Mother and daughter both beat cancer

  • Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Whatever was wrong with her daughter, Marlene Martens could see that it was more serious than a sinus infection.
Ann Norris, Marlene's oldest, was already a mother herself with three children of her own, ages 12, 9 and 2. Two months earlier, she woke up with a headache like she had never felt before, “like a knife going in and out of my head.” The headache went away, but a month later, she felt painful pressure around her eyes and nose. She acted out of character and struggled to care for her toddler. When her mom, a Eucharistic minister at St. Theresa the Little Flower Parish in Summerville, brought communion to the house, Ann's hair was tangled and matted and “she looked like death warmed over.”
While an urgent care doctor had diagnosed Ann with a sinus infection, Marlene urged Ann to see Summerville family physician Dr. David Castellone. He immediately sent Ann to Trident Medical Center (TMC) for a CAT scan, which revealed a troubling mass in her brain. Soon arrangements were made at the hospital for neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Marzluff to remove the glioblastoma, an especially aggressive brain cancer.
Their large family, including all of Ann's four siblings and their father, gathered at TMC. In spite of her original mother's intuition, Marlene fell into denial. “It's very daunting. I mean the first few days after her surgery, I could not accept the word 'cancer',” Marlene says. “My mind was rejecting it. I couldn't accept it. Not my daughter.”
That was the year 2000, when Ann was turning 36. After the surgery, Ann benefited from the new cancer medication Temodar and had radiation treatments at Trident Cancer Center, where she got to know the staff well. “They were very helpful,” she says.  While she faced the grim probability that the brain cancer would return, she triumphantly passed several milestones and even today continues to be cancer free.
“Your faith increased,” Marlene says to her daughter as they sit at the kitchen table in Marlene's Summerville home.
“Yeah,” Ann replies.
“It was a big test, wasn't it?”
The monsignor at their church still refers to Ann's case as a miracle in the parish, an inspiration to others when difficulties strike. And so, when Marlene was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2013, it was comforting to consider her own daughter's story. She also chose to receive treatments at Trident Cancer Center, where three of the employees recognized Marlene from the days when she taught their children pre-school. They knew Ann's story well.
“They said, 'Oh Marlene, don't worry, we're going to take the best care of you.'” They were true to their word. The good news in Marlene's case was that the breast cancer had been caught as early as possible, at Stage 0, through regular mammogram screenings. And while she grappled again with the power of the word “cancer,” she also emerged from her surgery and subsequent treatments with strength. Marlene was glad to ring the survivor's bell at Trident Cancer Center on her last visit in October.
Now, as they prepare to enjoy another Mother's Day, both Marlene, at age 75, and Ann, at age 50, know firsthand that while cancer can be powerful and life-changing, it's not unbeatable.
For more information on Trident Cancer Center, please visit Tridenthealthsystem.com

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