Cancer Fighter and Survivor at Age 91 During a Pandemic

Its normal to experience some sort of fear when first being diagnosed with cancer. When cancer shows up a second time around, many years later, you do start to question whether it is worth going through treatment, especially if you are 91 years of age.  However, for Carlene Huffman of Hutchinson, that moment of fear quickly went away, thanks to the support of her family and friends. As well as knowing she was in the capable hands, once again, of medical oncologist Dr. Mark Fesen from Central Care Cancer Center.

It was a routine mammogram in 2002 that led to a biopsy of Carlene’s left breast. She had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy in Hutchinson under the care and supervision of Dr. Fesen. Carlene is no stranger to cancer, as her mother had breast cancer, which spread eventually to her bones. She passed away at age 79. Carlene’s older sister also passed away of cancer in her lymph nodes about eight years ago. 

Starting last Fall, Carlene wasn’t feeling well. “On New Year's Day, I finally felt so bad that I had my son take me to the ER.  I underwent a lot of testing and that’s when the Hospitalist saw a mass on a chest x-ray that he thought was suspicious. He did a scan and was very suspicious that I had cancer. He wanted me to see an oncologist right away. So, that's how I got an appointment with Dr. Fesen at Central Care Cancer Center in Newton.”

Dr. Fesen diagnosed Carlene with lung adenocarcinoma, which is a type of cancer that starts in mucus-producing glandular cells of your body.  Many organs, such as your lungs have these glands. Carlene added, “they studied my tests for a while and waited to diagnose me until they decided that it was lung cancer and not breast cancer coming back.  I am so thankful that I had Dr. Fesen again.”

Carlene is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment and is finished with her radiation treatment.  At first Carlene thought, “as old as I am, do I want to go through all this treatment. Sometimes it’s not very much fun. But I have been encouraged, and I have done well, and felt well. The technicians, nurses, and Dr. Fesen in Newton are just wonderful.  I can’t say enough good things about them.” 

After working 27 years at the Hutchinson National Bank, Carlene retired in 1985. She and her late husband Douglas, a USPS employee had two sons.  Her oldest, Jeff, is still living and helps Carlene daily.

Carlene has exercised caution while getting her cancer treatments due to her age, and the possibility of contracting COVID-19. Her son takes great precautions while out shopping or getting groceries for her. Carlene says she isn’t worried about contracting COVID-19 at all when she walks into Central Care Cancer Center for treatments. “They all have those plastic robe things on and wear a mask and gloves. They wipe down everything before and after my use. I’m hoping that this virus thing ends soon, so we don’t have to be quarantined or stay in our homes all the time, although I am happy in my home. I love being at home after all those years of working.”

Having the support of her son, family and the staff at Central Care Cancer Center really helps. Carlene also talks with her 86-year-old sister who lives in Colorado almost every day. “I know everyone is amazed at my age, but I look it, I think. I don’t have mirrors in my home anymore,” she chuckled.

Carlene’s downtime consists of keeping her home neat, resting after treatments, catching up with friends on the telephone and watching “Gunsmoke” on TV.  “I’m 91, you know. I know I can't live forever and I don't want to, but my life is still enjoyable.”


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