Long-time Midlothian resident Janie Walker found a lump on her neck in January of 2011, so her cancer story began there.
“I was sitting at my desk at work one day and noticed a lump on my neck,” says Walker. “I knew lymph nodes in the neck could be enlarged when filtering out an infection. However, I also knew I had not been sick or had any type of infection that should cause this type of reaction. I had just turned age 58.”
Walker continues, “I went to my doctor and was told to wait a few weeks and see if the lump went down. I wasn’t comfortable with this advice, so I made an appointment with an ear-nose-throat doctor right away. This doctor knew immediately that something was not right, so he performed a biopsy, which came back positive for Squamous cell cancer. I still had never felt sick, nor did I have any pain at all at that point.”
Walker’s doctor then told her that oral cancer is typically located on the tonsils or base of the tongue. But they did every test possible and decided it must be hiding in her tonsils. They next removed her tonsils, which she says was horrific at her age, but still, they could not locate the cancer.
According to Walker, “They never actually found the 'primary' spot, but the lymph nodes cannot form this cancer within themselves, so they knew there was a tiny primary spot somewhere in my throat.”
Walker relays, “Needless to say, I was shocked since I’d never been a smoker or drinker, but in some cases of oral cancer, that isn’t a factor. In fact, I’ve learned that only makes you even more susceptible to other cancers in the head and neck.”
Walker explains exactly what she went through after her cancer diagnosis.
“My first grandbaby was born in March of 2011," she began, "and I started this nightmare treatment in April. At least I was able to welcome grandson Kaleb home before I got so sick. I was so bewildered over the diagnosis, but having been a Christian since I was a young girl, I trusted with everything I had on the sustaining Grace of God to face this monster head-on.
"I remember reading Psalm 91 every morning – over and over – where God told me He would rescue those who loved Him, and that He would protect those who trusted in His name. In times like these, those aren’t just words. They jumped off the pages to me and helped calm my fearful heart. I’d been told what I would be going through, but I couldn’t fully understand until I was there undergoing treatments.”
Walker went through eight weeks of chemo and 35 daily radiation treatments aimed at her throat area. She expresses that it was something like a person might imagine in a horror movie. The medical staff made a mesh net impression of her face and mounted it on a metal frame. This apparatus was placed over her face and clamped-down to a radiation table for 35 consecutive days.
Walker relays, “I have always been somewhat claustrophobic, so I definitely did some fierce praying and self-talk to keep breathing through those 15- to 20-minute treatments. Since the doctors didn’t know exactly where they were aiming, they did a more broad-spectrum type radiation to ensure that they would hit it, which likely resulted in even more radiation damage to me long-term.”
“I continued to get sicker as the weeks went by”, says Walker, “and eventually I lost the ability to swallow food. I finally had to take a leave of absence from my job. I had a feeding tube surgically inserted, and for months I lived on the liquid nutrition that was poured directly into my stomach. All the while, my throat was gradually being ‘baked’ every day.
"By the end of eight weeks, I described myself as a ‘worn-out dishrag.’ I was so weak and sick I couldn’t sit up. I lost 55 pounds over that period of time. I knew my will to have my life back would be the only thing I had left to fight with. I’d also lost a lot of my hair from the back of my head, but I had enough other hair to conceal the baldness. I only hoped and prayed my hair would come back in time, which it did.”
“Within a few more weeks, I regained enough strength to begin swallowing tiny sips of water. At first, it was like swallowing thumbtacks. I moved on to pudding-like substances, but it all tasted of paste at this stage. But I still knew this was my ticket back to life, so I made myself continue.
"I was in support groups at the hospital where I met people who had conquered this type of cancer, and I wanted to be ‘normal’ like them again. They encouraged me to push ahead, so I kept focusing on the image of them eating little sandwich squares and sipping water at our meetings. Choking was a big fear of mine, because swallowing sips of water was scary — not to mention the thought of actual bites of food. Every week, however, I gained a little more ground toward recovery."
Walker declares, “Here I am now, eight years later, and living the life God so preciously restored to me. I often read the stories of people who’ve lost a great deal more from oral cancer treatments than I did, and it kills many people every year. I am eternally grateful for the wonderful healing I experienced. As you would imagine, I have numerous areas of left-over damages to contend with ... but I always say, ‘Glory to God, I am still here.'"
The most tragic twist of fate for Walker was the loss of her beautiful singing voice. She had been singing in church since she was a young girl. She was an often-featured soloist at her church home over the years, and particularly enjoyed singing in a trio with her two lovely daughters – Kathy and Karen.
In the past, she had used her singing gift at weddings, funerals, all types of area church events, ladies’ retreats, and more. She now says that she can no longer sing solos in her old familiar alto voice, and she is very limited in even harmonizing with her daughters as a trio these days.
However, Walker always seems to have a bright smile on her face, all the same. And she continues to remain a strong committed Christian who dearly loves her family and her church – Cowboy Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie.
Walker and her husband John live in the city of Midlothian, and they are forever grateful to be the proud grandparents of Kaleb, Kase, Levi – and a new grandbaby to be added to their family soon.