Connie Cluff, at 61 years old, is beautiful and full of light. Upon meeting her, one would never know that she has struggled for 20 years to defeat ovarian cancer.
Cluff’s doctor found a nodule on her ovary in 1992 as a result of what she thought was a fairly routine doctor’s visit. At the time, Cluff was working in a medical office to help her husband pursue his dream of a second career.
“He was the oldest in his class,” she said about her then-46-year-old husband who was working on a pharmacy degree after leaving his career in business. With one of her children still living at home, she had no choice but stay focused and positive, despite her diagnosis.
Laparoscopic surgery, combined with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, seemed to have cured her of ovarian cancer for 12 years. She continued to work and be a wife and mother with no signs of reoccurrence. In 2004, cancer reappeared, in her colon this time. Once again, she underwent the trifecta of surgery, chemo and radiation. And, again, the cancer came back, this time on her chest wall. She had two ribs removed, along with the tumor, and underwent even more chemo and radiation. Still, the cancer returned. She had a tumor on her back, and then one on her liver. Each time, she had surgery and followed with chemotherapy and radiation.
Cluff, who has been cancer-free now for five years and has a happy and light-hearted attitude, admits, “There were some dark times.”
“I’ve had my share of needles,” she said. “Let’s just say you could never interest me in a tattoo.”
But through it all, she said, she tried to remain positive. She speaks fondly of her doctor at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
“Dr. Matthew Stein — you couldn’t ask for better,” she said with a smile. Still, after four recurrences and five surgeries, her family suggested she go to MD Anderson in Houston for another opinion.
“Dr. Stein was great. He set it up,” she said, “but they said after examining me and looking at my charts that they wouldn’t have done anything different than what my team here at LMH did.”
Of the staff at LMH Oncology Center, she said, “You know you’ve been there a lot when the nurses recognize you, even after many years.” She still visits LMH Oncology Center every three months for a CA-125 — the blood work to make sure she remains cancer-free.
“I had such a great team. An attentive and caring staff really helps. It meant an awful lot,” she said.
While she attributes much of her success to her team at LMH, most of the credit goes to her family and to God, she said.
“I have always been an energetic person and I tried very hard to be as positive as I could. I don’t think I’m stronger than other people, I just had a lot of good support,” she said. Her mother came from Tulsa to help her every time she had surgery, and her husband and children supported her as well.
But most of all, she left it up to God.
“I was in God’s hands, no matter what the situation. I always knew that God is bigger than whatever problem I had,” she said. Today, she is back to being her energetic, healthy self.
“Always come from a state of gratitude,” she said, “even when you’re sick. … There’s always someone worse off than I am.”
Her advice to anyone struggling in a similar situation is just to “keep giving back, as much as you can. Don’t give up.”
Her prognosis, Cluff says with a smile, is “So far so good!”