My Cancer Story

Marilyn’s story of resilience

“I was the first person on the CT scanner, and I asked if I could autograph it.”

radiation therapy

Marilyn Anderson, of Brownsmead, Oregon, was one of the first patients to receive radiation therapy at the new CMH-OHSU Knight Cancer Collaborative. She feels fortunate that the facility and radiation therapy are available close to home.

A lifetime of working a farm has shaped Marilyn Anderson’s outlook and made her resilient in the face of cancer.

In March 2016, Marilyn was in severe pain, so she went to the CMH emergency department. After running tests, the doctor determined that her pain was caused by shingles, but the tests also revealed another problem. Marilyn had ovarian cancer.

Over the next few months, she received chemotherapy treatment, which caused her hair to fall out, and she underwent surgery at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to remove the cancer. Her outlook was good.

“I went to the surgeon at OHSU for my six-month follow-up, and they found a tumor. That was disappointing,” Marilyn says. Then she began a second round of chemotherapy, but it wasn’t shrinking the tumor.

Optimism

“When they first started to talk about radiation, I thought ‘I can’t do that,’” Marilyn says. She imagined traveling to Longview or Portland for daily treatments for several weeks. “Of course I would have done it, but it would have been difficult.”

However, in early October 2017, Marilyn became one of the first people to receive radiation treatment at the new CMH–OHSU Knight Cancer Collaborative. “The day they opened, I was the first patient in the door,” she says.

“I was the first person on the CT scanner, and I asked if I could autograph it,” she says. “They said they didn’t think it was a good idea.”

Persistence

Radiation oncologist Sahar Rosenbaum, MD, oversaw Marilyn’s radiation therapy. Dr. Rosenbaum encouraged Marilyn to be a “wimp” and call her on her cellphone whenever she needed to. After 14 treatments over the course of three weeks, Marilyn’s tumor shrank considerably.

Marilyn will take some time off from treatments before having another CT scan; “then we’re going to take it from there,” she says.

Marilyn’s take-things-as-they-come attitude comes from living on a farm in Brownsmead and raising beef cattle with her late husband for 60 years. “You do your very best and lots of bad things happen and lots of good things happen—and you just go on. There are no days off,” she says.

Support

Marilyn also credits the people around her for making cancer treatment logistically and emotionally possible. “I don’t know how anyone does it alone,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without my support network.”

Her support network includes family, friends and the Cancer Collaborative caregivers. Her sister-in-law has accompanied her to most of her appointments, and two out-of-town nieces have visited to help. “And all my friends, oh my gosh! They’ve all driven me places,” Marilyn says.

After two rounds of chemotherapy and one round of radiation, she’s also gotten to know many of the Cancer Collaborative caregivers. “They’re your nurses, but they’re also so supportive,” Marilyn says. “It was my home away from home….We are so fortunate to have the center and radiation here.”

Read more from the Winter 2018 issue of the CMH Health Compass.