Kellie Growl’s fight with cancer started with a routine eye exam that led to a diagnosis only two specialists in the nation knew how to handle and a journey of incredible strength that she is still on today.
“It was a shock at first to hear that I had cancer,” Growl recalled about that time. “I remember looking up at the sky and saying, ‘I’ve got too much to do and it’s just not my time.’”
Determined to stay strong against the cancer, Growl chose the specialist in Memphis.
This is where it was confirmed she had a tumor the size of a thumbnail on her iris. It was melanoma, which is typically a skin cancer.
“He told me I had two options,” said the Luling Elementary teacher. “Radiation of the eye or remove the eye, which was likely even with chemotherapy. Ten days after being diagnosed, I had the eye removed.”
Growl was soon fitted with a prosthetic.
By November of 2015, in what Growl had come to call her “roller coaster of a life,” she noticed a lump in her breast. She decided to get it tested at her scheduled checkup in Memphis. She and her husband went there actually feeling confident, then came the diagnosis that “pretty much knocked me to my knees with the worst news I could have heard.”
The cancer had spread.
She had at least seven tumors in her liver, but Growl opted to spend Thanksgiving with her family and get a biopsy closer to home.
“It seemed like the longest ride ever,” she said on their return to Luling. “But I started reading prayers on my phone and something told me it was going to be okay.”
The next day, she had the biopsy done at East Jefferson General Hospital.
“I just remember it being the longest time … the not knowing what it was,” Growl said.
She recalled teaching class that day and asked her students to pray for her.
At East Jefferson, Growl was told her she had Stage 4 melanoma, which had spread from her eye to her liver in one year.
“A little more panic set in, but I still had this feeling that it was going to be okay,” she said.
Testing indicated cancer wasn’t in the brain although a biopsy revealed she actually two lumps in her breasts and four spots in her lungs.
“Overall, there were 15 tumors that were melanoma in my body,” Growl said. “I talked it over with my family a lot because, at this point, I was more concerned. We agreed I would go to MD Anderson Center.”
In January of 2015, Growl started the center’s experimental treatment called Yervoy, intended to stimulate the body’s immune system to defend itself from metastatic melanoma, and Opdivo, which does the same for advanced lung cancer.Growl was told all her tumors had shrunk 50 percent or more by April of 2016.
“The doctors told me I was doing amazingly well.”
She had gone home that same month to celebrate the news with her family when the roller coaster ride struck again.Growl developed a high fever with shakes and chills, which her oncologist said were side effects from the treatments.
She rushed to the ER and was told she had viral meningitis. But, after a two-day hospital stay, she started feeling better so she and her family decided to go to Orange Beach.
But soon after arriving, she was rushed back to the ER when she became light headed and developed slurred speech.
Testing revealed Growl had vertigo and received medication.
She was due back to MD Anderson, but flooding there delayed her return. Even so, Growl soon learned she was no longer in the center’s clinical trial because of having taken other medications from her medical complications. However, the center allowed her to continue the treatment because of her impressive results although it would be administered locally.
“Even though it was another setback, it ended up working out in my favor,” she said.
About 1-1/2 years into being on Opdivo, the tumors in her breast and lungs were all gone.
“As of July, I was cancer free,” Growl said.
But the roller coaster ride struck again.
In the same month, her mother-in-law died from pancreatic cancer.
“I’m sure she is one of my guardian angels because she was a big prayer warrior,” she said. “I know she’s rallied up the saints and everybody to pray for me.”
Two weeks ago, CT scans showed three new tumors in Growl’s liver. On Nov. 6, she will use a technique where they are hit with microwave heat and dissolved. She’ll get the results in December.
“I’ve held on,” Growl said. “There are many guardian angels watching over me, and I told God that I wasn’t done. I’m just a fighter.”
She is convinced her cancer fight was given to her for a purpose.
“I’m just going with it,” Growl said. “I’m choosing not to ask why. I choose to stay positive through everything that’s been delivered to me.”
She’s also determined to seeing her son, 8-1/2 years old, and daughter, 5, grow up. Growl also thinks about her husband and how they’ve been a good team, as well as about others who are sicker than her.
She said she learned after everything she’s been through that it isn’t really about the obstacles.
“It is more about how you react to them and how you decide to push through them even when it feels like you just can’t go anymore,” Growl said.
“You can always find something positive within an obstacle. Obstacles happen for a reason. I know that I was chosen by God to fight this battle and I’m okay with that. When you believe strongly in something and you put your mind and heart into those beliefs, you won’t be let down.”