Quick with a warm smile and a big hug, Linda Garrett of Fritch is always in motion. She is a people person, a self-professed ‘hugger’ and is a woman of God to her core, and is very active in her church. She is a person who has the ability to see the positive and finds a blessing in every situation that she encounters.
And she is a cancer survivor. This marks the third battle she has waged against the disease and she is just as determined to survive this time as she was the first two times she was diagnosed. And she is also a devoted Relay For Life participant.
Linda is certainly no stranger to adversity, cancer, pain, heartbreak, loss, and death. Her journey through these dark valleys began years ago as colon cancer claimed her sweet maternal grandmother in 1977.
Life was good for many years as she and her beloved husband Jesse married Nov. 5, 1963 and started their family. The couple has four children, three sons and one daughter. And now there are the additional blessings of 10 grandkids and two great grands.
Linda’s amazing story actually begins in 1990 when she fell down a flight of stairs and injured her back. She was told by her doctors that she would never walk again. “Being the stubborn person that I have always been, I told those doctors to stick around and see,” she stated with a smile.
She had 3 back surgeries from Sept 1991 to Oct. 1992 including emergency cervical fusion, a lumbar dissectomy which involved putting a plate in her back to correct the damage done in the fall and later another surgery to finish the correction and to straighten her vertebrae. All of that time, she suffered excruciating pain.
After 3 surgeries, 5 years of physical therapy, and hours upon hours of pain, she says she is blessed by being able to walk today without a limp. Linda gives credit for her remarkable recovery to God, to Dr. Wayne Paullus, her surgeon and to a wonderful physical therapist named Mike Scroggins.
In 1995, she began feeling better and from 1996 to 2006 she worked as a Special Education Teacher at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Amarillo and loved it.
In May of 1998, adversity struck again as her mother, who lived in Fritch, was diagnosed with cancer. Chemotherapy seemed to be the only option, so her mother began treatment.
“I remember brushing her hair after she started the treatment. It just started coming out in clumps. Mama and I cried together over the loss of her hair. We got it buzzed and I took her and got her a wig,” Linda said.
In October of that same year, Linda herself was diagnosed with uterine cancer. “I had gone to my doctor for a routine checkup and my pap test came back abnormal. A second test came back the same way, so I was scheduled for surgery. The doctor performed the surgery and got all of the cancer. I was blessed not to have to have either chemotherapy or radiation,” she said.
“I think early detection is so very important. It is the key factor in my being able to beat the disease twice and I am a very big advocate of screening tests and early detection,” she stated.
In December of ’99 the family was told that Mama was in remission. “She and Daddy loved to go to Branson, and we decided to take a family trip there on spring break. Jesse and I and all of our kids (who were very close to their grandparents) would go along with Mama and Daddy. Everyone was so excited about going,” Linda said.
“The weekend before Valentine’s Day, I came to Fritch to spend some time with my parents. I brought my Mama some beautiful pink roses for Valentine’s Day. I knew when I got there that she was not feeling well, but she put on a brave face as mothers often do and said that she was fine,” Linda remembered.
On Valentine’s Day, Linda got a call at work from her Daddy. “He told me that Mama was really bad and that they were leaving the house in an ambulance. I met them at the hospital and we soon learned that her cancer was back. On Feb. 16, 2000, we put her in BSA Hospice, where she spent the last 22 days of her life,” she said.
“My Daddy never left her side but one time during the time she was in the hospital. His belt broke and he jumped in the car and sped to Levine’s to get a new belt. He was back in record time,” she laughed.
Since her Daddy was staying with her Mama, they were given a larger room with beds on each side. “The first thing Daddy did was rearrange that room so that those two beds were right next to each other. He said they had slept in the same bed for all of their married life and that was not about to change now,” Linda said.
On March 9, 2000, Linda lost her sweet Mama, who had always been a blessing to her, to lung cancer.
In Oct. of that same year, her Daddy had 5 by passes, but recovered and got on with living his life without his wife beside him.
