http://www.middletownjournal.com/n/content/oh/story/news/local/2008/10/30/mj103008mccrabbminge.htmlThree bouts of cancer alter band director's perspective
By Rick McCrabb
Thursday, October 30, 2008
SPRINGBORO — Weeding the flower garden and running the sweeper will have to wait.
Stephanie Minge has more important issues. Like life and death.
For the third time since 2005, Minge, a 29-year-old band director of the Middletown middle schools, is battling osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that typically affects children.
"It's been an adventure," she said Wednesday, Oct. 29, while sitting in her Springboro living room. "Right now I take it one day at a time. Otherwise, it becomes too overwhelming. You start asking, 'Why is this happening to me?' "
Some questions don't have answers.
Minge's cancer can't be traced to her family tree or her unhealthy lifestyle. Someone threw a diseased dart and Stephanie Minge was its target.
Minge calls herself "a planner," which works perfectly until someone rewrites your calendar.
Four years into her marriage, Minge figured she'd be a mother, fixing nightly dinners and sharing humorous stories with her husband, Sammy, about their band members.
As cancer sometimes does, it sprang a surprise attack on Minge. Three years ago, she complained of chest pain, and several doctors told her it probably was a pulled muscle from lifting her students' musical instruments.
Then, a few months later, she discovered a large lump near the top of her sternum. On Dec. 5, 2005, doctors dropped the "C word."
"I was shocked," she said of the devastating diagnosis.
The cancer was so rare that doctors at Kettering Medical Center — unable to treat it — referred her to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, 1,100 miles away.
She rented an apartment there and endured six rounds of high-dose chemotherapy. The tumor was removed on May 6, 2006.
Three more rounds of chemotherapy followed and she was declared cancer-free.
She was told she'd be off work for 18 months, an inconvenience she shrugged off because "at least I was alive."
Funny how insignificant work becomes.
Minge was clean of cancer for 14 months until a scan revealed it had returned to her left lung. Back to Texas she went, and in December 2007, another surgery.
She beat cancer again.
But for only six months.
Shake your head is disbelief.
In June, when her fellow teachers were beginning their summer break, Minge was informed a huge mass — that eventually grew to the size of an orange — was spotted on her liver.
Back to Texas, another surgery, more chemotherapy. The right lobe of her liver and gallbladder were removed.
Stop already, cancer. For God sake, how much can one person take?
Consider that for three of her four years as a wife, she has battled cancer, and for the last three years, she has worked six months and been hospitalized for 15 weeks.
"My life has been on hold," she said wiping tears on the leg of her blue jeans.
Her residences include Springboro, an apartment in Texas and what must feel like every hospital room in between.
She's thankful for her "support system" — family, friends, co-workers and the church family at First Baptist — for pulling her through the depressing situations, the lonely nights when tomorrow seemed as improbable as tasty hospital food.
She gives her husband most of the credit. Some men, she said, given the same obstacles as Sammy, would have run away and hid.
Not her Sammy.
"He didn't stand beside me during all this," she said. "He has been right there with me, going through it together."
Like they said on their wedding day, June 26, 2004, "... though sickness ..."
From the outset, Stephanie and Sammy, who met at Miami University, have kept an online blog (www.xanga.com/minge411) of their walk with cancer.
She calls it "a real look at the good, bad and ugly."
So what's a "good day?"
"Not throwing up," she said.
I didn't have the nerve to ask her about a "bad day." She answered it anyway.
"I try not to have bad days," she said.
Then she continued: "You get tired of it, of course. This cancer has become my full-time job. It's like I should be moving on."
The numerous chemotherapy treatments have robbed Minge of her straight blonde hair, but they also repositioned her perspective, a trait no scarf can hide.
"The little things aren't important anymore," she said. "I used to really care about the landscape in the front yard, but as you can see, that's not my priority now. I don't care about keeping a spotless house either."
Right now, she'd trade everything for a clean bill of health.
Cancer Benefit Concert for Stephanie and Sammy Minge
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2
Where: First Baptist Church, 4500 Riverview Ave, Middletown
What's happening: Performances from Middletown High School's show choir Purple Pizzazz; violinist Corey Keighley Hall; soprano Karen Mail; pianists Chris Baird and Phil Thornbery; First Baptist Sanctuary Choir; and three-man band Johnny B. and the Gravediggers.
Cost: Freewill offering. Open to the public.