Cherie Milligan’s first sign that she had serious health problems came one day in December 2012 when she was driving on the Chickasaw Turnpike.
The Ada woman remembered getting on and off the turnpike that day, but she couldn’t remember the rest of the drive. She had experienced memory loss and blurry vision before, but she blamed them on stress and a reaction to the medication she was taking.
The turnpike incident prompted Milligan, 52, to consult her doctor in Ada. Her doctor ordered a computerized tomography scan, which combines a series of X-rays from various angles to produce cross-sectional images of bones and soft tissues.
Milligan learned on Jan. 2 that she had a brain tumor. A week later — on the day she was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor — she learned that she had Stage 4 lung cancer.
Milligan said Tuesday she was so focused on her surgery that she didn’t have time to react to the news that she had cancer, which had spread to her brain.
“I was kind of in shock, just kind of in disbelief,” she said in a phone interview.
Milligan’s family and friends have hosted a series of fundraisers to help her cover her medical bills and other expenses. Another fundraiser will take place from 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lazer Zone Family Fun Center, 14601 CR 3544.
Milligan’s daughter, Sadie, said the fundraising campaign has generated between $8,000 and $9,000 so far. She added that she hopes Saturday’s event will raise at least $3,000 for the cause.
Sadie said her family appreciates the community’s interest in helping her mother.
“The businesses of Ada have been very, very willing to help,” she said. “We’ve had really great donations, and there’s just really good people here. They’ve been really supportive.”
Milligan said she went ahead with the surgery to remove the tumor, which has not reappeared. Three months later, she started chemotherapy in hopes of treating the cancer.
She had chemotherapy once a week for three weeks, with a week off before the next round began. She has completed five rounds of chemotherapy altogether and began a new regimen of chemo drugs in June.
Last week, she started radiation therapy. She has completed six treatments so far and has 27 left.
Milligan said the first several rounds of chemo left her feeling nauseous, as if she had the flu. She also lost her hair and could not work anymore.
“All of a sudden, I couldn’t work because I couldn’t drive,” she said. “I went from being in the swing of things , on the move all the time, to being at home.”
Milligan said it’s too early to tell whether the combination of chemotherapy and radiation is working, but she believes she will beat the disease.
Sadie Milligan said her mother was depressed when she first learned she had cancer, but she feels much better now.
“Her older brother — he’s a year older than her — he passed away in October from lung cancer,” Sadie said. “He lived in Guthrie, so she was always there taking care of him. And he passed away in October, and then a couple of months later, she’s diagnosed with the same thing he had.
“And so in the beginning, she didn’t have a good outlook on it. Now, her spirits are raised a lot more.”
Milligan described herself as a fighter who relies on the support of her friends and family to help her cope with her disease. She tries to stick to her normal routine of getting dressed each morning and putting on her makeup, as if she were going to work.
She said some days are more difficult than others, but she keeps a positive attitude by praying, reading her book of spiritual lessons or calling a friend or relative. She also writes her thoughts in a journal and relies on her family and friends to get her through the bad days.
Milligan said she can’t work anymore, and the financial stress related to her illness is weighing on her mind. But she said she is trying not to worry about those problems.
“I have to try to stay positive and give those to God to deal with, because I can’t do it on my own,” she said.
Despite the financial strain, Milligan has found that people are willing to lend a helping hand. For instance, the Cowboy Crisis Fund — a nonprofit organization that helps people who are struggling financially due to medical problems — recently contributed $1,000 to help her family.
Those moments of kindness help keep Milligan going on the worst days, she said.
“It makes me feel blessed, and it’s just kind of awesome,” she said. “You don’t think of other people helping you in that way, and when they do, it’s just awesome.”