Cancer knocked twice at the Fleming’s door

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Features Editor

Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

The same is not true of cancer.

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Too often the potentially deadly disease strikes the same house twice- affecting both

husband and wife and sending a bolt of fear and anxiety through the family.

Harold and Loretta Fleming of the Shiloh community share the common bond of marriage and they also share the bond that comes with being a cancer survivor.

Mrs. Fleming was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and her husband two years later with melanoma.

The fear she experienced when she learned she had cancer was mild compared to the fear she experienced when she learned her husband had the disease.

"I guess it was the fear of being left alone," Mrs. Fleming said. "No one wants to be left alone."

Mrs. Fleming’s bout with cancer began almost uneventfully when a lump was discovered in her breast in 1995. Several mammograms and

an ultrasound gave her the all-clear sign and she breathed a sigh of relief.

A few months later, however, the lump became more suspicious and a biopsy revealed that a benign lump and developed into cancer.

A lumpectomy was performed in January ’96 and was followed by 37 radiation treatments. Mrs. Fleming takes preventive medication and is doing fine.

She worries more about her husband than herself.

"Melanoma is such a scary form of cancer," she said. "We go back for Harold’s checkups and it seems like we are always surrounded by people whose melanoma has come back somewhere else – the liver, the brain or the lungs. Every time we go, we come home rather depressed."

Two years ago, Harold Fleming noticed a mole on his shoulder. He came up suddenly and in three weeks time it had turned dark. He showed it to his wife and she knew immediately he needed to see a doctor.

"It was a black as smut and it looked bad," she said. "I knew we didn’t need to wait."

The doctor removed the mole and sent it to a pathologist. The call came when Mrs. Fleming was home alone. The results came back showing it was melanoma.

"Harold wasn’t home and I didn’t want to be there by myself when I had to tell him," she said. "I called my daughter and she came to be with us."

After hearing the news, Fleming walked outside and thought things through. He decided he decided he wanted to go to his wife’s doctor. And he did, but the doctor recommended a Birmingham specialist who had computerized equipment that would show the exact circumference of the melanoma and the depth.

The doctor removed the melanoma and later one lymph node that looked suspicious. Fleming underwent six chemotherapy treatments – one a month for six months and his checkups have been good since that time.

"But you don’t ever know about cancer," he said. "It can pop up anywhere at anytime. If we let ourselves sit around and think about it, we would be in a dread all of the time."

However, Harold and Loretta Fleming don’t sit around and think about. They try and keep a positive outlook and depend on their faith in God to see them through each day.

"We are fortunate because our cancers were caught early," Mrs. Fleming said. "It is so important to get annual checkups so cancer can be caught early. The sooner you catch it the better your chance to survive it. Being stubborn about going to a doctor can cost you your life. So, we want to encourage everyone to get regular checkups – for themselves and for their loved ones. It doesn’t pay to be stubborn."

And, if cancer does strike, the Flemings said the most inspiration and greatest hope comes from being around others who have survived the disease.

"We are all for Relay for Life," they said. "Not only does it raise money for life-saving research, it also puts us in touch with others who have fought against cancer and won. When you have cancer, you need to hear those stories. They lift you up."