In the summer of 2004, Linda and Jesse spent a lot of time at the lake and on one of their trips in July Linda got a very bad sunburn on her arms. In August when she went to see her doctor, her nurse asked about a blistered place on her arm when she checked her blood pressure. She told her about the sunburn. When the doctor came in he wanted to see the arm and immediately sent her to Amarillo to Dr. Samberson for a biopsy. It came back as melanoma, so she was scheduled for surgery.
“He said he went ‘deep and wide’ to make sure he got it all. Again, I was so blessed not to have to have any kind of treatment. Again early detection was a key factor in him getting all of the cancer,” Linda said.
In August of 2005 her Dad had a major stroke that paralyzed his left side. Still teaching and living in Amarillo, Linda found a lady to come in and take care of him through the week, in addition to the home health he received after he was released from the hospital.
“From August to May, I stayed weekends in Fritch to take care of my Daddy. I made the decision to retire from teaching in order to move in with Daddy and care for him. As anyone who has ever been a caregiver for their parents can attest, that was a very difficult thing to do,” she said.
Suffering from COPD and unable to leave home, the home health nurse asked the doctor to come to the house sometime during May to check him over. It was discovered that he had prostate cancer. He was not strong enough at that time to go through chemotherapy.
In July, Linda and Jesse were worn out from taking care of her Daddy and trying to care for their home in Amarillo. Linda was persuaded by the home health and nurses to put her Daddy in Respite care through BSA Hospice for five days and just to get a break from the grueling 24-hour a day responsibility.
And so she broached the subject with her Daddy. “He told me that the only way he would go is if he could have the room that Mama was in. I was a little taken aback and told him I did not know if that was possible but would do everything that I could.”
“It was a God thing. The room he and Mama shared for the last days of her life was empty, so we moved Daddy in. Jesse and I went out of town for a short trip with Jesse’s brother and sister-in-law. On the third day, I got a call from the hospital saying that Daddy had suffered a heart attack and had slipped into a coma.
We rushed back to Amarillo. I went in to see him and while I was crying and talking to him and telling him how I loved him he opened his eyes and lightly squeezed my hand. I was blessed knowing that my Daddy knew I was by his side and on July 21, 2006, he passed away,” she remembered.
Now retired, Linda and her siblings began the difficult task of clearing out their parents home. She and Jesse eventually sold their home in Amarillo and purchased her parent’s home place in Fritch. Linda noticed that the move was physically very hard on her husband.
In July of 1985, Jesse had suffered a heart attack while driving his truck. “He collapsed just as he got to my sister’s house. We rushed him to the hospital and they told us he probably would not make it. The doctors had found a tear in his heart and they gave us no hope. 21 days later we received a huge blessing as my husband walked out of the hospital,” she remembered.
And so in May of 2007 when Jesse starting having some chest pain, they immediately went to the doctor at the Heart Group in Amarillo and he was put in the hospital for tests.
“On May 26, 2007, we were told that he had Stage 5 lung cancer and there was nothing that could be done except chemotherapy. He had a very good doctor at Texas Oncology. When Jesse asked how much time he might have, the doctor told him that with his experience, in his opinion he had around six months to live,” Linda said.
“In those six months, he took the chemotherapy treatments and we just tried to live as much as we could. We went out on the water in the boat because he loved that so much. He was my soul mate, and the love of my life and I miss him so much. I know that God has a plan. Jesse passed away on Nov. 30, 2007, six months and three days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. We did get to celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary on Nov. 5,” she said.
Just before Jesse was diagnosed, Linda was hired at Sanford-Fritch ISD and worked in April and May of ’07 as a substitute teacher. She went back to work in Aug. when school started and worked through March of 2010 and most of that time she suffered with pain in her back. She also worked for the National Park Service at the Fire Cache doing timekeeping and secretarial work.
Finally in March of 2010 the pain in her back got so bad she was bed ridden. Doctor visits followed and still there was no explanation for the pain. She tried chiropractic treatments. In April she had an MRI, which showed a disk in her low back was out of alignment. Dr. Reimer, her chiropractor tried acupuncture to help the disk pain, but to no avail.
On June 4, Linda made a trip Amarillo to the ER. The pain was totally out of control. Her friends Martha Shull and Cathy Gill of Fritch made the trip with her. Known as the “Three Musketeers of Fritch”, these ladies were a force to be reckoned with. They urged the doctor to keep looking until he found out what was causing their friend so much pain.
