Fri, Jul 2, 2021 at 12:00 PM
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is one of the most challenging situations a person can go through both physically and emotionally, but it is even more difficult when you and your spouse receive a positive diagnosis at the same time.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is one of the most challenging situations a person can go through both physically and emotionally, but it is even more difficult when you and your spouse receive a positive diagnosis at the same time. That is exactly what happened to Tom and Tammy Parsley in 2012.
High school sweethearts from Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Parsleys will celebrate their 39th anniversary this year, each anniversary being more precious than the last after two cancer scares gave them a new appreciation for the value of each day. The Parsleys have been a part of the Marshall County community since moving to Guntersville in 2004 with their three children Samantha, Kristen and Dillen.
In January of 2012 Tom was preparing to have surgery for a torn rotator cuff. It was then that Marshall Medical North Anesthesiologist Dr. Dean Chassay noted that Tom’s blood counts were off and recommended that he see his primary care physician as soon as possible. A bone marrow biopsy revealed that he had hairy cell leukemia, which is a rare type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).
“It was caught very early,” Tom recalled. “If it hadn’t been for Dr. Chassay, I probably wouldn’t have known I had leukemia until I was really sick.”
Thankfully he was in good health and was able to undergo treatments, quarantine and work from home during his active treatment. “I have been good ever since!” Now he is able to visit the Marshall Cancer Care Center for yearly appointments only to keep an eye on things.
Around this same time Tom’s wife Tammy had been dealing with several health issues ranging from back pain to colon-related problems. “I figured it was just kidney stones,” she recalled.
In the spring Tammy had a CT scan done which came back clear. Later in the year after her health issues were not resolved Tammy went in to have a colonoscopy hoping that would remedy her symptoms. To the surprise of all involved, the procedure couldn’t be performed because there was a softball-sized tumor blocking the way. That day Tammy was diagnosed with stage 3b colon cancer. The procedure to remove the tumor was performed the very next day. When the hospital staff at Marshall Medical North made the discovery that Tammy had a tumor, the Parsley’s own daughter, Kristen, was working there as a nurse at the very same time. Not knowing that it was her mother, staff members were prepping a room for a patient who came in for a colonoscopy but instead was going to have a tumor removed. Since Tammy was under anesthesia at the time of the discovery, Kristen knew the diagnosis before her mother even did. After the procedure Tammy underwent six intensive rounds of chemo as continued treatment.
2012 was a particularly hectic year for the Parsleys in addition to the two cancer diagnoses. It was also the year Tammy’s father passed away, their daughter Kristen got married and their daughter Samantha was expecting a baby boy. “I was afraid I would never get to meet my grandson,” Tammy recalled. “Our faith is very important to us, and that was a huge part of getting through all this.”
Now that the Parsleys are cancer free and thriving, they want to make sure their family and friends know the importance of taking preventative steps to catch potential threats early. The median age for a woman to be diagnosed with colon cancer is 72.
“Since Tammy was so young when she got diagnosed, our daughters are getting checked younger to make sure that they don’t have to go through what Tammy did,'' Tom stated.
To encourage people who may be hesitant to go through screens or visit with their doctor regularly, Tom advised being more open about health issues.
“We have to be more open about our health. We need to not be embarrassed to have those important conversations. There are often signs when dealing with any kind of cancer and we need to be honest with ourselves and have those conversations with our family and our doctors.”
The Parsley’s daughter and Marshall Cancer Care Center Nurse Kristen Gillen stressed the importance of early detection. “So often with many types of cancer you don’t know you have it until it’s pretty far along,” she said. “It’s often preventable but people don’t always take the necessary steps to get screened or get a colonoscopy or any other preventative procedure, but it can make so much of a difference in treatment and recovery. We don’t question our mechanics when they tell us that we need to come regularly to get the oil changed in our cars, because we know it will affect how our vehicles run, but we often don’t take the same care with our own bodies.”
The Parsleys are thankful to have outstanding oncologists and medical staff available locally.
“We have had such a good experience at the Marshall Cancer Care Center over the years with Dr. Ewing and the whole team,” Tammy said. “They are so thorough to check up with any little blip on my body's radar and here we know the staff really care about us as individuals - they know our names and faces.”
Tom urged others in the thick of their battle with cancer not to give up.
“It’s not the end and there is a fight to be had,” he said. “With any difficult situation you have an energy - maybe it’s anger or frustration. It’s important to take that energy of ‘what I can’t do’ and turn it around and make it a fight. Sometimes we need help with that, and we can’t be afraid to reach out for help to get support during the fight.”
The Parsleys and many other survivors share their testimonies to shine a light on the importance of preventative testing. Anyone interested in supporting patients undergoing treatment at Marshall Cancer Care Center can do so by supporting The Foundation for Marshall Medical Centers at https://foundationformmc.kindful.com/ and selecting the Patient Assistance Fund tab. If you need a doctor, please visit Marshall Medical Center’s website at https://mmcenters.com/physicians.