For the past six years, Maxine Calvert has united two of her loves-- gardening and beautifying her hometown of Newton—through the Flowers on the Square Project. With assistance from the city and the tourism board, Maxine and a group of volunteers began a beautification project that raised funds from local merchants, individuals and organizations to purchase 26 large flowerpots to adorn the courthouse area and downtown sidewalks.
Every year, Maxine and volunteers organize and style the pots, plant them and water their flowers daily. “I love to see the blooms and the cheerfulness they bring to the downtown,” she said. “It brightens everyone’s day.”
In March 2017, just a year after she began Flowers of the Square, Maxine noticed a lump in her left groin. Her primary care physician, the now retiree Gary Mikel, MD, was persistent with tests until she was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma.
He quickly referred her to SBL Medical Oncologist Kuppuswamy Jagarlamudi, MD, at the SBL Regional Cancer Center. After a biopsy of the enlarged lymph node, Dr. Jagarlamudi confirmed the diagnosis of low-grade follicular lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that develops when white blood cells grow out of control and typically develop in clumps called follicles inside lymph nodes. Maxine learned that the lumps often go undetected or ignored, which results in a later diagnosis and a more advanced stage of cancer.
While there is no cure for follicular lymphoma, it can be managed with treatment. Dr. Jagarlamudi suggested that it was best to continue to monitor her condition with regular blood tests and scans, but to wait until the lymphoma caused further problems before beginning any treatment.
Maxine was initially confused by the plan. “I thought, ‘What do you mean? I have this cancer and we aren’t going to do anything?’” she recalled. “I immediately asked him if he minded if I got a second opinion. He said, ‘Of course not,’ and that gave me a tremendous amount of confidence in him that he was secure in his diagnosis and treatment plan.”
Having already established a relationship with the University of Chicago Medicine for osteoporosis treatment, Maxine contacted its cancer center. She met with an oncologist, who confirmed both the diagnosis and a “wait-and-see” treatment plan identical to Dr. Jagarlamudi’s. “I also did my own research online and concluded that it was indeed the best approach for me,” Maxine explained.
The SBL Regional Cancer Center staff monitored her with blood work and scans.
Almost four years later, Maxine went to the emergency department at Sarah Bush Lincoln with abdominal pain. A CT scan showed her lymph node had expanded and was now pressing against a tube that connects the kidneys and bladder. Due to the progression, Dr. Jagarlamudi began infusion treatment along with an oral medication.
“After just two infusion treatments, the lymph nodes began receding. I couldn’t even feel them anymore,” Maxine said. She developed wonderful relationships with members of the Regional Cancer Center staff. “One of the gentlemen in there went to school in Toledo with my nephew, so we always talked about that. He was there every treatment, and we had an ongoing thing about our cats. We had to compare notes about them.”
Maxine is grateful that she has not experienced any side effects during her treatment. “It’s actually been a rather pleasant experience. You would think that it would be really devastating, but luckily for me, it hasn’t been,” Maxine said, “The Cancer Center is always such a friendly, welcoming place. I have never felt intimidated or scared.”
While her treatments will last another two years, she has felt well throughout it and is able to continue her work with the Flowers on the Square Project.
There isn’t much that holds Maxine back. After she and her husband raised their family on a farm south of Newton, she decided to return to school. She graduated from college at age 40, passed the certified public accountant exam and became a partner at Kemper CPA group, where she worked for 11 years. Later, she worked as a trust officer at People’s State Bank in Newton. Following their retirement, she and her husband traveled around the United States in their motorhome. She returned to Newton to be closer to family and church.
Maxine’s positive outlook on life has kept her going, “I’m 86-years-old, but I feel about 55,” she said. While she realizes that the follicular lymphoma is something she has to manage for the rest of her life, she is not going to let it prevent her doing the things she enjoys.
Last year, the Flowers on the Square group held a fundraiser to purchase a John Deere Gator. “That’s one thing I really don’t like to do-- ask for money-- but luckily we have a very generous community,” she said. Through contributions raised from the community, and with the help of the local John Deere dealership, Maxine is pleased that the club was able to purchase the Gator to reduce the burden of daily watering. She plans to continue her work with Flowers on the Square for years to come.
For more information about the SBL Regional Cancer Center, call 217 258-2250.