Whenever there’s a celebration in the foothill towns of the northwest Georgia mountains, it’s likely Talking Rock Caterer Cindy Parks’ heralded cake designs are part of the fete. Accustomed to navigating a packed event and wedding calendar with ease, an “accidental” diagnosis of lymphoma in March 2012 catapulted Cindy onto an emotional rollercoaster.
“You automatically think you are going to die even though you meet people who have done well in their fight,” said Cindy. “It’s definitely true that life is a terminal condition, but cancer patients are more aware of it.”
Cindy’s shock and surprise wasn’t from the cancer diagnosis. She had multiple family members with cancer. What sent her reeling was getting the news without experiencing any symptoms. The only symptoms 47-year-old Cindy was having were typical pre-menopausal hot flashes, night sweats and fatigue. They plagued her enough to finally make the longstanding decision to get a hysterectomy.
The surgery didn’t go as expected. The expected five small surgical incisions turned into a hip-to-hip one and a week-long hospitalization followed by the devastating cancer diagnosis. A tissue biopsy confirmed her gynecologist’s suspicion of cancer on March 21, 2012.
“I regretted not listening to my gynecologist, Dr. Laurie Robbins, earlier when she suggested I have a hysterectomy,” said Cindy. “Going in for the surgery and coming out with cancer was totally unexpected. If I had not had the surgery we may not know until this day that I had fairly advanced cancer all over my abdominal area.”
Dr. Robbins referred Cindy to Dr. Don Shaffer at Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers’ (NGOC) Jasper Cancer Center so she could receive treatment close to home. “She always steers me in the right direction,” added Cindy.
Her new cancer team moved quickly and within 24 hours of her lymphoma diagnosis, Cindy and her husband made the six-mile journey from Talking Rock to NGOC’s Jasper Cancer Center to meet Dr. Shaffer and initiate her treatment plan.
“I was grateful for a quick response time and the encouraging news I got from Dr. Shaffer about my diagnosis,” said Cindy. “Through the ups and downs, Dr. Shaffer adeptly guided me through it, graciously prayed with me and patiently answered all my questions. It was common for Dr. Shaffer and the nurses to entertain not only my questions, but the questions of my entourage of family and friends along for each appointment and treatment.”
Cindy started a six-treatment chemotherapy regimen in late April 2012 following her 48th birthday to allow some additional post-surgery recovery time. Lauding the support and personal attention given by her oncology nurse, Nancy, Cindy was able to get the extra encouragement and push she needed to carry on.
With treatments every six weeks, Cindy scaled back her involvement in her cake and catering business, Originals to Remember. Her co-worker friends picked up the slack when she was too weak or having her predictable post-chemo “pity party.”
Cindy carried on the best she could on the sidelines directing the design of wedding cakes and witnessing events from a chair. The beauty and creativity she thrives on provided a joyful distraction. When Cindy started losing her hair, co-workers volunteered to shave their heads in solidarity which Cindy protested. Instead, they, along with family and other friends, threw a hat party to shower her with hats and scarves to help decorate the void with color and design.
Since completing chemotherapy treatment in August 2012, three CT scans have come back clear of cancer. “I’m excited to get the good news, but don’t feel comfortable with remission,” said Cindy. “I’m still trying to sort through what’s most important and am thankful to be surrounded by the people and things rising to the top of the list – my family, friends, co-workers, and my faith.”
Cindy’s also thankful for the convenience and time saved having her cancer care delivered in her backyard. “It makes a world of difference not having to drive far away,” said Cindy. “When I was tired or didn’t feel well I was home in Talking Rock within a few minutes. And if there were any issues, Dr. Shaffer and Nancy were nearby.”
To Cindy, that’s icing on the cake.