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Living with cancer just part of life for Echols and family PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 14 April 2011 16:18

Will and Deb Echols, of Wauneta, are thankful for every day they’re able to spend together as husband and wife. Deb has been fighting cancer since first being diagnosed in 2007, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of her positive attitude and bright outlook. (Josh Sumner | The Wauneta Breeze)


By Josh Sumner

The Wauneta Breeze


“You have to live each day as if it’s your last, because you don’t know how long you’ve got,” says Deb Echols, of Wauneta, as she enjoys the company of her husband Will from the comfort of their living room couch.

This is more than a motto. These are words to live by for people going through life with cancer like Deb.

Deb and Will Echols have lived in Wauneta with their children Elisabeth, 17, Lydia, 11, and Hayley, 9, for nearly five years.

The couple moved to town when Will was hired at Harchelroad Motors after originally coming to the area in 1997 to work in construction in Hayes Center.

The Echols say they were attracted to the rolling hills and strong family values offered in Wauneta. Upon their arrival, Will and Deb felt a warm feeling from the community and realized they’d made the right choice. However, their honeymoon in the high plains was brief.

Shortly after moving to Wauneta, Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery and four months of chemotherapy in hopes of stopping its spread, which seemed hopeful considering she was only 37 at the time.

Then in 2010, the Echols were devastated to learn that the cancer had spread. It had metastasized to the bone after spreading from her lymph system.

Following the 2010 scan that revealed cancer in Deb’s eighth rib was a round of 20 radiation treatments, as well as more chemotherapy.

According to Deb, it wasn’t the physical pain of the radiation treatment that wore her down — it was the traveling. She became exhausted from having to go to North Platte five days a week for four weeks.

“I had a lot of good friends who took turns giving me rides,” said Deb. “There were some great people helping me.”

Among those driving Deb to North Platte on occasion was fellow cancer survivor and Wauneta resident Mindi Goings. The two women formed a bond. “She’s a great person, and I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from her,” said Deb.

Deb began chemotherapy in an attempt to stop the progress of the cancer on June 30, 2010. An intravenous (IV) drip enters a port beneath the skin on her chest, and takes five hours for each treatment.

“The thing to understand about breast cancer that has metastasized elsewhere is that it’s considered Stage 4,” said Will. “It’s not considered curable at that point. But as long as it doesn’t advance too far, chemo can help keep it from spreading.”

Will knows a lot about chemo. And it shouldn’t be a surprise considering he’s a cancer survivor, too. Will was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1995, finding out from doctors that it was already very advanced. It had already spread into his lymph system. One third of his colon was removed, and a year of chemotherapy followed.

Will says doctors gave him about a 5 percent chance of living more than two years. Yet, here he is, 16 years later, happy and healthy. He serves as a beacon of hope for his wife.

“We’ve grown through this together as a couple,” said Deb. “I’ve been where he is, and he’s been where I am.”

The experience of living with a potentially terminal disease has put a lot of stress on the Echols family, says Deb. It’s her strong faith in God and a fearless attitude about the future that keeps her going.

“Knowing you have a disease that could potentially kill you is very stressful,” said Deb. “Knowing you might not make it and might not be there for your children is very hard. But my time is in God’s hands. I might die tomorrow, or I might live another 20 years.”

Will offers a similar perspective.

“What we’ve broken it down to is that none of us know how long we’re going to live,” said Will. “We all know people that were very healthy and young, but died of a heart attack or an accident. What cancer does is make you very aware of your own mortality. It’s something you have to face.”

For now, Deb, Will and their children just take life as it comes. They enjoy one another’s company while staying as positive as possible.

“I’m doing well at the moment,” said Deb. “I feel good today, and that’s all I can hope for.”

Deb urges fellow women to always make it to their breast exams, and adds that it’s okay to begin having them early in adult life. Although medical experts recommend yearly checkups at age 40, Deb, who was 37 when her cancer was first discovered, said she thinks it’s smart to go before then.