Battling more than just the disease

Ella Fowler and Ella Fowler

Since February, Cheryl Weber’s life has been lived from a beige recliner in her living room. Diagnosed with lung cancer, Cheryl, 52, has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy leaving her exhausted and weak. But what causes more stress for Cheryl and her husband Terry, 59, isn’t her cancer. It is that for the past few months, they have been living on an income of about $700 a month’ ‘ ‘ as they are unable to work.’ ‘A lot of tears have been shed in this house the last few months,’ Terry said. Every month, after paying their $600 in rent, the Webers have around $100 left for food, medications and other household expenses. ‘His [Terry’s] disability is our only income right now,’ Cheryl, who sports a black and white Halloween bandana to cover her shaved head, said. ‘Family and friends are the ones who have stepped up and helped us pay for food, medication and car insurance.” Despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds, longtime residents of Bowling Green Cheryl and Terry are determined to get through Cheryl’s cancer and their financial problems. With mounting medical bills already being sent to collections and a lack of health insurance, the Webers struggle daily. Luckily, their utility bills are included in their rent payment, but they have gone without the phone or cable before until friends and family stepped in to pay the bills. ‘When you only got 100 bucks to live on a month, and you have people saying you got to pay this, you got to pay that; well, I got to live, too,’ an emotional Terry said. ‘Just wait your turn. When I got the money, I will get it to you, but I got to live, too.” Cheryl applied for disability in February and recently received notice she will be collecting around $200 a month until August when her disability will increase to $900. She also acquired food stamps from Job and Family Services and will soon be getting Medicaid. But money is needed now and the Webers must rely on friends and family like Julie Willmarth. ‘She [Cheryl] has a cell phone, and it is in my name. I pay for that,” Willmarth said. Willmarth recently held a bake sale at Krogers and will be holding a spaghetti benefit dinner for Cheryl in July. Willmarth added she feels closer to Cheryl than she does her own sister. ‘If something would happen to her, it would create a big void [in my life],’ she said. ‘I want people to know when you have a disease like this, don’t give up on life, and that is what I try to encourage her to do. I just want her to know I am there.’ But Willmarth isn’t the only one helping the Webers. Dan Weber, Terry’s older brother, came bearing much needed gifts last Monday. ‘I am Santa Claus today,’ Dan said with a laugh. Dan and his wife Karen Weber brought bags of groceries to the Weber household. Support of friends has been a significant part of the Webers’ story of battling medical hardship long before Cheryl’s diagnoses. In 1995, Terry survived a massive heart attack, which according to Terry’s doctors should have killed him. Today Terry has a defibrillator in his chest and needs to take nine different medications daily. ‘I haven’t worked since ’95,’ Terry said. ‘I was a lucky SOB to have lived, and I have been in the hospital multiple times since.’ With Terry unable to work after his heart attack, Cheryl continued to provide an income for Terry and their daughters, who at the time were in junior high and high school. Terry was able to collect disability payments while Cheryl worked several part time jobs on top of her work at Phoenix Technologies. But things changed in 2007. After working for 10 years at Phoenix Technologies, Cheryl was laid off, losing her benefits and her health insurance. She began working two to three jobs a week cleaning houses, being a care-giver and other random work. At the end of last year, Cheryl developed a simple cough. But what she thought was a cold-like symptom quickly got worse. ‘I was having trouble breathing, and when I walked I was winded,’ she recalled. ‘Then I just thought I had bronchitis.’ A trip to the emergency room told Cheryl otherwise. The doctor informed her there was a mass on her lungs. Soon after, the long time smoker was diagnosed with lung cancer. ‘I didn’t believe it at first,’ Cheryl said. ‘I thought no, no, no.’ The seriousness of her sickness quickly hit Cheryl when the doctor told her it had spread beyond her lungs. It now occupies her spin, bones, shoulders and skull. ‘I thought, ‘This is serious,” Cheryl said with a tear. Every three weeks, Cheryl and Terry make the hour-long trek to St. Charles Hospital in Oregon. There Cheryl gets her chemotherapy treatments. The chemo takes its toll quickly, leaving her so weak she can’t even lift her arm to turn on the lamp next to her chair. After the first few treatments, Cheryl could hardly walk, needing Terry to help her to the bathroom. But chemo causes more than just weakness for Cheryl. ‘It is hard to eat food because of what it [chemo] does to my tongue,’ she said. ‘I can’t eat anything tomatoey or spicy. Lots of days consist of eating … soft things.’ After every treatment, Cheryl’s tongue develops sores, making it hard to eat many foods, and she often has to drain the broth off of her favorite soup Ramen noodles so she can eat. But the biggest love Cheryl has lost is her Diet Pepsi. ‘It is just the Diet Pepsi I miss the most,’ she said adding with a laugh, ‘I still eat chocolate, though, that is my favorite. I don’t care how bad my tongue hurts, I will eat a piece of chocolate.’ Every day Cheryl thanks God she gets out of bed and looks forward to the days she can spend with her six grandchildren. The magnitude of what she will miss in the future pulls her through even the toughest of days. ‘I want to see them [my grandchildren] grow up and graduate high school, college and get married,’ she said, ‘That is what keeps me going every day right now.’ For Terry, he is petrified of losing his wife. ‘[I’m] scared of the fact your wife could die after being married for 31 years,’ said Terry, who with tears in his eyes was barely audible. ‘She has been taking care of [me] and …’ Unable to finish the sentence Terry dissolved into tears. Despite this fear, both Cheryl and Terry said they are strong, and, with the help of family and friends and Cheryl’s determination, they believe they can beat this cancer. ‘We are both fighters. When I had my heart attack in ’95, my doctor said I should be dead,’ Terry said. ‘I am a fighter. I am not ready to die yet. And she [isn’t either].’