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Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 05:00 AM

Lisa’s story: First a cancer patient, now a volunteer

The personal, caring side of treatment made her want to help others on the journey.

A positive outlook can be powerful medicine. That and a rock-solid faith carried Lisa Benson Oliver through a recent breast cancer battle. Now her smiling face comforts patients facing the same ordeal as she works as a volunteer at the Marshall Cancer Care Center. 

Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, just a year after losing her husband of 36 years. Hearing the word ‘cancer’ didn’t send her reeling as it so often does.
“I think I’m one of those people who, when things happen, say, That’s just life.”

After receiving the diagnosis in Guntersville, Lisa went to a friend’s doctor at UAB and, after extensive examinations, was given a choice of lumpectomy, mastectomy or to join a clinical trial.
“It was just so much to process,” she remembers. 

While she was trying to digest all the information and weigh the pros and cons, Lisa learned that her insurance would cover only treatments in Huntsville, Cullman or Marshall County.  Once that information sunk in, Lisa just decided to do nothing and rely on faith that she would be healed. 

“I thought maybe God is saying don’t do anything,” she said. “So that’s what I did.”

After two years, the cancer grew into a painful open wound and forced her to take action. Testing showed a very infected breast. She decided to have a mastectomy, but her surgeon said there was too much swelling and recommended chemotherapy first. He referred her to Dr. Jonathan Storey, Oncologist at the Cancer Care Center. After an examination, Dr. Storey assured Lisa that with treatment she would get to where she needed to be. 

“I was so relieved,” she said. 

Weekly treatments of chemo for three months did the trick. The swelling went down and the pain stopped. Follow-up testing found spots near a lung and a hip, advancing Lisa from stage 2 to stage 4 cancer. 

She was very thankful that she had no sickness from the chemo and no side effects except losing her hair, and she didn’t let that bother her. She focused on the positives. 

“This place was absolutely wonderful,” she said of the Cancer Care Center. 

Lisa’s two children and six grandchildren were very supportive through her surgery. Her two 17-year-old granddaughters stayed all night with their ‘Mimi’ at the hospital. She went home the day after surgery. A week later, she was released to do as much as she felt like. Soon she was mowing her yard, cooking, doing laundry and picking up her grandson from high school. She credits all the prayers that went up for her.

“Everybody had such positive belief that the outcome would be great and it was,” Lisa said. “I tried to be obedient finally to what He was saying. I do believe God healed me.”

At her two-week follow-up visit, Dr. Storey said it appeared the cancer was gone. He recommended a preventative maintenance program of the drug Ibrance in conjunction with hormone preventive shots once monthly.  After three months on the drug therapy, Lisa will have a CT scan and bone scan to confirm the regimen is working.

The loving, supportive staff at the Cancer Care Center made such an impression on Lisa that she decided to volunteer. She donned the pink jacket about two months after her treatment and now works in the infusion area every Friday.

“I can’t say enough about this place,” she said. “Everyone is so nice and friendly. I thought I would like to give back so I did. I love it. The atmosphere is so loving. The employees are a team.”

With her fashionably short gray hair, bright blue eyes and big smile, Lisa is a natural welcome to patients. Her story of dealing with cancer comforts those finding themselves in the trenches with the disease. There is no shortage of hugs and words of encouragement from volunteers for the patients. 

Lisa was born in Guntersville but didn’t grow up locally because her family frequently moved. She married young and returned to Alabama where she has lived ever since. Both her children went to Guntersville High School. Lisa’s daughter, Lauren Benson Beason, lives in Grassy and works in a chiropractor office. Her son, Jeff Benson, lives in Albertville and owns a painting business. Each of them has three children. Jeff has a son in high school, one daughter in nursing school at Jacksonville State University and one daughter in the U.S. Army Reserve. Lauren has a son in high school, a son who is a computer science student at JSU and a daughter studying nursing, also at JSU.

Lisa retired in 2016 after maintaining medical records for Alacare for more than 24 years. Her late husband, Mack Oliver, passed away four years ago. She is very close to and proud of her children and grandchildren. “They all love the Lord and that’s where they’re supposed to be.”

Click here for more stories about the Face Of Breast Cancer In Marshall County