Hope in the Fire
For MCA patients Harry and Linda Morris, navigating cancer together has been a powerful reminder to keep their hearts on what matters most.
They met on a blind date in Springfield, Missouri, in the early 1980s: Harry, an East Coaster from Lynn, Massachusetts, and Linda, a Midwesterner born and raised in Salina, Kansas. Both had children from a previous marriage, and neither expected a blind date set up by a mutual dentist’s receptionist to turn into a lifelong commitment. But it did. On Jan. 22, 1983, Harry and Linda Morris became husband and wife. And they’ve been inseparable ever since.
“We are a successfully blended family,” Harry says, describing their life today. “Our four children — three daughters and a son — have blessed us with 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.”
Both Harry and Linda are quick to count the blessings in their lives: family, friends and their church are just the first of many they list. With such noticeably positive attitudes, it’s almost easy to miss the fighters hiding right under the surface, but after a bit of conversation, as the greater story unfolds, their determination is clear. Over the past few years, Harry and Linda have both served as caregiver and patient while facing their respective battles with cancer — and they’ve been uplifting others all along the way.
‘I’m still here’
It was 2010 when Harry, who retired as a corporate training and development specialist for Shelter Insurance in 2008, was diagnosed with prostate cancer following a PSA result and biopsy. His primary care physician recommended Urology Associates of Central Missouri, and eventually Dr. Michael Cupp did Harry’s prostatectomy. Harry was then placed on hormone therapy, but the cancer progressed, and Dr. Cupp recommended that he see an oncologist. That’s how he ended up at Missouri Cancer Associates.
“Although Dr. [Mark] Tungesvik is my main man, I feel the entire staffs at MCA are my caregivers, and terrific ones they are,” Harry says. “From the reception desk on, they demonstrate care and concern every time I go. They not only care for us — they care about us.”
For Harry, treatment has been diversified, from hormone therapy, to radiation, to radiation infusion, to chemo, which he’s currently doing.
“All have their side effects,” he says. “But the benefits — I’m still here — outweigh those negative effects.”
Linda’s cancer journey has been notably different from Harry’s. It began in 2015, when Linda, who retired from State Farm Insurance in 2011, noticed a spot under a toenail that didn’t look right. Her doctor sent her to MCA, where she received a diagnosis of melanoma.
“My first thought was, ‘How will this affect my family?’” Linda says. “I actually felt guilty even though I knew that was irrational. But I turned to God for strength and healing during that time — and for courage.”
Dr. Nicole Nelson of Columbia Surgical Associates performed Linda’s first surgery. Immunotherapy followed at MCA, along with additional surgeries and radiation.
“Most of the time I feel really good,” Linda says. “So when it’s time to go to the doctor, time to get a treatment or a scan, it’s a reminder that I’m not really well. I actually do have cancer.”
One day at a time
As most cancer patients will attest, a strong support system can be invaluable when it comes to navigating the journey from diagnosis through treatment. As both patient and caregiver, Harry and Linda have not only learned to give help but also to receive it.
“As with most things, any time you share an experience, in this case cancer, your empathy/compassion and understanding are intensified,” Harry says. “And so it is with our journey. The challenge comes when you are at times overwhelmed for your loved one and what they are going through.”
“We understand what the other one is going through,” Linda adds. “Of course, there are times that are hard, times when I wonder, ‘Will I be there for Harry when he needs me?’ But every day is a gift, and we’re blessed to have each other.”
They’re also grateful for their extended support system, including their family, church and treatment center, which Harry says has been “a constant encouragement.”
For both Harry and Linda, the challenge isn’t over. Harry’s treatment is ongoing with no stipulated end. Linda is getting ready for another surgery.
“It’s pretty much one day at a time,” Linda says, “but I do have a lot of confidence in what Dr. Tungesvik wants me to do. I can trust him.”
Despite the ups and downs, Linda says they’ve learned a lot along the way.
“We’ve both learned that there is always hope, even in the lowest of times,” she says. “We’ve got wonderful doctors, and MCA has been excellent to us. So many times when I’m there [at MCA], I see people who come in who have gone through treatment, and now they’re just coming back in for their regular checkup. There are so many people there who have beat cancer — it’s encouraging to see that.”
It’s that emphasis on hope and encouragement that led Harry and Linda to look for ways to help others who have been touched by cancer as well.
“We started a support group,” says Linda, “in our church, Christian Chapel (C2), for that very purpose. There are so many people who are touched by cancer, and we saw a need for support and for hope in our community. That’s why we called the group ‘Hope in the Fire.’ It’s what we all need.”
Kindness and courage
On Jan. 22, 2018, Harry and Linda will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. Thirty-five years of hope, 35 years of faith and 35 years of standing side by side, in sickness and in health. With ongoing treatment and plenty of unknowns ahead, they remain positive about the future.
“Harry and I have a lot of ideas, and we still plan for the future and things we want to do,” Linda says. “It’s not about checking off a bucket list — it’s about leaving a legacy of faith for our children and grandchildren.”
“Relationships are more important than things,” Harry says of how cancer has influenced his outlook. “Get outside of yourself; it’s better to serve than be served. Give more than you take. Make others realize how valued they are. Encourage other cancer patients that hope is always there.”
“Sometimes we don’t realize how much good we can do for another person, even if their circumstances seem hopeless,” she says. “When I was sick, I was greatly humbled by the things people did for us like preparing a meal or sending a card. Even simple kindness can be far reaching, and it is so important in our world — it really does make a difference.”
When asked what they’ve learned about each other as they’ve faced cancer together, both Harry and Linda are quick to answer.
“How incredibly wise and courageous my wife is,” Harry says
“I’ve learned that he is a competent and loving caregiver,” Linda says. “I’ve also seen his faith in God throughout it all. He inspires me.”
When detected early, skin cancer is highly treatable. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone check their skin regularly for suspicious spots. If you notice any irregular spots on your skin, or any changes, itching or bleeding, see your dermatologist.
1 out of 5 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Frequent screenings can lead to early detection. Two screening methods are available to detect prostate cancer. DRE (Digital Rectal Exam) and PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen).
To schedule your screening call Urology Associates of Central Missouri at 573-499-4990.
For signs and symptoms: http://centralmourology.com/specialties/prostate-cancer/