see one of her ovaries. Having survived what her doctor called, “severe menopause,” Elizabeth knew that it was normal for her ovary to harden or shrink, but looking at multiple images, one of hers was larger and she couldn’t see the other one at all. She took her observations to her doctors.
Her surgeon scheduled a gallbladder removal and Elizabeth insisted that he invite her OBGYN to come and take a look around. She wanted to make sure she didn’t have ovarian cancer.
“Within 10 minutes of going in, he saw that I was covered in cancer. It had metastasized. The reason the second ovary was hidden was it was completely encapsulated. It looked like someone had opened up a bag of sesame seeds and thrown it in my body.”
The doctors closed her back up and told her the news. “You’ve got cancer and it’s bad,” Elizabeth remembered them saying. Her immediate response, “Get it out! Call the operating room and get back in there.”
After the initial shock, Elizabeth armed herself with her two strongest weapons, knowledge and humor. She and her family spent the rest of her hospital recovery getting into trouble with the nurses for goofing off and making too much noise. “It turns out you’re not supposed to ride on your I.V. stand. You’re not supposed to move the maid’s cart or wander down the hallway with your eyes closed,” Elizabeth said with a laugh.
“Tomorrow is the anniversary of my big surgery,” she said. When her doctors went back in, it took them five hours to remove as many of the tiny tumors as they could.
And then it was time for the chemotherapy. Elizabeth brought her little, white MPCS bag to her first treatment. She was frightened and crying. She and her husband were taken to a private room and Elizabeth remembers meeting the MPCS service coordinator there. “She was so calming. She answered questions and was very soothing.” The first treatment took almost eight hours and several hanging bags with lots of different chemicals, thinners and antibiotics, Elizabeth insisting on knowing the contents of each one. Once past the first treatment, Elizabeth and her family became known as the clowns of the treatment center, always snickering and making comments that brought a smile to even the most ornery of patients.
Anticipating losing her long, thick mane of hair, Elizabeth and her daughter Sydney visited MPCS’s wig room and explored. Sydney advised her mom on the most stylish scarves and headpieces. When her hair did fall out, Elizabeth went to her salon, shaved it all off and donned an Elvis wig and glasses to pick up her kids from school that day.
Having a parent with cancer is always difficult and children react in different ways. “The best thing about MPCS is what you do for the kids,” Elizabeth said. “They see other kids going through the same thing, smiling and having fun. It’s about attitude.” Whether it was the family outings of SMILES for Miles, Acadiana Karate’s Kicks for Miles or just goofing off in the wig room, Elizabeth took advantage of how MPCS could make her fight easier for her family. “If there was something we could take advantage of with MPCS, we did.”
Her treatment completed, Elizabeth has no signs of visible cancer, for now. She has come to appreciate the lessons her struggle presented she and her family. Her husband Mark, a master craftsman at Corvette restoration had to accept that he couldn’t fix everything. Their oldest son Talon “grew up a bit and he has more awareness. Aidan calmed down and Sidney opens up more,” Elizabeth said.
Her experience strengthened the idea that everyone should be present, involved and actively participate in their healthcare. Even if all that means is bringing humor and levity to the row of chairs and I.V. stands at the treatment center or the hospital room. And Elizabeth, a highly intelligent mediator working in family law learned to turn off the phone and live in the moment. “I’ve never been able to do that before.”
*Our Treatment Care Kits are white bags with essential items needed during chemotherapy and radiation, such as alcohol-free mouthwash, sensitive soap, lip balm, moisturizing lotion and even a crossword puzzle.
*Mensa is the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world. It is a non-profit organization open to people who score at the 98th or higher on a standardized, supervised IQ or other approved intelligence test.