A single mother of 8 fights aggressive skin cancer

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Kim Voelker-Wesley, 41, of Montrose embraces her son, Cameron Wesley, 3, while her mother Terrie Gronau of Montrose watches while sitting in the dining room of her home in Montrose, Thursday, January 3, 2019.
Voelker-Wesley is battling skin cancer that has spread to the breast, lungs and liver after being in remission for five years. The disease has robbed of its livelihood and independence, but not its hopes. Has a resolution of one year: live. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

DETROIT – Kim Wesley's new year's resolution is pretty simple: she wants to live.

The 41-year-old single mother has eight young children to grow up, but an aggressive skin tumor has spread throughout the body, draining it physically.

New Year's Eve spent chemo, his blue eyes fixed on the hanging plastic bag full of toxic and liquid hope.

The woman from Swartz Creek, who was in remission for five years after a diagnosis of melanoma in 2012, learned last year that the disease had returned and had spread to the breast, abdomen, lungs and to the liver.

She was made blind by the recurrence: two months earlier, a CT scan showed no disease, she said, noting that her doctor said it was unencrypted. But a routine mammogram in January 2018 revealed that the cancer had returned.

Wesley would have lost her red hair, her energy, her livelihoods, her self – relapse from two powerful chemo drugs that took her to the hospital for more than a month last summer, vomiting to the point of wanting to die, asking to die.

But she does not remember that part. The soft-hearted woman who smiles at the nurses during chemo treatments only remembers surviving the infernal nightmare and wanting to live.

The workaholic he once worked full-time through chemo wants his old life back. He always worked and took care of his children. She wants to be independent again, drive herself for appointments and take her children to bowling and cinema as she once did.

He needs chemo to work. It needs to remain strong and positive.

He needs a miracle – and a car.

After the cancer returned, Wesley became too sick to work and had to give up his full-time job as a certified nursing assistant in a Grand Blanc nursing home, where he earned about $ 52,000 a year. He did overtime and double shift to cover his bills, which included a $ 750 mortgage a month and a monthly payment of $ 400 for his 2012 Dodge Journey, he said.

His parents helped save his four-bedroom house; the car was recovered after being left behind on payments. Now he is in disability: $ 1,053 per month.

Cancer has taken its toll, she grants. But his hope, his faith and his dignity are not up for grabs.

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Kim Voelker-Wesley, 41, from Montrose, listens to the results before chemotherapy at the Royal Oak Rose Cancer Center on Monday, December 31, 2018. Voelker-Wesley is battling skin cancer that spreads to her chest, lungs and liver after being in remission for five years. The disease has robbed of its livelihood and independence, but not its hopes. Has a resolution of one year: live. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

"I heard you need to be positive … you do not sit down to die," he said a few days before chemo for New Year's Eve at the Rose Cancer Center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. "I've always been a strong-willed person, I'm not one of those people to say" I do not have this & # 39; "

And so he fights nausea, fatigue, money problems.

Because, he says frankly, splitting despair is not an option.

"I'm really fighting not just cancer, but to get my life back," he said. "Sometimes it's too much and I get depressed and cry, but then I remember that if I stay positive and fight – that's how you defeat cancer".

Above all, he said, "My children need me."

An unusual mole

It was during a 2012 carnival trip when Wesley's mother saw a black mole raised on her daughter's back. He was there for a while. It started flat, but over time it started to grow and become darker and darker.

When the mother saw it, Wesley said, the mole had become blackish and began to itch and bleed. His mother told her to have him checked, so he did.

It was melanoma. He had traveled to his lymph nodes, so Wesley had two surgeries that removed the cancer and put it in remission, he said. For five years, he thought he was not cancer-free and even had two children after his cancer surgery.

Wesley's sons are between 1 and 13 years old. She is separated from her father – they separated in 2014 – and she took care of the children largely with the help of her parents and three sisters.

In November 2017, Wesley had what he thought was his last routine CT scan. He did not show any tumors and his doctor told her he would not need the routine scans again, which was free, he said.

Then, two months later, he was taken aback. Wesley went for a routine mammogram in January 2018 when nodules were discovered. A biopsy followed.

The cancer was back.

