Editor’s Note: this is the second in a series highlighting the “Keeping Pace” cancer fund, which has been established through the Community Foundation of Switzerland County, Inc.
A few years ago as the Switzerland County Relay for Life event came to an end, residents — led by Adam Griffin — began to formulate an organization that could accept donations aimed at fighting cancer, but that would be very local, providing funds and assistance to those people in Switzerland County who were battling the disease, rather than send funds to a national organization. There are no economic restrictions on receiving gifts from the fund, the only requirement is that the person live here in Switzerland County.
Over the next few weeks, you will meet individuals and families that have benefited from the “Keeping Pace” cancer fund; and perhaps you know of someone — or even yourself — who could seek out this program.
Sheila Shaw was born in Kentucky, but her family moved here when she was a baby. She attended Switzerland County Schools, and has spent her life in and around the East Enterprise community.
“When Ronnie and I first got married, we lived right there in town for about 13 years, and then we move over here on Lover’s Lane in 1994,” Sheila said.
A hairdresser, Sheila also owns and operates Uptown Pizza at the main intersection of East Enterprise.
She remembers the day well — August of 2017.
“Really, the only thing I had, was starting in May of that year I was just feeling really bad like I had the flu and I was aching all over,” she said. “I went to the doctor a couple of times and was complaining. I really had really bad back issues, and they ran some tests on my hip and everything was okay on that.”
Sheila said was directly led to doctors finding her cancer was that one day she fell in Uptown Pizza.
“It was the day, actually, that I was going to go for some more blood work, because I told the family doctor, ‘there’s something seriously wrong with me’. I had to take off work, I couldn’t move or walk.”
In the emergency room as a result of the fall, medical personnel that day did a CT Scan to see if she had broken any bones when she fell.
That’s when they found it.
“They saw that I already had broken ribs on both sides, and I had a fractured lower lumbar and several other places in the bones,” Sheila said. “I was already in acute kidney failure, which I had no clue. I didn’t have any symptoms of that. So they kept overnight to try and work on the kidneys.”
While she was in the hospital, Sheila said that King’s Daughters’ Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Travis Clegg saw her x-rays — and seeing all of the fractures, he decided that the situation needed to be more deeply examined.
“The fall that I had in the pizza place was nothing severe enough to break any bones or anything,” she said. “I thought I had just pulled a muscle and that’s what it was and that caused me to fall.”
Sheila said that all of the fractures were not from the fall, but were a result of a myeloma that had been working on her bones without detection.
Myeloma — or multiple myeloma — is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Plasma cells help a person fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs.
Multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause complications. The disease can damage the bones, immune system, kidneys, and red blood cell count. (Source: www.mayoclinic.org).
“So when Dr. Clegg saw the CT scan and wanted to know why I had so many fractures and stuff, they kept me in the hospital for about four days and ran all kinds of tests, and that’s when found it. It was in the bone marrow there, and it had already — in several places around my skeleton — it had already eaten holes through my skeleton, all over my body.”
Sheila said that she couldn’t walk for two to three months after the diagnosis, going through both chemotherapy and radiation.
“Finally, they did a stem cell in February of 2018 at IU Medical Center,” she said. “So far, right now I’m in remission.”
Sheila doesn’t remember exactly who connected her with the “Keeping Pace” Cancer Fund, but she’s very grateful.
“They really helped out,” she said. “I didn’t know about the program. I was telling Rita (Sullivan), people don’t realize that even if you have medical insurance, you don’t realize how much gas you use and spend just going back and forth to treatments and to doctors and everything. I came in so handy. We got gas cards from it and everything. It was really nice.”
Sheila’s chemotherapy and radiation treatments were in Madison, but when it was recommended that she go to see Dr. Rafat Abonour, a multiple myeloma doctor in Indianapolis — the top multiple myeloma specialist in the entire nation.
“He was the one who recommended the stem cell,” Sheila said. “So we did the stem cell at IU. Anything else like chemo and radiation, I did at Madison because I just couldn’t drive to Indianapolis.”
Sheila started her chemo and radiation treatments in September of 2017, going to Madison everyday for four months, first going for chemo two or three times a week; and then radiation on her back everyday when it was determined that the chemo wasn’t working.
“Going to the hospital for the treatments several times a week is costly, but then you add in that between those that you have doctor’s visits and blood work, x-rays, MRI’s, you know,” Sheila said. “You try and get everything on the same day, but you can’t always do that, you have to work with the hospitals. It adds up.”
Sheila said that she is still traveling to Indianapolis and the medical staff there continues to evaluate the progress of the stem cells procedure — but things are very positive.
And Sheila says that through it all the Keeping Pace program has been great.
“It’s just a wonderful program,” she said. “I didn’t realize that the county had anything like that. I think it’s a blessing that they started it. It seems like cancer is so dominant in our area. I was a beautician before I got sick, and almost every customer that I had either had cancer or had a loved one who had cancer or who had died of cancer. It’s sort of scary how dominant cancer is here in Switzerland County.”
Now in remission, Sheila knows how lucky she is to have beaten the disease.
“I am in remission, God bless, and I pray that it lasts a long, long time,” she said.
Do you know someone who can benefit from the “Keeping Pace” program? Are you someone who can benefit from this program? Again, there is no financial restriction on receiving assistance, the only restriction is that the person must live in Switzerland County. There is a short application form to be a part of the program, and those applications can be picked up at the foundation’s office on Ferry Street. You can also call the foundation at (812) 427-9160.
Since the inception of the “Keeping Pace” cancer fund, the committee has helped 12 people with over $6,000 with travel expenses, and also helped one person with the purchase of a wig. Along with that, 16 people have been helped with care bags that have supplies to help during treatment trips.