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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Survivor knows importance of Relay

Saturday, April 29, 2006

At age 42, Sharon Evans was given two years to live.

Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1986 after experiencing renal failure from what she thought was a bad case of the flu, doctors told the Central Elementary School sixth-grade teacher there was no cure for her disease.

The blood cancer is known as a silent killer because it progresses rapidly without revealing any signs that the victim is even ill.

However, for Putnam County resident Evans, her hospitalization for flu-like symptoms enabled doctors to detect the cancer early.

She remembers it was the same week as the crash of the Challenger Space Shuttle when she was admitted to the Putnam County Hospital in January 1986.

From Putnam County, doctors sent her to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where a nephrologist was to review her case for kidney problems. After recognizing she was not suffering from kidney disease, the physician sent her to be examined by oncologists who gave her the news that she had cancer and began to plan her treatment.

Evans attributes a progressive therapy for saving her life.

"It is a blessing they caught it early enough," she told the BannerGraphic. "I was given 13 different chemotherapy medicines, seven orally and six through injections. It wiped out my red and my white blood cells. It could have killed me."

While the treatment was extreme enough to put her cancer into "deep remission," the disease had left her kidneys unable to function and clean her blood.

She had to take various forms of dialysis treatment for five years.

In 1990, Evans, who had been on dialysis three times a week, went on a three-day school trip to Bradford Woods retreat center. While there, Evans said she skipped one of her treatments.

"There was no big significant change, so we decided to go to twice a week," she said.

Shortly after that, she said she stopped dialysis altogether, and continued that way for two years.

However, doctors said her kidneys were still not functioning fully, and since her cancer had been in remission, she should consider a transplant.

On Oct. 2,1992, Evans got her donated kidney, which she affectionately calls Amy.

In remembering her cancer treatment and dialysis, she said there were many people who stepped in to help.

The staff at Central Elementary School especially were supportive of her youngest son Scott who was 10 years old when she was diagnosed, she said.

"The community here is so tightly knit, they just kind of enfolded him and protected him," she explained.

Evans recalled one instance where counselor Carol Emery helped her son through the troubling time.

"My husband thought he needed to talk to Scott, to prepare him for what might happen to me," she said. "So he brought it up after a swim meet. Scott told him, 'You know Dad, Mrs. Emery and I have talked about this and I think you and I should just talk about the swim meet.' Now, whenever something happens in our family and we don't want to talk about it, we say, 'let's just talk about the swim meet.'"

Evans says most of her personal support came from her husband Robert.

"My illness was more difficult for him than for me," she said. "I think that was because he had no control."

To try and gain some kind of handle on the situation, she said, he would spend hours in the library researching her disease and asked doctors for copies of all of her medical documents. When she visited the Mayo Clinic in 1987, she said her husband brought more complete medical records than what her physicians sent.

He was also quick to show her how the community as well as fellow parishioners at Putnamville United Methodist were supporting her in their prayers.

"One evening Bob was at my hospital room, and it was about 5:30 p.m.," Evans said. "The sun was setting in the west and he said, 'Can you see all that coming this way? Can you see all those prayers coming here from Putnam County?' Well I did, and it worked."

Evans said the death of fellow South Putnam teacher Ruth Barker of brain cancer in 2003 really drove home the extent of her fortune.

"I have to wonder why I have been so blessed," she said. "What do I have? What is my purpose? Why was I spared when Ruth wasn't?"

Now, as in during her years of cancer treatment and dialysis, she finds that purpose and relief in her vocation.

"Maybe it is because I like teaching the school kids," she said of her survival. "Maybe it is just something I am supposed to do."

"When I was at the Mayo Clinic, a young woman with an unusual kind of cancer was saying to me, 'I am sick and tired of everyone trying to find out what causes AIDS.'" Evans remembered. "I told her I was sure they want to (cure) what affects the most people. She thought about it and said, 'Well maybe while they are trying to find out what causes AIDS they will find out what causes my cancer.' Any kind of research benefits us all."

Evans is a supporter of cancer research and the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Putnam County, which is set for noon to noon, Saturday to Sunday at Blackstock Stadium on the DePauw University campus.

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