Cancer survivor has much to look forward to

Published 9:19 pm Friday, April 29, 2016

Support system: Jennifer Watley (fourth from left) has relied on the support of her family: husband Wade (second from left) and sons Cole, Carson and Turner. (Contributed photo)

Support system: Jennifer Watley (fourth from left) has relied on the support of her family: husband Wade (second from left) and sons Cole, Carson and Turner. (Contributed photo)

There are exciting things happening in Jennifer Watley’s life.

In the coming months, Watley will experience her son Cole’s graduation from high school; another son, Turner, turning 16; and her husband Wade’s 40th birthday.

“We have some big things going on that I’m just thankful to be here for,” Watley said.

She is thankful because there was fear not so long ago that she would be able to experience these family milestones.

Watley, 38, was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma on Feb. 3, 2015, after noticing a swollen lymph node in her groin. There was no spot on the surface of her skin.

“We were just shocked,” Watley said. “You’re overcome with all of these emotions.”

Watley and her husband talked about the diagnosis on the way home and then had to break the news to their three sons.

“I felt like I needed to comfort them,” Watley said. “I prayed and asked God for peace, and he gave me that. That’s what has gotten me through this.”

Watley’s melanoma was not operable because it was so advanced. She left March 1, 2015, for the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, with the understanding that she would be away from home, and her sons, for at least three months.

“I’ve never been away from my boys for more than five or six days,” she said about the difficulty of leaving home.

Doctors recommended a treatment option that was a clinical trial—a mixture of two immuno-therapy drugs—that had proven effective (a survival rate of 97 percent) in a limited number of cases.

Watley was to have four treatments in the first three months and then more treatments over nine more weeks.

However, after her first treatment on March 6, 2015, Watley began experiencing severe side effects, including a high fever. She would be hospitalized for nine days with pneumonitis.

Side effects of treatments are graded on a scale that tops out at Grade 5, which is death. Watley’s side effects were Grade 4.

Doctors deemed it too risky to continue with the treatments. Instead, Watley began taking chemotherapy pills. The good news was that she would be able to do so from home.

The side effects of the pills, mainly fever and fatigue, are manageable, she said.

“I can live a normal life except for those few days when I have a fever,” said Watley, who was able to resume work at the Clanton dental office of doctors Hall and Roy.

The weekend Watley returned home was Easter, her husband’s birthday and Cole’s junior prom.

Jennifer Watley was reminded of how much she did not want to miss.

In September, the melanoma was deemed small enough that surgery could be performed to remove it.

“When they got in there, they said pretty much everything was dead,” Watley said. “The treatment had worked.”

Watley returns to Houston every three months for check-ups.

Watley, an Isabella native, has leaned on husband Wade and sons Cole (18), Turner (15) and Carson (12), the three of whom attend Chilton County High School.

Also important has been the support of Watley’s church family and others.

A healing service was held at Clanton First United Methodist Church before Watley left for Houston.

Also, a couple from the church started a GoFundMe account, which helped with expenses related to treatment, traveling and time missed from work.

Wade Watley and a close friend, Jennifer Gardner, have offered invaluable support in the form of researching doctors and treatments.

“There’s no way we could have been able to do that without the support of our family and friends,” Watley said.

Wade Watley’s employer, Southern Company, held a golf tournament to raise money for the couple.

Jennifer Watley said that when she was first diagnosed, she was contacted by the American Cancer Society with information that has helped her through the treatment.

“I’ve tried to keep a positive attitude this whole time,” she said.

Watley was asked to speak about her experience at her church’s Relay For Life healing service. She was hesitant but agreed because she thought it was important for people to hear her story.

Watley will also speak during the Survivor Ceremony at this year’s Relay For Life, scheduled for April 29 at Clanton City Park.

Watley said she draws strength from Philippians 4: 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

“You just take things one day at a time,” Watley said. “I never thought I would be strong enough to handle this. My faith is definitely stronger through this.

“There have been some tough days, but I enjoy life—even more than before. I don’t take anything for granted.”