Cancer, chemotherapy treatments no match for Team Rachelle


This is my dear friend, Rachelle White Byrd, who I’ve known since she was a little girl. In 2011, her life changed forever when a doctor told her she had cancer, and this is her story.

Rachelle was just one of those kids who you knew was going be successful. She was strong-willed and determined to achieve her goals. She was a fighter, that’s for sure, and she still is.

Rachelle grew up in Austin, and her parents were Pauletta and Glenn White. She attended Austin schools and graduated from Austin High School in 1991.

Rachelle’s school days were pretty normal except for that one afternoon her senior year when she was working her part-time job at Hancock’s Drug Store in Scottsburg.

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On that day, she and her coworkers, along with the store owner Ron West, found themselves in a life-threatening crisis. Robbers entered the store and held them at gunpoint until they got what they wanted, which was drugs and money. A life-changing event for anyone, but Rachelle wasn’t one to be frightened easily and certainly wasn’t going to let what happened set her back.

After she graduated from high school, she decided she wanted a college degree. So off she went to Indiana University Southeast, and in 1995, she walked across the stage of the IUS commencement ceremony and accepted her bachelor’s degree.

Off she went again in 1998, this time to serve her country, our country. She enlisted in the United States Navy and honorably served until 2001.

In the Navy, she met her soulmate, John Byrd, from the state of Washington. In 2001, she and John were married, and soon, a son, Dylan, was born. Things were going great for Rachelle and John. She obtained her master’s degree in education and soon found herself working as a teacher at an elementary school in Port Orchard, Washington.

In 2008, another son, Parker, was born. Everything was going great for the girl from Indiana. She was living life with a smile. She was happy.

In late 2010, Rachelle didn’t feel so well, but she just thought she was tired. Except she started feeling worse, and then her doctors started noticing things were more serious than they thought. But even with all of the technology available, the medical experts could not find the real problem.

Rachelle’s life was changing fast. Every day was becoming a challenge, but she refused to give in. For months, doctors researched her case, and for months her loved ones worried that something serious was going on. They were right.

Finally, 10 months later, there was a breakthrough, but the news was not good. Rachelle had cancer, and it was very serious. She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, a vicious cancer that wasn’t going to go away quietly. But neither was Rachelle. After all, she had a wonderful husband and two sons, ages 10 and 3.

So the fight was on, and it was going to be a long, hard battle, with the outcome not certain. Both sides, Rachelle’s team and cancer’s team, were set to do battle. Rachelle’s team looked to have the upper hand. It was a team filled with love for her, and Rachelle was a proven fighter. Her team was strengthened when prayer warriors aligned with her from Indiana to Washington.

There was surgery to remove the cancer in October 2011. It was complicated, but things were looking up. Chemotherapy was scheduled, and her first treatment went just the way her doctors wanted. Optimism was in the air, and then everything went wrong again.

During this period, Rachelle was living in constant pain, but she kept pushing herself. She wanted to keep working. She wanted to be the same mother and wife she always had been. She wanted her normal life back. But for now, things were going to be different. Those close to her were amazed by her positive attitude and the fact that was she able to smile, even when things got worse.

During the second chemo treatment, Rachelle’s body rejected the chemo, and she went into anaphylactic shock, a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. Doctors stopped the treatment and worked furiously to save her life.

With a new strategy, Rachelle was scheduled for her third chemo treatment, but once again, her body went into shock. Doctors were at a loss on what to do. As her medical team discussed options, her prayer warriors knew exactly what to do — they kept on praying.

Finally, a decision was made to change the chemo, but even then, things got worse. Her port became infected, and her life was threatened again. Her loved ones started to worry. Just how much more could she take? And yet, there was more bad news.

A blood clot developed in her jugular vein, and as her body went into septic shock, Rachelle was fighting for her life again. She spent the next seven days in the hospital, where once again the outcome was in doubt. Finally, a breakthrough, and Rachelle was able to go home.

Beaten down, she returned home, where John and her sons tried to make her comfortable. Her mother was there. Her neighbors and coworkers helped every chance they could. At night, she painfully injected Fragmin into her stomach to prevent a stroke. Rachelle was in the fight of her life, and she knew it, as did those who loved her. But even when the pain worsened, and even on the worse days of her life, she was able to smile.

Eventually, the chemo treatments were completed in full, and when they were over, no one was sure what to expect. Tests revealed the cancer was losing its fight against Team Rachelle. Doctors told her something worked. They just weren’t sure what worked. I’m thinking those prayer warriors might have an opinion on that one.

I’ve learned over the years when someone we love, or anyone for that matter, has been diagnosed with cancer, it’s not just their fight — it’s our fight, too.

The photo I’m in with Rachelle was taken in July 2015. I’m so happy she was standing there with me because just a short time ago, this didn’t seem possible. She has been cancer-free for more than three years now, and just look at that beautiful smile on her face.

Mike Barrett’s columns appear regularly in The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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