Mother and daughter battle against cancer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2011

By Mike Barnhardt
Enterprise Record
MOCKSVILLE — Toni and Heather McClamrock knew it was time to go to church.
Heather, then 11, had just gone through six months of chemotherapy for advanced Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Her body was full of tumors. Her body was also defenseless, robbed of its ability to fight infections from the harsh drugs.
She was supposed to stay away from people. Crowds were out of the question.
But Heather and her mother, Toni, wanted to go to church. They needed to go to church.
“We sneaked off,” Toni said. “We went in late, sat in the back and tried to go unnoticed.”
Then came the call for anyone who wanted to go to the altar and pray.
“Heather looked around and said, ‘Momma, let’s go.’ ”
They went to the altar at Blaise Baptist Church in Mocksville, knelt, closed their eyes and began to pray. When it came time to stand up, Toni couldn’t. Someone was behind her. And beside her. There were people all around. “We were entombed with people praying,” Toni said. “When we got up, there was nobody in the pews. Everybody was up praying.” The Rev. Ken Furches had noticed who was at the altar, and told the congregation.
A touching story? Sure, but it pales in comparison to what Toni and Heather discovered when they returned to Baptist. Those tumors that were everywhere couldn’t be found. Doctors performed three scans. No tumors.
“After that prayer, they couldn’t find ’em,” Toni said. “We had to go back for several scans; the doctors couldn’t believe it. God healed her, straight up, no ifs, ands or buts. He took all of it out.”
The McClamrocks’ story doesn’t end there.
Heather’s cancer is back for the third time. She had a transplant of her own stem cells — that was during her second bout with cancer. In the meantime, Toni got cancer, and now has little feeling in her extremities because of the treatments.
“I don’t always know where my feet are at,” she said. Her daughter, then in remission, took care of her. Toni has run over her own feet with her wheelchair more than once, not knowing what was wrong. Friends are raising money for an electric wheelchair and handicapped-accessible van.
Heather’s most recent diagnosis came on her 16th birthday. She is going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Baptist now. After that, she’ll be at Duke in Durham for stem cell and bone marrow transplants.
Their faith remains strong. “You can trust God, and prayers do work,” Toni said. “But God gave us doctors and medicine, too.”
She’s read the Book of Job several times.
“My first prayer was ‘God, what have I done wrong?’ I know God was leading me to Job. Job had done nothing wrong. God was putting us somewhere he needed us to be.”
They’ve met many wonderful people, like Gail (her Sunday school teacher at Blaise) and her husband, Gordon Stewart, and Nick Strickland, Heather’s teacher at Mocksville Elementary when she was first diagnosed. He volunteered to come by for home schooling. Last year, Heather was an honor roll student at Davie County Early College High School. This year, going to school is likely out of the question. After the six months of treatment at Baptist, the family will have to stay in Durham for at least three months.
One thing is for sure: If Heather is there, Toni will be, too.
When Dr. Frank Tolbert first told them the news of her cancer, he told her to take Heather straight to Baptist. Doctors there were waiting. A valet parked her car, and she went into the hospital with her daughter. She stayed with her day and night for months. When it came time to leave, Toni couldn’t even remember where she had parked.
“Nobody’s going to take care of my baby but me as long as my head’s still up.”
The two are quick to smile, quick to count their blessings.
Heather said her hair fell out after her first set of treatments. She didn’t want to go out in public. She got a wig from the Locks of Love program. “That comforted me a lot,” Heather said. “I learned that the hair came from other people.”
She let hers grow and made a donation.
Earlier this month, she did it again, knowing the treatments she is going through again will cause her hair to fall out. The stylist at Great Clips of Mocksville had trouble continuing when Heather told her to take all the hair off — she was going to be bald, anyway.
They left about an inch, and gave her a new style.
“You’re beautiful with short hair,” her mother said. “Isn’t it amazing the blessings God brings to you in these situations?”
Mike Barnhardt is managing editor of the Davie County Enterprise Record.