Healthy Inspiration

Stay positive!'
Written by Paula F. Howard

Cancer survivor uses positivity to face trying times.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Etta Woodruff said with a smile. “If you can breathe, you can get through anything –just stay positive!

What happened to her?

“In March of 2016, a group of my co-workers from Lake Tech College participated in the school’s Health & Wellness Walk. However, two years ago, on the Walk, something very different happened.

“The first day of the Walk, I did fine. The second day, I noticed some difficulty with my left hip and leg and felt tired. By the third day, I knew something definitely was wrong. It really hurt to walk, and I was exhausted.”

Her doctor took bloodwork. When the results came back, he told her, she had cancer.

She asked if she was going to die. “’No’, he told me. I said to him: ‘If you’re lying to me, I won’t be able to trust you.’”

He insisted he was telling the truth. His mother had the same type of cancer 20 years ago, and she was still alive. “You’re strong, and a positive thinker,’ he told Etta, ‘You can beat this thing’.”

“Being fearful is not trusting in God,” she said. “I was handed something, and now, I had to place my trust in the Lord.” Her doctors also kept positive around her and told her she had a strong mind.
Being the fourth of six children, she processed her diagnosis of cancer with her sisters for two weeks before telling her three sons: Justin, 38; Brett, 27; and Russell, 25.

At the time of her diagnosis, doctors also discovered she needed a left hip replacement due to damage from the cancer. While preparing for the hip replacement, doctors additionally found she had a fracture in her spine which they planned to eventually repair.

“After the hip surgery, I was sent to a rehabilitation facility for physical therapy to be able to walk again. I remember being terrified of contracting MRSA* there that I made everyone wash hands, sometimes twice, before handing me things, or even coming into my room.

“During my 21 days in rehab, I also had eight rounds of radiation, and lost 41 pounds,” she recalled. “I just couldn’t eat.”

“By now, I had gone from wearing cute heels, to sneakers to a cane, now to a walker.”
Finally, out of rehab, it was time to prepare for chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. She began weekly visits to the Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa.

“I went for a prep procedure to see if my own stem cells could be processed to use for my treatment. They were going to scrub my immune system, then transplant my prepared stem cells back into me for regeneration and healing.”

Luckily, her stem cells were found usable for her treatment, eliminating one more danger of infection.

In preparation for the stem cell transplant, Etta had to take up to 19 pills a day for four months. She took the pills for 14 days, then stopped for 7 days, then repeated the pattern. One pill was so toxic, she had to wear gloves when putting it into her mouth and was warned not to have her sons around at that time because it could make them sterile.

“Because of all the medication, there were nights I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up cleaning closets and washing clothes. Eventually my doctor had to give me pills to help me sleep, then, pills to wake me up.

“Finally, it was time for the transplant. I was in Tampa from November 9th of one month to December 8, 2016. During all that time, I was also receiving chemotherapy infusions and slept a lot.”

On November 24, 2016, the stem cell transplant was performed. A week later she finally had a spinal fusion to repair the back fracture.

Her journey of positivity and faith extended from June 29, 2016, the last day she worked, until May 8, 2017, when she finally returned to work. She had been gone nearly a year.

Now, her diet consists of fruits and vegetables, occasionally fish or chicken, and bread. Even though diabetic, she controls her sugar level by diet and exercise.

“I started a daily body journal to understand how I felt.” She says, “I gave up sugar because cancer loves sugar.”

Finally, in remission, Etta laughs a lot. She also wears two mis-matched earrings.

“Why? Why not! I don’t have to impress anyone, and I think it’s fun. But, I only do it on Fridays, because… I want to.” Her smile is open; her personality sparkles in the sunlight.

During her cancer treatments, when she shaved her hair before chemo could make it fall out, her three-year-old granddaughter, Jaliyal, asked her:

“Who plucked your hair out?” When she told her granddaughter that she had shaved it in preparation for her coming chemo treatments, Jaliyal told her, “Well, don’t do it again!”

When her hair finally started growing back in, she had to mentally think herself better.

“I had to touch my hair and feel it, and realize it wasn’t ‘foreign’, but that it was a real part of me, again. Today, she enjoys life.

Any plans for the future?

“I’m 62 and have been working toward retirement for the past 30 years. I only have three years to go!” she lights up with another smile.

“Having a positive mind is very important. Whenever I reached a low point when I was sick, my sister would tell me, ‘You’ll feel better.’ You have to surround yourself with positive people.

“My Life’s Philosophy is to treat everyone with dignity and respect. It’s important to let each person know that you are listening to them, respecting them, and that they are worthy to be heard.”

“My Message is to tell everyone: No matter what you are going through…you can survive! As long as you draw breath, you can get through anything.”
Etta’s Positive Thoughts:

  • Develop a positive outlook in life:
    “My mother was epileptic. As children, we were called to get her from whatever sidewalk she was lying on while having a seizure,” she said. “When you grow up with that happening, you learn to get through tough times.”
  • Trust in God:
    “I Read the Bible and pray a lot. You must not give in to negative thinking.
    Back in 1979, I had a classmate who had breast cancer. Going to visit, I remember her telling me ‘I want no sad face, no crying…be positive!’”
  • See sickness as an ‘opportunity’:
    “When I was sick, I realized God had given me this sickness as an opportunity.”
    She explained the ‘opportunity’ as one where others grew more loving by learning to give generously of themselves during her time of need.
  • Surround yourself with positive people:
  •  “In life, you must surround yourself with positive people who help you learn and grow. You need to remove negative people from your life. If someone hasn’t taught you anything good in a long while, move on; they’re not giving anything back to you.”
  • She couldn’t say enough about the wonderful support she’s received from her three sons. “One day, when the boys were small, Russell, only three years old, noticed I wasn’t feeling well, so he brought me a cover and pillow. I knew he would be the one to take care of me someday,” she said, “Throughout my entire cancer ordeal, he was by my side the entire time.”
  •  She talked about her siblings, and her wonderful ‘work family’ all of whom helped her cope along the way:
    “Words cannot express how grateful I am to all of them for making me feel better,” she said. “They held some fun events where even the mailman participated! That’s one reason I love my job.”
  • MRSA Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an infection caused by a type of Staphylococcus, or staph, bacteria that’s resistant to many different antibiotics.

About the author'

Paula F. Howard

Paula F. Howard, RN, finds life a never-ending smorgasbord of people, places, and things of interest. A returned Peace Corps Volunteer, she has enjoyed a 35-plus year career in business and communications, being recognized for her writing by several national organizations. She then became a registered nurse for another decade, continuing to enjoy serving people, in places, doing things.

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