By Amy Houston
Monday was a special day for Steviejean Parmenter. It marked the six-month anniversary of the day she was declared in remission after a bout with stomach cancer.
Parmenter, 59, has beaten cancer five times. She was the honorary chair of this year’s Relay for Life of Western Sedgwick County.
Parmenter, who lives just outside Haysville, said it was meaningful to be designated honorary chair because she has participated in Relay for Life for the past 10 years.
“I’m paying back 101 percent,” she said. “I just feel I’m alive for some reason. I don’t know why and I’m not going to ask questions.”
Parmenter’s health problems started 32 years ago, when she lived in Texas. She gave birth to her son, Michael, on Jan. 1, 1982.
“Three days later my chest was hurting,” she recalled.
Medical staff originally told her it was her milk gland, but she eventually was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery on her right side and had chemotherapy and radiation for six months.
Parmenter said she did research and began using herbs.
“I still, to this day, follow all my holistic ways,” she remarked.
She was in remission for six months, but at age 33, the cancer returned in both breasts. Parmenter had a double mastectomy and again underwent chemotherapy and radiation.
Two years later, she had moved to Clearwater, Fla., where she worked as a licensed funeral director. At age 35, she collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. She said her stomach was full of gas. The diagnosis: ovarian cancer.
“They did a full hysterectomy that night,” she said. “They had to.”
Parmenter faced chemotherapy and radiation again.
“Three months later, I was so depressed,” she said. “It just gets depressing.”
She suffered a mild heart attack. Parmenter’s young son helped motivate her to go on.
“He saved my life,” she said. “He’s my hero. He’s in Afghanistan for his fourth tour.”
Parmenter remained free of cancer for 18 years and eventually moved to Kansas. At age 53, she began suffering from migraines and losing weight. Doctors discovered a brain tumor and treated it using the CyberKnife, a non-invasive alternative to surgery.
“It was more like ‘Star Trek,’” Parmenter said with a laugh.
She was impressed with the radiation technology, and she did not require chemotherapy. Her most recent battle with cancer occurred when she was 57.
Parmenter said she was “bent over in pain” and began losing weight.
“For four months, they gave me medicine for heartburn,” she added.
Doctors finally found cancer in her stomach lining – a diagnosis that came as no surprise to Parmenter. She said she knew something was wrong.
“This is the worst I ever had in my life because I was in so much pain,” she said. “My back hurt, my front hurt.”
Parmenter took chemotherapy in the form of a pill.
“My total (time in) chemo and radiation, all my life, is five years,” she said.
Parmenter was declared in remission Dec. 23, 2013. She exercises three times a week, and she believes in a macrobiotic diet and drinking minerals.
Parmenter has suffered some effects of her repeated cancer treatments. She said her teeth were destroyed by the chemotherapy and radiation, so she had dentures made in 2000. She also had her second breast reconstruction a year and a half ago.
“I have a chest now, and I love it,” she said.
Parmenter has maintained her sense of humor throughout her ordeals. She felt privileged to speak at this year’s Relay for Life in Goddard.
“God’s blessed me for all these years, and I was blessed to tell people my journey,” she said. “Just go, fight. As soon as you lay down, you’re going to die. And I’m not ready. I have things to do. I don’t know what yet, but I have things to do. When I retire, I want to write children’s books.”
Parmenter works in quality control at Hormel Foods, and she does massage therapy in the evenings. Her son is now 32 and his family lives in west Wichita, so Parmenter sees her grandchildren regularly.
She described her son as her best friend, and she prays for him every day. She offered the same advice to others facing a battle with cancer.
“Pray for yourself, first of all, and thank God that you’re here,” she said. “And pray for the soldiers that are fighting a war. Because cancer’s a war, also, to me. It’s a battle that you have to win, just like a war.”