A cancer diagnosis is not the end of the story

Image: James and Juana Liggit of Red Oak share more than a last name as a married couple. They both are cancer survivors. They were diagnosed with cancer one week apart.

James and Juana Liggit of Red Oak share more than a last name as a married couple. They both are cancer survivors. They were diagnosed with cancer one week apart. (Karen Mathiowetz)

In 2012, Juana Liggit retired from work. She loves making crafts, gardening and playing golf, so she looked forward to staying active and enjoying life with her family and friends. Her husband, James, loves to play golf and has taught it for many years. He retired from the Air Force and owns a small recruiting company that helps place veterans with companies in the oil and gas fields.

The Liggits had been married 20 years and were enjoying their life together. This drastically changed when she was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts in 2013. A week later James was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

When her doctor told her she had cancer, she decided that it would not be the end of her life story and that cancer would not define who she was. After she got over the shock, she decided to fight to survive no matter what it took. She did not want the cancer diagnosis to be a death sentence. She was going to do whatever it took to be okay and do it with a positive attitude.

“I decided on lumpectomies and breast reductions instead of mastectomy,” Juana said. “When my doctor sent the tissue to the lab, they found another cell floating. It was a very invasive type of breast cancer. ”

After the surgery, she received 4 doses of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments. She had a routine mammogram every year for 32 years without any problem. She learned how important early detection can be. She is very thankful that the mammogram in 2013 helped save her life.

“If I could share with someone facing cancer, I would tell them to keep a positive attitude and do whatever they could to fight the disease.”

Leggit knows that her support system of family and friends was imperative to her strength and positive attitude. She knows she could not have made it through the cancer without them and would not want to either. She also relied on her faith in God to help her deal with the cancer.

“I was treated at U.T. Southwestern,” Juana explained. “My doctors and caregivers were amazing. I hope that I encouraged them as much as they encouraged me. I also hope I was an inspiration to the other cancer patients I came in contact with. I was treated by the ‘Dream Team’, Dr. Rao and Dr. Teotia”. They are amazing.”

“I am so blessed to have my family. They planned a “ring the bell” party for me when I finished my treatments. I came home to a yard full of signs and pink balloons. That was a day that I will always remember.”

Juana sees her oncologist every six months and her surgeon every six months when she has her mammogram. She sees her radiologist once each year. She is very thankful her prognosis is good.

One week after Juana was diagnosed with cancer, her husband, James, was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He has been treated at the Dallas Veterans Hospital. He had surgery to remove the cancer three times. He received one dose of chemotherapy and will receive 21 BCG treatments over a two-year period. He said that when he was diagnosed, he decided not to let it get him down. He said he chose to grab an oar and start paddling.

“I believe you need to make lemonade when life gives you lemons,” James said. “I want people to know there is life during and after cancer. Juana and I have been able to help other people affected by cancer. We want to be an inspiration to those that cross our paths.”

Liggit said his mother was very stubborn and refused to follow her doctor’s advice and have a colonscopy. She died at the age of 78 from colon cancer. He believes if she had gotten the test and taken care of the cancer early, she would have survived to live many more years. He knows how important early detection is.

James has a scope every three months until he finishes his treatment then routinely thereafter. He also knows that eating right is one of the keys to staying cancer free and healthy so he steers clear of alcohol, fatty foods and sugar.

Denise Owens, Liggit’s daughter, had been raising money for the American Cancer Society for several years and had been the Co-Chairperson for the Relay For Life of Central Ellis County for a couple of years. Juana and James had attended Relay and been volunteers not knowing they would be diagnosed with cancer in the future.

“Through our involvement with Relay For Life, we had heard lots of information about cancer treatment and aids for people that had been diagnosed like special wigs and skin cream,” said Liggit. “This was really beneficial. I am so thankful for the American Cancer Society.”

Owens admits that she became involved with Relay because a family member had been diagnosed with cancer. But, she continues the fight to find a cure for cancer because she does not want her children and grandchildren to have to hear “you have cancer”.

She said that after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Relay For Life took on a different meaning. It was always important, but even more so now. She knew that Relay made a difference in peoples’ lives, but she was experiencing that first hand.

She is the Team Captain for the Pink Divas again this year and continues to volunteer and raise money for the American Cancer Society. She has raised money for and participated in the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure.

The Relay For Life of Central Ellis County will be held on Saturday, May 30, 2015 from 6:00 p.m. to midnight at the Waxahachie Sports Complex. The Liggits will join other survivors from this area in the Survivors’ Lap again this year. For more information regarding Relay contact Donna Daniell at 469-337-0438 or Jessica Gentry at 214-949-9918.