“They are the kind of friends who will drop what they are doing to help me and we all try and take care of each other,” Linda said. She was given steroids which helped her pain in a matter of hours. Dr. Paullus told the ER doctor to get her comfortable and keep her in the hospital until Monday when she was scheduled for an MRI.
“I felt so much better after being given the steroids, I asked if I could go home for the weekend and come back on Monday for the MRI. They agreed,” she said.
“I was still feeling good when I got back to Amarillo on Monday and met my daughter at the hospital to have the MRI. Afterwards, we decided to go to a health food grocery store and pick up a few things,” she stated.
“While we were there, the hospital called on my cell and told me to come back to the hospital immediately. They met me at the door with a wheelchair and we didn’t stop until we had reached the sixth floor of BSA. I was wondering what in the world was going on but all the nurses would tell me is that the Dr. would be in shortly.
Soon, Dr. Paullus entered the room shaking his head. He said, “Linda, how in the world have you been walking?” Still feeling pretty good, I quipped back, ‘on my feet’.”
He looked so serious, and then he dropped the bombshell. “You have a tumor in your back from L3 to L5 and it as completely eaten the fourth disk.” In the same breath, he said, “I think it is cancer and I have already called an oncologist for you.”
“I was totally overwhelmed as I tried to comprehend what he was telling me. My daughter, who had been parking the car, came in after he left the room and we just cried together. I told her that I had beaten cancer twice before and would do it again. “
“All night, I talked to the Lord. I wanted to understand why and what his plan was for me and I soon found out,” she said.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. “I claim this verse because God gave it to me during that dark night. As I lay in the hospital, I poured out my soul, my fright and my feelings to him and suddenly he gave me this verse.”
Being a stubborn woman whose favorite word is ‘why’, God revealed to her that she did not have to understand it, but she just had to place her trust in him. “When God spoke to me about this, the most awesome sense of peace began to flow through my body and I knew that he would take care of me.”
On Monday, June 14, 2010 I went to the cancer center and started 32 rounds of radiation. Shortly before she had finished with her radiation treatments, Dr. Sharp, her oncologist talked to her about starting chemotherapy treatments.
“I had seen my mother and my husband go through chemo and I saw what it did to them and I told him no, way, never was I going to have chemo. He urged me to listen and consider that my chemo could be administered in pill form, not IV. And so, I agreed,” she said.
“I never lost my hair. It thinned, but that is ok. I have not been sick but one time and I consider all of this my blessing. Out of every adversity, I have gotten a blessing,” she smiled.
As she fights her third battle with the dreaded disease, Linda is still an avid Relay For Life participant. She and her daughter started attending and supporting the annual event in 2001 in Amarillo. After she moved to Fritch, she became more involved and joined as a committee member, serving as survivor co-chair in 2008. And then she began serving as team captain of the St. Andrew’s Methodist Church team for 2009, 2010 and again this year. Each year she looks forward to the survivor dinner and Relay.
“Relay For Life is so important to me. Cancer has taken so much from me and so many of my family members. I hate the word. I try to keep focused on the fact that the first three letters of this word is – can – that makes me even more determined to fight. I CAN beat cancer again! Even though I have had cancer three times, I so very blessed and fortunate as so many have it much worse than me. I just want to help others. If there is anything I can do to help someone with cancer, I want to do that. I feel that being involved in Relay For Life and raising money for the ACS means this hateful word can someday be a thing of the past,” she stated.
Last year, after she walked her victory lap, she spoke to those attending. After having a radiation treatment in Amarillo that day, she rushed out to Huber Park to participate in the all night event.
She plans to be there again this year with her St. Andrew’s United Methodist team members to walk her victory survivor lap, to help in the booth, to speak to the crowd and to count the blessing of being able to participate in the 2011 Relay For Life of Hutchinson County at Huber Park.
On the Sunday morning following the Relay event Friday night, Linda will give her testimony at her beloved St. Andrew’s. She will speak on a topic she knows so well. . .adversity versus blessing.