Melissa Parker


Even in the depths of her cancer journey she found joy

Reading what Melissa Parker of Tyler posted on Facebook on Oct. 4, 2014, will tell you a lot about her faith and strength:

Today marks one year that my life changed forever. The doctors found a mass, BUT I found instantaneous peace with God. God had EVERYTHING planned out for me from the instant I walked into the ER – from the medical staff treating me to the tests that were done. My family and friends rallied behind me. My husband and children wiped my tears and held me close. Hodgkin’s lymphoma was just a bump in the road, but oh, how thankful I am for the bump that allowed me to know the peace of God.

On Oct. 4, 2013, Parker woke about midnight with pain in her chest. A cough had been bothering her for several weeks, and she now felt certain that something was wrong. She and her husband, Brandon, drove to the 24-hour emergency center at ETMC South Broadway.

“The doctor first ordered a chest X-ray, then a CT scan,” said Parker, who was 38 at the time. “When he came back into the exam room, we knew from the look on his face that it was bad.”

The doctor saw a 9-centimeter mass pressing against her lung, and transferred her to ETMC Tyler for further testing. Right away she felt in good hands.

“The hospitalist assigned to me was a lung specialist with 25 years of experience, Brandon had gone to high school with the radiologist who did my biopsy, and we also knew the pathologist who made the quick referral to Dr. Droder. It was all a huge blessing.”

Robert (Bob) Droder, MD, medical oncologist with Hope Cancer Center of East Texas, met with the Parkers a week later to explain the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage II. Hodgkin’s lymphoma – formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease – is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system, and about 9,050 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.

Treatment plan

Dr. Droder outlined a plan of 12 chemotherapy treatments, one every two to three weeks, depending on the status of Parker’s white blood count. Treatment began Oct. 22, 2013.

“We had asked people to pray for us, knowing the day we were going to tell my daughters would be tough,” she said. “I just had a peace all that day. Brandon was wonderful. He told them that mommy was going to be sick, but she would be OK. We were going to do this as a family.”

Emily had just turned 8, and Callie was 5 at the time. “We told my girls that this would be the Christmas that mom has no hair,” Parker said. Honesty, prayer and humor were essential to the family during her treatment.

Maybe the worst day was when, after most of Parker’s hair had gone, her hair stylist and friend shaved her head. They both cried, and so did the friends who joined them that Sunday afternoon after services at Rose Heights Church. Before her chemotherapy, women of her church prayed for her over a chemo blanket that remains a treasure to this day.

She also found “family” in her healthcare professionals.

“Dr. Droder is wonderful. He is very proactive and gives information to us straight,” she noted. “My three main chemo nurses also were wonderful – to talk, to laugh and to cry with you.”

Her daughter wiped her tears

One rough evening after a chemo treatment, daughter Callie found her lying on the couch in tears. “Put your head in my lap,” said the 5-year-old. “I’m going to wipe your tears every time you cry.” And she did, using tissues.

“Because of this experience with cancer, I have some strong girls,” said Parker.

On May 30, 2014, Emily and Callie joined Brandon and Melissa in the ETMC Cancer Institute lobby as their mom rang Robyn’s Bell. Named for cancer survivor and ETMC Foundation donor Robyn Rogers, the Scottish cast brass bell has a plaque that reads: “For our patients — Ring out the bell loud and true as you celebrate completion of your treatment!”

Today Parker is officially in remission. Speaking about the Cattle Baron’s 2015 theme of “Remember the Cause,” she noted that funding to the American Cancer Society has been important to her.

“I went to the ACS website when I was first diagnosed to learn about Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” she said. “The money given to the cause helps provide cancer research, training for caregivers and patient education.”

She said she wouldn’t take back any of her journey. “You can find joy and peace in the middle of something like cancer. I was strong because God held me up the entire way.”

Early on Parker selected James 1:2 as her signature Biblical verse during her cancer care: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind.

Go to the ETMC Cancer Institute page.