Michele Thompson benefit scheduled for Saturday

Michele Johnson with her husband, Daryl.
Kristin Burdey

Michele Thompson has already battled cancer once in her life and come out victorious. But today, with her husband Daryl and a vast network of friends and family by her side, Thompson has once again begun the fight against a relentless foe. 

In 2014 Michele Thompson was diagnosed with a type of breast cancer known as a lobular carcinoma. Though only present in one breast, doctors recommended that she undergo a double mastectomy, as that particular strain of cancer is prone to metastasizing. “They advised we do the surgery or it will just pop up in the other one,” recalled Daryl, who is a Registered Nurse. 

After a successful procedure, it was determined that all cancer present had been removed, and Michele was given a clean bill of health.  “I didn’t have to take chemo or radiation because there was nothing left to treat.”

Then during the summer of 2018, Michele began feeling generally lousy. At first she  attributed her ails to age or activity. “It’s easier to blame symptoms on any number of other things rather than running to the doctor,” she admitted. 

Finally, Michelle realized she couldn’t ignore her situation any more. “She woke up one morning and it looked like she was eight months pregnant,” Daryl remembered. They went to the doctor, where she underwent a paracentesis, an ultrasound-guided procedure to remove the fluid build-up. “They took two liters of fluid out of my abdominal cavity,” Michele explained. After the fluid was drained off, she felt better, but the report they received afterward changed everything.

As she sat in the Mayo Clnic lobby with Daryl and her daughter Shauma Meyer, Michele received a phone call from the doctor that she will never forget. “We listened on speakerphone as we got the results. The doctor said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but it just does not look good’.” 

The Thompsons were told that the same cancer they had removed before had not only returned, but spread. There were an abundance of cancerous tumors in Michele’s body: fourteen on her spine, one on her pelvis, one on her left ovary, and one on her left lung. 

 Though still reeling from that shock, the Thompsons hadn’t heard all the bad news. “That was the good part,” Daryl said gravely. In addition to the tumors, Michelle was diagnosed with peritoneal carcinomatosis. 

The peritoneum is the lining that coats the inside of the abdominal cavity and all the organs contained therein, and that is where the disease had gotten a foothold. “She has hundreds of little nodules; sticky little tumors intertwined throughout her abdomen,” Daryl explained. “It’s basically a metastatic tumor that’s everywhere.” “That was the bad news,” Michele said somberly. “The doctor told me, ‘That’s what will take your life.’”

Michele immediately began three treatments. First was a strong chemotherapy to diminish the tumors outside of the abdomen. Second was a drug called Avastin, which was geared toward preventing the growth of new blood vessels, as one of the most difficult features of this type of cancer is that it requires very little maintenance or blood supply to thrive. As a result, chemotherapy doesn’t really affect it, making it very hard to kill.  

Finally. Michele was given Zometa, a drug designed to keep her bones healthy. “There is a fourth treatment that she’s been on,” continues Daryl. “It is immeasurable but powerful, and that is prayer. We are not discounting the value of that.” “We can feel this blanket of prayer,” agrees Michele. “And the bottom line is that we would not be where we are today without those prayers and the attitude that we are going to survive.” 

The results after the first round of chemo have been very encouraging: the tumors on Michele’s pelvis, lung, and ovary are gone, and those on her spine have been significantly diminished. “I remember the first words from the oncologist after my second scan. She said, ‘A third grader could recognize the difference,’” referring to the drastic change visible on the screen when reading her results. “She has been very encouraging, but she has also been my reality check, keeping me focused on what I need to do.” 

The next phase of treatment is going to be genome therapy, based on the work of Dr. James Allison, who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for Medicine. “We hit it with the big guns up front and levelled it down,” explained Daryl. “The next step is attacking it at the genetic level.”

Although very encouraged by Michele’s positive response to treatment, the Thompsons try to stay grounded in the reality that they have a long, hard road ahead of them. “(Getting the diagnosis) was a life-altering moment,” Michele shared. “I can’t explain just how differently you see things, and how grateful you are for each moment. You ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do with the time that I have? What is the legacy I want to leave for my family?’ Right now it is all about the living: with friends, family, and faith.”  

“The strategy from here on out is to do what’s working, and switch gears when we need to,”  Daryl explained. “The scans every couple of months will help dictate where we go next. Right now, that next line of battle is set, and we are ready to use that artillery. Cancer is the number one target of the medical community right now, and since she responded so well to the chemo and the prayers, we believe fifteen years from now we’ll be saying, ‘Boy, that was a good ride.’” 

Having a husband that understands the medical aspects of the battle has been invaluable to Michele. “He has been amazing, and so have our family and friends and church community. I’m relying on the advice of my oncologist and my faith in God. I know that it is in His hands, and I am at peace with that. But I have a will to live, because I have so much to live for.”

 Michele and Daryl both work at the Valley View Nursing Home in Houston, where two of their coworkers there came up with the idea for a benefit, in order to help two people who are usually busy helping everyone else. 

The May 18thbenefit at the Rushford Legion will include a chili and taco feed beginning at 5:00, as well as a bake sale and music from the Rhubarb Sisters. There will be a wine pull and an eleven-gun raffle. Live auction will begin at 7:00, and will feature many prizes including a seven-day stay at a resort in the Cayman Islands. Those who cannot attend the benefit are encouraged to visit the gofundme page that has been set up for the Thompsons to help with ongoing medical expenses.