When Homer Uehlinger and Kayrene Thompson married in 1969, they had dreams like most other young couples.
They wanted to continue to love each other and start a family. They hoped to spend their lives together, raise a family and then retire to enjoy their golden years. Several of their dreams became reality. They were happy living in Italy, both working in Dallas in jobs they loved. They enjoyed being parents to their children, Jason and Jamie. They were also very involved in ministries at Central Baptist Church in Italy.
In 1994, their life as they knew it would be forever changed when Kayrene became ill. During exploratory surgery, Dr. Watson Roye found a tumor on her colon. Through a biopsy, she was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the smooth muscle. There is no known cure for this type of cancer.
“When Dr. Glen Ledbetter called me with the results of the biopsy, I immediately called our pastor and asked him to meet me at the hospital,” Homer explained. “I wanted him to be with us when Dr. Ledbetter and Dr. Roye told Kayrene.”
Roye told them that day that of all the cancers she could be diagnosed with, this one was not the one to have. The mortality rate for leiomyosarcoma was 85 percent. Kayrene was referred to an oncologist, who suggested chemotherapy even though there was only a 10 percent success rate. Upon the recommendation of Ledbetter and Roye, they declined the chemotherapy, never saw that doctor again and headed to M.D. Anderson in Houston. That decision proved to be the right one.
“I decided in the beginning that this was a journey we both would travel,” Homer said. “My deal was to get involved as a caregiver. I went to every appointment with her. I researched the disease and possible treatments. I kept a journal of everything. I knew we needed to be informed to make the right decisions about her treatment.”
Kayrene decided to fight the disease harder than she had ever fought anything, partly because she had always been a fighter. The other reason was because of her family and the way they rallied around her.
“She hated to think about not being a part of our lives,” Jamie said. “She wanted to see us marry, have grandkids and to grow old with our dad. Mom wanted to tell her story also. She wanted others to fight and to share what God had done in her life.”
Kayrene wanted to live. Even though she was a Christian and her faith was strong and she knew she would be with God in heaven, he had given her a survival instinct. She also hoped that by trying different treatments, she could help someone else.
Leiomyosarcoma causes tumors on the smooth muscles in the body. At one time Kayrene had 30 to 40 tumors on her lungs and others on her heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs. One tumor on her leg was the size of a volleyball.
“When the doctors did surgery to remove that tumor, they told us it was the largest tumor they had ever removed from anyone,” Homer said.
Homer knew that if Kayrene wanted to fight the cancer, he would help her. He decided to keep a positive attitude and not allow Kayrene to give up. They both loved to laugh and he would make her laugh as often as possible.
“I remember one time after Kayrene had taken chemo, she was not in the house so I began to look for her. I found her crying behind our storage building. She was brushing her hair and it was falling out by the handfuls. The wind was blowing and catching it as it fell. I screamed ‘No’ and she stopped and looked at me. I told her not to let it blow away. I grabbed some of it, placed it on my bald head and told her I needed it. She began to laugh and threw the brush at me. I did not want her to cry so I tried to make her laugh,” he said.
“I wanted to keep her mind off the cancer and what it was doing to her. I encouraged her to be positive. I was her cheerleader.”
Kayrene nominated Homer for the Relay for Life Caregiver of the Year in 2007. She wrote:
“I was diagnosed with cancer in 1994. It is 2007 and I am still fighting the battle. It has been a hard battle, but because of my Homer, the fight has been easier. I have had hundreds of doctor’s appointments and been in treatment centers in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. I have experienced more CT scans and PET scans than I care to think about, but throughout these years and these procedures, Homer refused to leave my side. He has slept in my hospital bed so during the night the nurses would come to check vitals and just work around him because they knew he was going to be there. They learned what I had very early in my treatment. Homer was not going anywhere.
“He has been through every needle stick, treatments, surgeries and numerous clinical trials. He has shared my depressed moods with his arm always around me to comfort a not-so-good-day. He has also rejoiced with me during the more optimistic days. He constantly reminds me that God loves me and wants me well and healed. Not only has he fought for my healing – he believes for my healing. He has spent countless hours on the Internet searching for new treatment options and researching doctors. He supports me – he prays for me – he loves me. Homer has been more than my rock – he is truly my soul mate and completes me. He knows what I need even when I don’t.”
Several of the trial drugs Kayrene was on caused adverse affects on her body. One medication caused her lungs to freeze. Another drug reaction was heart failure. Even with the adverse things that were happening, Kayrene never gave up. She kept fighting and so did Homer, Jason and Jamie.
“We lived from one PET or CT scan to another. I stayed on the Internet looking for another treatment. When M.D. Anderson had done all they could do, we found another trial program in San Antonio. We hoped that they would find something that would help. We refused to give up.”
In May 2007, Kayrene saw a doctor in Dallas at who asked them why they were doing all this, implying that there was no hope. Homer got very angry, but began to realize what might be in store for them. By this time, Kayrene was no longer able to go to work in Dallas.
Even though Kayrene was getting weaker, she still traveled to San Antonio for treatments. In the first week of August, she was scheduled for a treatment. The day before they were to leave, she called Homer at work and said, “Come home, I’m dying.”
“When she called me, I immediately started home. I called San Antonio and told them what was happening and they told us to come immediately. The next morning we were outside of the treatment facility and she looked at me and told me she was dying – dying right now. I rushed her inside and she was transferred by ambulance (to a hospital).”
Kayrene perked up in the emergency room so they admitted her to a regular room. Homer, Jason and Jamie were passing time by playing cards. Kayrene felt good enough to go to the bathroom by herself. When she came out she could not breathe.
The doctors knew she could not breathe on her own so they induced a coma and placed her on a respirator. The family was told she was in heart failure. Kayrene was on the respirator for four to five days when the family had to make that final decision.
“We have very strong faith in the Lord, but even with that Kayrene had a fear of dying. Hopefully, she was not afraid in the coma. We decided it was time to let her go so they turned off the respirator. Her mom was there, with Jason, Jamie and I. We allowed ourselves to grieve. There was no more to say because we had said it all in the 14 years since that first surgery. So, we began to tell funny stories. We told stories and watched the beeps on the machine until it was silent. We were ready to let her go and it was time. She passed away on Aug. 9, 2007.”
Asked what advice he would give to anyone facing what they had faced, Homer replied, “Keep fighting. Support Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society so a cure will be found. Stay strong in your faith in God and never give up. Stay informed and if you are a caregiver, stay involved as much as you can.
“I will never forget even one day of the journey that Kayrene, Jason, Jamie and I took,” he said. “I also know that it was a journey worth the effort. After all, it gave us 14 years together and made all of us stronger. It was a very difficult road to travel, but we did not travel it alone. Our God, family, friends and church family walked every step with us and for that I am very thankful.”
Homer is no stranger to the struggle or loss a family goes through with a cancer diagnosis. He lost his brother John to cancer in 1995, then his brother Bob to cancer in 2004, Bob’s wife Nan to cancer in 2010, John’s wife Kathy to cancer in 2010 and Bob’s daughter Sherry to cancer in 2010.
Relay For Life of Central Ellis County will be held May 20-21, 2011 at the Waxahachie Sports Complex on Broadhead Road.
For more information, contact event chairman Jennifer Buckhannon at 214-458-1911, team chair Denise Owens at 972-742-3982 or survivor chair Donna Daniell at 469-337-0438.