"When I read the results, I said it was a melanoma and I was only in tears," recalled Wesley, who was sitting in a car with her mother when she heard the news. "I started to cry … He started to cry."

The mother and daughter then went to the doctor, who delivered more bad news.

"He said that this time the surgery was not an option because it was in my blood and it spread to my organs," Wesley said. "He just said I had to start with chemotherapy."

The news also blinded his mother, Terri Gronau, 60, who was Wesley's main support system, guiding her to appointments, watching her children and feeding them every night while her daughter struggles for her life.

"We were shocked … I thought he was in remission," Gronau said. "To think that it all started from a little corner on his back … It's scary and stressful and it makes me get air from time to time, I'd rather it was me than you."

Fight the unthinkable

Gronau saw his daughter on some dark days. It was a harsh spasm for the supportive mother, who sits in the hospital parking lot with her grandchildren while her mother is chemo. Wesley gets chemo every two weeks.

"He has a good heart, loves everyone," said Gronau of Wesley, his eldest son. "To see her this way, it's hard for everyone, I think it's hard for her because she's used to being the strong one … She's used to being the one that others might trust."

But she looks at her daughter who fights against it. A strong mother supports the other, hiding their fears and pain for the good of their children.

"I see her worried about children … She tries to stay positive and does not blame anyone, she's part of her personality and her spirit," Gronau said, smiling in the same way her daughter does when she talks about the disease.

But the dark days have been hard. Gronau nearly lost her daughter in July, when her potassium levels dropped to dangerously low levels from the two chemo drugs she was taking at the same time: Opdivo and Yervoy. This last one he could not tolerate.

"There are not many people who manage to take those together, but they had to try it. The cancer came back so aggressively that they needed to hit it aggressively. It was difficult," said Gronau, recalling that the nausea and the vomit were unabated. "It was horrible, carrying a bucket and vomiting a lot."

Wesley reached a breaking point.

"He just looked at me one night … he turned his head and said," Mom, I need to go to the hospital, because I'm going to die, "Gronau recalled.

Wesley spent all of June and part of July in the hospital. The drug Yervoy has been stopped. Aggressive treatment did what he had to do.

"Since then, they've scanned me again, it's out of my lungs," Wesley said. "I have a couple of points on my liver, but they have become smaller and I am reacting positively to medicine right now."

And this is what he is holding on to.

She said her doctor told her that she must stay in the chemo drug until she stops working. And when and if it happens, he said, the doctor told her "he has two more drugs in the back pocket".

Wesley does not give up.

He's on leave from work. And his employer, he said, told her he can go back to work when he's stronger.

Suzette Harrison, human resources coordinator at the Wellbridge of Grand Blanc nursing home, where Wesley worked, describes Wesley as a reliable and tireless worker who has continued to move continuously, even when he was going through chemotherapy.

"You could always count on her, so when she hit her, she hit her hard," Harrison said referring to Wesley's battle with cancer. "She was always at work … She's a great worker who supported her family and herself."

According to Harrison, Wesley's colleagues often tried to persuade Wesley to stay home to get better. But Wesley did not want to know.

"I think it was more important to keep pushing forward," Harrison said. "That was his strength: he was not just about lying down and dying, he wanted to live".

It was not until aggressive chemo treatment began that Wesley had to give up working.

"When he hit me, he had already hit her louder, I knew she was passing by, I was like," Kim, you really should rest, "Harrison said, noting that Wesley's work remains open and that can go back to doing it when you feel better.

So Wesley prays for that day, every day.

"I pray for my health to improve, so that my children can have their mother, I pray for my children to take care of them, I pray for other people, I pray for my family," he said.

The struggle continues

While sitting in the hospital lobby at New Year's Eve, waiting for her name to be called for her chemo treatment, Wesley rocked back and forth in his chair as he rubbed his hands on his thighs. He smiled through anxiety, talked about the missing work and joked that he did not like his new white hair or his pixie cut.

When his name was finally called, she said, "It's me." And he got up and went to the chemo center with a shirt he had bought alone. He said: "There you have".

Follow Tresa Baldas on Twitter: @Tbaldas.

If you are interested in helping Wesley, a Kim Wesley Cancer Fund has been established at: https://www.gofundme.com/kimberly-wesley-cancer-fund

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