Adams native battles rare cancer, clots

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, January 8, 2011

At 53, Marj Bartholmey isn’t made of steel, but she has an iron will.

The Adams native has gone through more than two years of medical problems and come out slightly worse for wear. She’s broken bones, torn muscles, fought cancer and dealt with wounds that would make a regular person crumble.

“It’s been three years that I could have been without, but God chooses not to do that,” Bartholmey said.

Marj Bartholmey has fought cancer, broken bones, had life-threatening blood clots and nearly died during more than two years of medical problems. — Photo courtesy of The Monitor Review.

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Her troubles started in November of 2008, when she was injured after a fall on Veteran’s Day. Although she wouldn’t find out until much later, she had torn her right rotator cuff and crushed her collarbone. Her muscles felt stiff and by April of 2009, she was in a lot of pain.

“I got paralyzed from the waist up,” she said. “I couldn’t move.”

After surgery, she fell down again in May of 2009, tearing her left rotator cuff and re-tearing her right. Another round of surgery followed. It was the after effects of the surgeries that worried Bartholmey, though.

She began to feel queasy and always tired. Doctors originally thought it was acid reflux from the surgeries. It wasn’t until Bartholmey got a second opinion at Mayo Clinic in Rochester that she was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer, a rare cancer that forms in the peritoneum, a thin lining of cells along the abdomen which helps organs move smoothly. Because it covers the uterus and parts of the bladder and rectum, it often appears to be ovarian cancer.

She went through another surgery to remove the cancer last February, when she was finally diagnosed. Doctors removed the cancerous parts as well as her lymph nodes and several inches of her colon. Her troubles weren’t over, however.

There were complications from the surgery, as her body fluids were collecting in pools. Doctors had to reopen her incisions, which stemmed from her breastplate on down, in order to drain her fluids.

While she was recovering from the procedure, Bartholmey had another scare. She passed out while in the hospital bathroom. Her mother and neighbor, who often visited her, found her unconscious and turning purple. After rushing her across the clinic to Rochester Methodist Hospital’s intensive care unit, doctors discovered large blood clots in both her legs, her heart and her lungs.

“My mom thought I was gone for quite a long time,” Bartholmey said. “They didn’t think I’d pull through, but I did.”

After her latest scare, she began the chemotherapy process. She was allergic to the first set of chemotherapy drugs, and went through anaphylactic shock after each of her three treatments. She was put on another drug in June, which she took through October.

Bartholmey’s still not done recovering. Her incisions, which were reopened in April, still haven’t fully healed in part because of the chemotherapy, and she’s had to have them cleaned three times a day. Doctors can’t tell if she’s in remission until three months have passed from the treatment, but they said there were good signs. She does have a 50 percent chance of her cancer coming back full-blown within five years; however, she thinks those are good odds compared to what she’s been through.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “Without my family and my friends and of course the medical staff, I wouldn’t be here today. So basically I owe my life to them.”

It’s been tough going for her family as well. She’s exceeded her insurance coverage by a substantial amount and her family has incurred many expenses traveling back and forth to Rochester. She can’t return to her work at Southland Public Schools Early Childhood Care program until her incisions are fully healed. Things were to the point where she’d tell her husband, Kevin, not to come up and visit her when she’d go to the hospital, which she’s visited every month since April.

“I was glad he came up, because I needed the support,” Bartholmey said. “But (the costs were) just way more than you can even imagine.”

Her friends and co-workers at Southland Public Schools are hosting a benefit for her and are currently taking donations for her at the Farmers State Bank of Adams. Bartholmey’s benefit was set for Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Little Cedar Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall in Adams. Free will donations are welcome during and after the benefit.

Bartholmey is hoping to get her life back on track. Her memory, short-circuited by the medications she took, is getting better and she’s begun small quilting projects, as she had to quit being an avid quilter throughout her struggle. She can also walk down a flight of stairs, and she loves how her eyelashes and eyebrows have somewhat grown back. She even got to hold her latest grandchild, who was born in December. Most of all, she’s grateful to be alive, and grateful for the support she’s been given.

“I can only hope and pray I can give back to the community what they’ve given to me,” Bartholmey said. “They’ve given me a second chance at life.”