HERMON, Maine — A year ago, Don and Dora Winslow were facing months of radiation and chemotherapy.
The couple now are planning a trip to France this spring to celebrate their NED status.
“NED means no evidence of disease,” Dora Winslow said Monday as she and her husband of 32 years sat at the kitchen table of their Hermon home. “I am proud and pleased to be a walking miracle.”
Dora, 53, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November 2010, almost seven years to the day after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Don Winslow, 54, was diagnosed in December 2010 with neck and head cancer.
“For me, it all feels like a blur,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder, did that really happen to us?”
It did, but the Winslows did not endure surgery, chemotherapy and radiation alone. Family members, friends, colleagues and acquaintances rallied around them.
Don was well known in Bangor as the city’s former police chief. He retired in 2007 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological illness that results in tremors and weakness.
Dora has worked for more than 30 years on the registration desk at Eastern Maine Medical Center and its Union Street clinic. She has interacted with thousands of people.
Last March, a benefit organized by their friend Corenna O’Brien of Orrington was held to raise money to help with expenses not covered by insurance. The Winslows said Monday that have been able “to pay it forward,” but have done so anonymously.
“We want to thank people who have given us so much love and support on many levels,” Dora said. “From housekeeping to meals to prayer to financial help, the support we’ve received has been incredible.”
“The help we got has been very humbling,” Don said.
“I believe that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” Dora said. “And, I believe in the power of prayer. We had prayers coming in from around the world. That gave us the power to get through it.”
Help also came from Dora’s sisters, Rachel Gallant of Glenburn and Linda Mae Pelletier, who lives in Brazil. Both women are registered nurses.
Pelletier took a four-month leave from her job to live with the Winslows and care for them.
Dora’s chemotherapy was intense, she said. There were six cycles of treatment. She is one of the few treated at EMMC’s facility to complete all six treatments.
“It’s hard to believe that you wouldn’t have the energy or desire to eat or drink,” she said. “Even water tastes horrible. It’s hard to grasp that.”
Don’s radiation was just as difficult. He lost the ability to taste and could not eat. For months, he “ate” through a feeding tube.
“My taste buds are coming back,” he said Monday.
“He never ate as well as he did through that feeding tube,” Dora joked.
The two said they have always had a close relationship but their ordeal over the past year has brought them closer. Both said it was difficult to watch the other undergo treatment and not be able to help.
“The hardest part for both of us was watching the other go through it,” he said. “You don’t feel like you can take care of yourself, let alone another person.
“But we weren’t the only couple going through this at the same time,” Don added. “There were at least half a dozen couples undergoing treatment together when we were.”
“We learned from one couple that when you get up in the morning, call ‘your day,’” she said. “If one of you calls a bad day, the other one has to suck it up.”
Dora has returned to work on the registration desk at EMMC’s walk-in clinic on Union Street after a 10-month leave.
“I, on the other hand, have adapted to retirement nicely,” he said.
Above the stove in the Winslows’ kitchen hangs a sign that reads: “Unless it’s fatal, it’s no big deal.”
Those are the words Don and Dora plan to live by in 2012.