True survivors

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 22, 2003

After diagnoses of cancer, &uot;one day at a time&uot; became not a clich but a way of life for two local women.

They learned to be proud women, even after the surgeries that tried to steal their womanhood.

They learned to deal with treatments that made them feel like they were going to die.

They learned to take a better look at life, while cancer forced them to come face to face with death.

They survived.

Connie Jones, a Westover woman who was diagnosed with cancer nearly 40 years ago, sits back in a chair at her kitchen table trying to recall the dates.

There was the first exploratory surgery in 1964. Radiation in ’65, neck surgery in ’66, a breast biopsy in ’67, chemotherapy in ’70, a hysterectomy in ’72.

The dates don’t come to her as easy as the smile.

&uot;After a while, you forget these things. They’re not so important,&uot; Jones said.

The way she so openly reveals the personal experiences has prompted some to ask if she is proud of those times in her life that tried her both physically and emotionally.

&uot;You better believe I am,&uot; she once told a man who tried to sell her life insurance until she told him about the cancer. &uot;I’m proud I’m still walking around.&uot;

Jones, 61, said she never had time to worry about the histiocytic lymphoma that caused a doctor to tell her parents she was probably not going to make it at the age of 23.

She’s not even sure how to spell the disease.

&uot;I didn’t have time to think about it,&uot; she said.

Jones is the mother of two, Ben and Lynn. They were six weeks old and 3 years old when she first found the knot in her waist.

Six surgeries, radiation treatment, cobalt treatment and two rounds of chemotherapy left her cancer free some 27 years ago.

But she credits more than the treatments for her survival.

&uot;I go to church on Sunday and it gets me through to Wednesday,&uot; Jones said. &uot;Wednesday gets me through to Sunday.&uot;

Jones said the support she got from her family and her faith were the &uot;most important&uot; during her battle with cancer.

So, too, does Jennifer Ray of Wilsonville.

&uot;Spiritual healing is a big factor in it,&uot; Ray said. &uot;Faith is very important.&uot;

Ray was 34 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996.

&uot;I had a lot of help from my family,&uot; she said. &uot;There was a lot of prayers.&uot;

Ray, the Personnel Supervisor for Shelby County, first found the mass in her breast but it did not show up on a mammogram.

&uot;At 34 years old, I never thought it would come back that I had breast cancer,&uot; she said.

Doctors later confirmed the unthinkable &045; Ray had breast cancer.

She was given a mastectomy and eventually the treatments made her lose her hair.

&uot;You go through a period where reality hits about midway through treatment,&uot; she said. &uot;Emotionally, you’re a wreck. You’re trying to cope with not letting it get you down because you feel so bad.&uot;

Ray has not only had to come to grips with cancer herself, she also has had to worry about how her 12-year-old son, Zach, handled the situation.

&uot;The thing that helped me the most with him was having a mother that was a cancer survivor,&uot; Ray said. &uot;Having her to look toward &045; and she had survived &045; that helped all of us.&uot;

Ray now joins her mother as a cancer survivor.

Declining levels in her cancer screening tests allowed her to be released in 2001.

&uot;I feel very thankful that I am a survivor of almost seven years,&uot; she said. &uot;I thank God every day that He blessed me and my family and allowed me such confident doctors that gave such excellent care.&uot;

She has a message for others with cancer, and those who have loved ones with the disease.

&uot;Hold out all hope, never give up,&uot; Ray said. &uot;Keep a positive attitude through it all.

&uot;I don’t think you can survive without hope,&uot; she said