LAKELAND — The two women sitting side by side at Lakeland's Center for Cancer Care & Research on a recent morning had more in common than just their hairless scalps. Their facial resemblance hinted at the truth: Velma Halbert and Kim Henry were not just fellow chemotherapy patients, they were mother and daughter.
"Everybody is just totally shocked," said Henry, 46, a breast cancer patient. "When we first started coming to the cancer center, before my hair fell out, people didn't realize I did my time, too, and then when my hair fell out they're looking, like, 'You, too?' Even the doctor was shocked when we added my sister."
That's right. Stacy Bolin, Henry's only sister, was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer and began chemotherapy on April 9.
Cancer is hardly rare, as the American Cancer Society predicts more than 1.4-million Americans will be diagnosed with the disease in 2008, and that figure doesn't even include skin cancer. Still, it's highly uncommon for a mother and two daughters to be facing cancer and chemotherapy at the same time.
"We all three of us have said, 'Can you just put us to sleep and wake us up in about a year? We really don't want to participate,' " Bolin said with a laugh. But she added, "I think Mom has raised us to say, 'This is what you have to deal with, and so you deal with it.' Life is never easy."
Halbert, 68, was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in December and began her chemo regimen in early January. A former smoker, she has completed the four scheduled cycles and is awaiting test results to determine whether further chemo is needed.
Henry, a bookkeeper at St. Anthony Catholic School, was diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer in December. She underwent a lumpectomy and had four lymph nodes removed in December. Four weeks later, she started eight scheduled rounds of chemotherapy.
Her sister's experience prompted Bolin, 43, to begin doing self-examinations. In late January she noticed a lump under her left arm. A biopsy confirmed the presence of cancer cells.