Shelby Hodge's Cancer Bout

Cancer fighter: Shelby Hodge on her M.D. Anderson treatment, her party return & those boxing gloves

Cancer fighter: Shelby Hodge opens up on her M.D. Anderson treatment

2 Shelby is a fighter ringing the bell after cancer treatment October 2013
CultureMap editor at large Shelby Hodge ends her treatments at M.D. Anderson with a bang. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
10 Shelby is a fighter ringing the bell after cancer treatment October 2013
Radiationtechnicians Menal Alencastro, left, and Rasheda White join Shelby Hodge in her end of treatment celebration. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
8 Shelby is a fighter ringing the bell after cancer treatment October 2013
Ringing the bell in the radiation department of M.D. Anderson is cause for celebration as treatment is concluded. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
134 Legacy Luncheon September 2013 Shelby Hodge and Annise Parker
In the middle of recovery, Shelby Hodge received the Legacy Community Health Services Award from Mayor Annise Parker. Photo by Kim Coffman
Hermann Park Conservancy Gala April 2013 Shafik Rifaat and Shelby Hodge
You can expect Shelby Hodge back on the party scene and on the arm of husband Shafik Rifaat. Photo by © Gary Fountain
2 Shelby is a fighter ringing the bell after cancer treatment October 2013
10 Shelby is a fighter ringing the bell after cancer treatment October 2013
8 Shelby is a fighter ringing the bell after cancer treatment October 2013
134 Legacy Luncheon September 2013 Shelby Hodge and Annise Parker
Hermann Park Conservancy Gala April 2013 Shafik Rifaat and Shelby Hodge

It is three weeks after my treatments at M.D. Anderson concluded. I'm back at my keyboard in the CultureMap offices and ready to return to tracking the boldfaced types across the social landscape, spotlighting their good works, their fashions, their frolics and the charities that they serve.

Oddly, it's more difficult to write about this experience after the fact than before. After spending hours upon hours at M.D. Anderson during my five weeks of treatment, I have been humbled by what I've seen — so many people so very ill, grasping at life. My little story falls insignificant in the big picture of the many cancer patients facing extraordinarily more difficult challenges than what I have had to endure.

And while my five weeks seemed like an eternity, my doctors have reminded me that there are others in treatment for a year or more.

Despite the trauma, this hopeful confidence in a positive outcome has made the ordeal a bit less frightening.  

My trials during treatment and recovery were certainly rough, both physically and emotionally. And as those in the know reminded me, the radiation keeps on cooking for about two weeks after the final treatment. And that, my friends, was bloody hell. Radiation of the pelvic area no fun.

When the pain reached ridiculous levels, I (obviously out of my mind) reminded myself that American prisoners of war had suffered much worse tortures and certainly for longer durations and they had made it. I would survive. 

After all, I had my boxing gloves — pink — given to me by good friend and photographer Michelle Watson. I needed them to fight this battle. And I had my new friend Gayla Hoopingarner, who was three weeks ahead of me in treatment. Same diagnosis, same prescription for cure. She was such a help as we exchanged emails and phone calls comparing progress, shared hugs in the M.D. Anderson hallways, her words of encouragement, "Honey, you can do it," so welcome.

Cancer Lessons

My advantage (and that of Gayla) over so many other patients is that with a very good prognosis, I am able to have hopeful expectations of a complete cure. Despite the trauma, this hopeful confidence in a positive outcome has made the ordeal a bit less frightening. We'll know more in November when I go back for another round of scans, examinations and blood tests. Fingers crossed, prayers directed to heaven.

 This might have been a solo journey, but I have so strongly felt the warmth and support of friends and family. 

And, speaking of prayer, I have to offer my heartfelt thanks to all who have kept me in their thoughts and who have sent me good wishes in so many ways. This might have been a solo journey, but I have so strongly felt the warmth and support of friends and family. Actually, no cancer is an entirely singular experience for patients who have a No. 1 caregiver. That individual goes through it step by step and in some ways suffers more.

In this case my husband, Shafik Rifaat, was with me throughout, being strong when I needed to cry, loving when I needed that warmth and insistent when I needed to eat and drink more water but had no interest in either.

And when it came time to ring the brass bell in the radiation department, Shafik was beside me with Michelle there to capture the moment as I wore those pink boxing gloves. The bell ringing is M.D. Anderson tradition for patients who complete their rounds of radiation.

That ordeal is over even as I continue to recover from the treatments. My husband and I are still pretty emotional about it all, still stinging mentally. With time, I'm sure that we'll move completely on, but the realization that the clock is ticking on this precious life will never leave us.