Mary Scheible, a bulldog who just hangs on, says Masterson Place is godsend for out-of-town cancer patients
By Kristy Bleizeffer Jul 11, 2014
She calls it her “chemo brain,” the fogginess that comes after treatments for the tumor growing just outside her pancreas, wrapped around vital blood vessels. Doctors say it’s inoperable, but that doesn’t mean she’s given up hope. Her mother once called her a bulldog for the way she clamps on and won’t let go, and Mary figures her mother was right.
Mary, an attorney who moved to Thermopolis in 1997, has been coming to Casper almost weekly during her chemo treatments at Rocky Mountain Oncology. Daily when she was getting radiation. She doesn’t know how she’d do it without the help of Wyoming Medical Center Foundation’s Masterson Place and the free bus that picks her up in Shoshoni and drives her to Casper.
The Pulse sat down with Mary in between treatments to talk about hope, help and holding on with all your might.
When were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed in late summer of 2013 with pancreatic cancer. I got the news in September and saw Dr. (Joseph) Rosen in October. I originally went to the doctor because I was in a great deal of pain. I thought it was my gallbladder, and my doctor thought it was my gallbladder. We were beginning to set up the surgery when they decided I needed another test. I went down to Denver and I had an endoscopic MRI. That’s when they discovered the tumor. So that changed everything.
What is your course of treatment?
The tumor is located outside, but next to, the pancreas. It’s not operable. I’m going through chemo and radiation in hopes of shrinking it and getting it away from vital blood vessels so it can be operable.
I went through the first round of chemo, and it got a little rugged at the end, but I made it. Then I went through radiation treatments. Now I’m in my second round of treatments having just come back from Denver again where they told me the tumor is still inoperable. But, I’m not giving up. There’s a sliver of hope. That’s all you need.
How often do you have to travel to Casper for treatment?
At first for the chemo, I was coming down here once a week for three weeks. Then I would have a week off. And I did that for what I believe is eight treatments. Then I started 30 treatments of radiation. That’s very easy, it just takes minutes. Now I’m starting my second round of chemo.
The services that are offered to out-of-town patients are just phenomenal. With the chemo infusions, because they take so much time, I spend the night at the Masterson Place.
How did you hear about the Masterson Place?
A friend told me about it and I didn’t believe them, frankly. The first night I stayed at the Masterson, it was having a Christmas potluck so that was pretty impressive. And all of this costs me a nominal rate for my room. It’s relatively painless and inexpensive so I can’t ask for more than that.
I’ve stayed here since probably November of 2013. Wanda (Hall, front desk supervisor) and Alisha (Havens, foundation development director) and everybody else has just been phenomenal in their assistance to me, making sure I have rooms and so on. I got sick one night and they were very helpful. When I had to start my radiation treatments, 30 of them, Wanda said she was going to talk to the Angels to see if they could help. I said, “I’ve never heard of anybody who could talk to angels before.”
She was talking about Wyoming Medical Center Foundation’s Angels Cancer Care Program. They covered the cost of my room at Masterson while I was undergoing radiation. I mean, the generosity of this foundation just floors me. I was partway through my radiation treatment when the side effects kind of caught up with me. I ended up in the hospital and then at Shepherd of the Valley nursing home. It took three months to get my strength back, and Wanda was just fabulous.
If you were telling a friend about the Masterson Place, how would you describe it?
It’s been a godsend for me. I didn’t know such a wonderful place existed or even could exist. A lot of the residents, me included, couldn’t afford to stay in Casper overnight, even with the free bus service. I don’t know what in the world I’d be doing if it weren’t for the Masterson Place. I think there are a lot of people here who would say the same thing.
The rooms at the Masterson are just fantastic. Always clean. Wanda tries to get me the same room that doesn’t have steps because I have weakness in my legs. We call it “my” room. If I have the slightest problem, someone is right there. I was a little chilly one night and called to see if I could turn up the heat, and before I knew it, there was someone at the door with a space heater.
When I tell people about this organization and the Masterson Place, they don’t believe it. I’ve just been blessed in so many ways through the Angels and Rocky Mountain Oncology because they’re all such caring people. I feel if you have to go through something like this, this is the way to do it – with a lot of caring, generous people around you.
How do you feel now?
My life before was pretty much based around my law practice and my horses. They just bring me such joy. But I haven’t been able to work with my horses this year, because one of the side effects is I move slowly and I don’t want to risk falling.
That has all changed. I had to close my practice and my horses are just getting fat at a friend’s house. They’re enjoying it. But I’m hoping to get out there and work with them.
I do research very well. And that’s what gives me hope. I don’t have to sit back and let somebody else make all the decisions. There are a lot of clinical trials, so I’ll just do whatever’s necessary in the hopes that this tumor will be operable someday.
Do you ever get scared about the future?
Of course I’m scared, but that’s mortality. You have to also understand: I’m 68 years old. If I get 10 more years, I’ll be 78. My mother died of cancer at 78. Pretty soon, I’ll be 80. You run out of time eventually. I feel bad for the toddlers that are walking around the cancer wards, and the teenagers: Bald-headed teenagers, that’s what’s heartbreaking.
I grew up with death. I grew up in a funeral home, so death isn’t new to me. I would have to walk by all the caskets to get the milk in the morning, and I was always scared of those caskets because I wasn’t sure the people were dead. I’d shake them just in case they were sleeping. But the process of dying, I don’t know. That is totally different, and I am scared. I can’t ignore it anymore.
How do you cope with it?
I believe that determination to fight is there in people, they just have to learn to access it. When I was little, I remember watching a documentary on Winston Churchill with my mother. Churchill said that bulldogs are his favorite breed because their faces are smashed in – they can grab on in a fight and hang on, because they can still breathe. He said the British were like bulldogs, because in the Blitzkrieg, they hung on.
I remember looking at my mother and she had a strange look on her face. She said, “that’s the way you are.” And she didn’t say it like she was pleased.
Just hang on and make it to the other side. And I’ve learned that the other side is better. You just have to get there. You just can’t give up. You have to be like a bulldog.
About the Angels
The Wyoming Medical Center Foundation’s Angels Cancer Care Program serves hundreds of Wyoming cancer patients every year offering emotional support and financial assistance with wigs, gas cards, transportation and more. To learn more or to make a donation, call (307) 577-4355 or visit our website.
About Masterson Place
At a cost of $40 per night with both short- and long-term rooms, The Masterson Place is a comfortable refuge for patients and families of Wyoming Medical Center and Rocky Mountain Oncology. Each room has a small eating area, microwave and refrigerator. Through contributions, the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation continues to make significant upgrades to the Masterson Place each year.
Casper, WY 82601
Further reading: Masterson Place was a savior for Sam and Judy Christensen of Dubois after Sam's surprise bypass surgery.
The Angels host monthly potlucks for Masterson guests, including this Thanksgiving feast prepared in part by an Angel whose cancer helped him discover his joy of cooking.