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Thursday, May 05, 2011 - “SHOC” and Awe – A Young Mother’s Triumph Over Cancer

Donna Davis of Wartburg was like any mom planning for Christmas in December 2006 when a persistent infection sent her to the Emergency Room.  After a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia, Davis was diagnosed with pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs and chest, was given an antibiotic and went home to enjoy the holidays.  But a few days after visiting the Emergency Room, Davis’ family physician called her to discuss her chest x-ray.  He thought it looked like cancer and he scheduled her for an appointment with Bill Hall, MD, a board-certified cardiovascular surgeon on the medical staff of Methodist Medical Center. 

Donna Davis will be participating in Morgan County’s Relay for Life
alongside members of her church from Pilot Mountain Missionary Baptist
Church.  This will make the fourth year the group has participated in
their local community’s Relay for Life.

Dr. Hall performed a biopsy on one of Davis’ lymph nodes and the test came back negative.  Based on what he had seen in the x-ray, Dr. Hall suspected that the biopsy had given a false reading and he performed a second biopsy, which also came back negative.        
Dr. Hall called in board-certified medical oncologist, Dr. Mary Misischia and they decided to do one more biopsy, this time collapsing Davis’ lung to take a sample from behind the lung.

“When they collapsed my lung and saw behind it, it was a perfect picture of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” said Davis. 

She was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on February 8, 2007.  She recalls that her physicians said it was fast growing and she credits them for their persistency in discovering the cancer. 
 “The z-pack for my infection was causing the negative readings,” said Davis. “They just kept me under their wing until I was diagnosed. I’m so glad they didn’t give up on me.”
Dr. Misischia planned to treat Davis with 12 chemotherapy treatments, but she developed a reaction to the medicine after just eight sessions.  Davis then began a series of 33 radiation treatments at Thompson Cancer Survival Center at Methodist.
“We’ve always used Methodist Medical Center,” said Davis of her choice for where to have her cancer treatment.  “I’ve had family members who used Thompson Cancer Survival Center at Methodist, and there was no doubt that’s who I’d use.”

Davis was 37 years old when she was diagnosed.  She had three children, the youngest of which was just six at the time.  But she found the strength she needed to overcome the cancer through faith, family, and friends and through the bonds of cancer made between other survivors and her medical team. 
“It’s hard to explain the relationship I have with the staff,” said Davis.  “I never felt like I was alone in this.  I depended on and trusted what they did.” 
Davis had her last radiation treatment at the cancer center on July 17, 2007, her husband’s birthday and a big day of celebration for them both.  Upon return visits, years after her initial treatments, Davis still finds the same friendly faces, the same warm welcome, that she experienced at the start of her battle against cancer.  
She never gave up the fight, but she also didn’t give up her everyday life. “It’s all about attitude,” Davis said.  “You’ve got to keep going.”  And that’s what she did.  During her cancer treatment she was still a mom.  She went to all of her children’s ball games and even walked in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life while undergoing radiation treatment.  
She also became involved in a local Morgan County support group called SHOC, Survivors Helping Others Cope.  At the time, the group consisted of four ladies who had experienced cancer. 
“They were like my cheerleaders,” said Davis.  
Now the group has 15 regular members, both men and women, who have had various types of cancer.  The group helped Davis cope with her diagnosis, and she has become a permanent member so that she may use her experience with cancer to support others who are newly diagnosed.  
“It’s a wealth of information for cancer patients,” said Davis of the group.
The group does not receive any type of formal funding and members personally cover the cost of care packages and other services. “We want to give back, to show that you can survive this,” said Davis.  “We do this from our hearts.”  
It’s been four years since Davis finished her cancer treatment and said, “I feel like I’ve never had cancer.”  Davis has regained her strength and feels like her old self.

“Dr. Mary [Misischia] keeps a close eye on me,” said Davis.   “Every six months I have a PET scan and blood work, and I know that I can call on her.  If I have concerns, she’ll get me right in the office.”

Davis said that her treatment and her care team made the unbearable easier to accept. 

“If I had one word to sum it up, ‘awesome’ is all I can say.”
Between the care from staff in Oak Ridge and the support of survivors she met at SHOC, Davis found the strength she needed to overcome cancer and help others do the same.

Robin Bonham, the SHOC support group’s founder, told Davis, “We live one day at a time.  Wake up with a good attitude; there’s a brighter day ahead.”

That’s become Davis’ message to cancer patients, too.  With her positive attitude in tow, she stays active in SHOC and Relay for Life, in her church and in her children’s lives.  She’s walked through cancer and found sunshine on the other side.