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Wauneta mom free of cancer after ‘act of an angel’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 05 May 2011 17:13

Wauneta’s Stephanie Williams, at center, is happy to be cancer-free, and so are her children Mellary, 6, and Coalten, 10. (Josh Sumner | The Wauneta Breeze)

 

By Josh Sumner

The Wauneta Breeze

 

Over three years have passed since the Wauneta Breeze last checked in with Stephanie Williams, a local single mother of two, who has battled two bouts of brain cancer since the age of 19.

Williams, now 28, first began experiencing headaches and episodes of numbness on the right side of her body as far back as 1999.

Doctors insisted she was suffering from complications stemming from migraine headaches and possible seizures, however the young woman says she wasn’t fully convinced.

On Feb. 4, 2002, Williams had what she says was the worst attack of headaches and pain that she could recall. Working as a teller at a bank in Fort Collins, Colo., she was rushed to the emergency room, where she underwent a CAT-scan.

One week later, Williams was informed that a golf ball-size mass on her brain was a malignant tumor. She underwent a resection to have the tumor taken out on March 6, 2002, but doctors were unable to remove the entire growth.

“Doctors said they couldn’t get to all of it, because it was wrapped around a blood vessel,” says Williams. “There was still 15 percent of the tumor inside my brain.”

 

Life continued for Williams, but it didn’t get any easier. MRIs, chemotherapy treatments and many doses of experimental medicine that Williams says nearly killed her, was the young woman’s reality for the better part of a year.

Then Williams made the difficult choice to divorce her husband, and decided to move to Wauneta with her two children Coalten, now 10, and Mellary, 6, in 2005. Williams says she made the choice to move east to be closer to her mother, Gloria Beekhuizen, of Wauneta.

Working part-time as a teller at Pinnacle Bank in Imperial, Williams began to go on with her life. Regularly scheduled doctor visits and MRIs indicated that her brain tumor had not grown — until December, 2007.

An abnormal MRI revealed a change in Stephanie’s tumor. The once localized growth had become invasive, and reached as far as 2-and-a-half inches inside Stephanie’s brain. Doctors in Denver said that because the tumor was so far-reaching, surgery was out of the question, and suggested radiation treatment instead.

Even though it didn’t seem possible, Stephanie was about to enter the toughest period of her life.

Williams began receiving radiation treatment in North Platte five days a week, along with her daily chemotherapy medication. Meanwhile, she continued to work 25 hours per week in order to keep her insurance and benefits — all the while raising two small children without the support of a significant other.

“I was really, really tired and sick,” says Williams, who was told during an appointment with her radiation doctor in July 2008 that further treatments would no longer help stop the spread of the cancer. “He said, ‘There’s nothing I can do for you anymore. We’ve given you chemo. We’ve given you radiation.’ But he suggested I go see a doctor in Omaha.”

In what seemed like a last ditch effort to save her life, Stephanie made the five-hour drive to Omaha, where she waited to speak to a doctor for almost two hours.

“The doctor finally walked in, and immediately apologized,” says Williams. The medical professionals hadn’t been able to examine Stephanie’s case. “We drove five hours to Omaha for nothing.”

Williams was left brokenhearted. Despite her skepticism, she returned to Omaha three months later for the chance to finally hear the doctors’ opinion. What she was about to be told was nothing short of shocking.

After thorough examination of Stephanie’s case, Dr. Michele Aizenburg informed Williams that she was confident she could remove what remained of her brain tumor.

“Everyone else was rejoicing, but it took me a week to give her an answer,” says Williams, who makes no effort to hide her distrust of doctors. “For seven whole years, doctors and surgeons told me they would never be able to fully remove my tumor.”

After much soul-searching and prayer, Williams opted in favor of undergoing the operation. The proximity between the tumor and a blood vessel made the procedure risky.

“I kept asking myself, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’” says a teary-eyed Williams. ‘Who’s going to take care of my kids if I die?’ There were so many what-ifs.”

On Dec. 3, 2008, Williams underwent the life-threatening surgery. The procedure was a success — the entire tumor was removed, and Stephanie has been cancer-free since.

“Dr. Aizenburg is my angel,” says Williams. “God definitely sent her to me.”

Now, Williams hopes to be an angel to others in need. She says she has always felt a call to the ministry. She currently works as the Children’s Ministry Director at Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Imperial, where she teaches Bible studies and organizes children’s musicals. She also provides support for adults who are experiencing the same type of circumstances she has lived through.

Williams plays down the difficulty of experiencing the last six years of her life as a single mother. She cites her family and the members of her church among the many people who have given her a feeling of connectedness.

“I want to provide the same type of compassion others have provided for me,” says Williams.