Photo courtesy of the Converse family.
Rhea and Judy Converse 2014
Though they’ve both faced serious cancer diagnoses in recent years, Rhea and Judy Converse of Riverchase stay very active in the community.
They may be in their seventies, but don’t call Riverchase-area residents Rhea and Judy Converse an old married couple.
“We are still newlyweds!” said 76-year-old Rhea, his voice full of enthusiasm despite the aggressive cancer that has invaded both he and his wife’s lives in recent years.
Judy, five years his junior and his bride of 15 years, echoes this sentiment.
“We just choose to look at this with a sense of humor,” she said. “You can’t look at this as the worst thing that has ever happened to you — lighten up about it.”
This statement comes from the a woman whose initial treatment for late stage non-Hodgkins lymphoma sent her into a five-day blood poisoning related coma.
Following her scare, Judy said she became a fierce advocate for her future health, refusing to stick with the typical course of treatment she’d been prescribed.
Instead, she sought out care at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. She nicknamed the facility “Disneyland for sick people” and credits its quality of care with her remarkable recovery.
Now, Judy is celebrating a year and a half in remission, a milestone she said she credits largely to trusting her own instincts and being her own healthcare advocate.
“I learned a long time ago that you cannot let matters of health slide,” she said, adding that the early loss of both her parents and other relatives — all to cancer — helped her remain extra vigilant to signs of change in her body.
“As a result, I spent the majority of my life having no expectation of living past 60,” she said.
When the diagnosis arrived, Judy said she was ready.
“Having spent most of my life this way, I didn’t really take the time to cry or get angry about the fact that I had developed cancer,” Judy said. “There was just no point. I just said, ‘Where do we go from here?’ and I was ready to do whatever it took.”
It was when Rhea was seeing his wife regain some of her strength when he was diagnosed with an intermediate stage of prostate cancer — the same disease that took his father.
Relying on a makeshift office out of his hospital room, Rhea joined Judy at Southeastern Regional Medical Center and maintained his workload as a construction quality control engineer for TRC Companies while receiving his treatments.
In time, both were well enough to take a 23-day tour through France and Italy courtesy of Judy’s brother.
“He kept saying to me ‘If you get through this, I am going to send you guys on this trip,’ and I kept correcting him, saying ‘When I get through this,’” said Judy. “That’s just how we are. When life steps up and smacks you in the head, [you need to] have the attitude that you are going to get through it. For us, it was never an option to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves.”