The rigors of chemotherapy and radiation for her breast cancer all but rang Lorraine Hinton's bells over the past year.
Today, she returned the favor.
“I'm probably going to cry. I'm a crier,” the Yazoo City native said minutes before she tugged a small rope attached to a golden bell at the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Cancer Institute.
She's allowed. The do-it-all employee of Plaza Twin Cinema, grandmother to two precious girls, and longtime Head Start teacher marked the end of her cancer treatment by being the first patient to ring a symbolic bell, purchased by oncology fellows in honor of longtime oncologist Dr. Tate Thigpen, who recently retired after shepherding UMMC's cancer programs for decades.
She's endured pain, mouth sores, a tongue that wouldn't function, and utter exhaustion during her six rounds of chemo and 30 radiation treatments. “It took me a whole minute to eat a chip at a Mexican restaurant. My hair fell out a week and one day after my first treatment,” the 62-year-old remembered.
Celebrating the end of cancer treatment for Hinton (in pink) are oncology nurse Nikki Simmons; Dr. Barbara Craft, associate professor of medical oncology; and Dr. Natale Sheehan, assistant professor of medical oncology.
But she's not complaining. Her cancer journey has been bittersweet, but for a more important reason. Hinton said a longtime friend recently earned her place in heaven after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
Her friend's funeral is Saturday. Hinton will be there. Especially, Hinton said, for the fact that if not for her friend, she might well have succumbed, too.
Shortly before her diagnosis in late 2015, Hinton said, her friend had a knee replacement. Hinton had just moved to Texas to be near her son and his family. Hinton's friend called. She needed Hinton to be by her side following knee replacement surgery. “I said yes! When do you want me?” Hinton said.
Then Hinton's prescriptions expired, and Hinton had to be seen at a clinic in Yazoo City to get them refilled. “The nurse practitioner asked me how long it had been since I had a mammogram,” Hinton said. “I told her about 15 years.”
On that routine scan, two lumps showed up. “They were nothing,” Hinton said.
This time, it was different. Another lump, but a different diagnosis. “It was positive, but it was small,” Hinton said. “I had a lumpectomy, but after that, they did a test on the margins and said there was more, and they'd go in the same incision to get it. I pictured an ice cream scoop going in there.
Afterward, her medical oncologist, Dr. Barbara Craft, ordered chemo and radiation, Hinton said. Her chemo infusions have been at the Cancer Institute at the Jackson Medical Mall; her radiation, on the main UMMC campus.
“Because of where my cancer was, they had to position me on a mat face down,” she said of her radiation. “But, they were amazing. Everyone here has been so fabulous. I've never seen a place that is so clean and professional.”
What she'd heard about treatment was true. About the third day after a chemo treatment, “you hit a wall. Then, it takes two or three days for you to recover.” She's reclined in an exam chair for four hours every time a variety of cancer drugs have traveled through her body via a port above her breastbone.
“My second granddaughter was born on one of my chemo days,” Hinton said. “I didn't travel. I didn't have the energy to move.”
Cancer Institute registered nurse Heather Zamora cares for Hinton during her final chemo infusion.
Her friend helped drive her to Jackson for treatments, Hinton said. Then, the woman got her own cancer diagnosis in late summer 2016 and began treatment at a Jackson hospital.
“She asked me if I ever thought I wanted to give up. And then she said, 'No, you've never felt like that,''' Hinton remembered. “Between my third and fourth treatments I felt rotten, but I didn't give up.
“I said God has plans for her. He has plans for her in heaven.”
Not just her friend, but her church, First Baptist in Yazoo City, and her family got her through, Hinton said. That group includes her sister, who lives in a Yazoo City nursing home.
The nursing home asked Hinton to speak to the residents in October, the national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Hinton was game. “It was a good point for me to start, especially because half of them couldn't hear me and some weren't paying attention,” she joked.
Throughout it all, she never missed work at the theater, where she pinch-hit on running the projector. “The wife of the owner had breast cancer. She's a survivor,” Hinton said. “They understood what I was going through.”
Hinton was a model patient, said Craft and Nikki Simmons, Hinton's oncology registered nurse. “She's been sweet and very compliant,” Simmons said.
“She's had a great attitude,” Craft said. “We're so happy for her. Today is a big milestone.”
Hinton didn't think she'd be ringing the bell today. “I thought I had one more treatment,” she said.
You're done, her cancer team told her.
“I always say that God got me through this,” Hinton said. “People tell me that my attitude got me through. But if not for the grace of God, I wouldn't have had any kind of a good attitude.
“Cancer did not take me, and God allowed me to stay me.”