Whatever the financial cost — whatever the lost attendance at fundraisers or the skepticism shown those trying to raise money for people in dire straits — Erin Perks said allegations that Michelle Mundy faked cancer for financial gain robbed cancer patients something more valuable.
“It took a bit of our fight,” said Perks.
That, she said, “was the biggest atrocity.”
“We’re fighting to stay alive, we’re fighting tooth and nail for it,” said Perks, who said she recently endured a chemotherapy treatment so difficult she was trying merely to make it through the hour.
“You cannot take from us our dignity and spirit,” she said, but what Mundy is suspected of “was a blow, and it hurt deeply.”
Police continue to investigate allegations that Mundy collected thousands of dollars to help her fight a cancer she allegedly does not have. The accusations surfaced at the same time Mundy abruptly resigned from her job at the Ohio Masonic Home. No charges have yet been filed.
In an emotional interview, Perks, a resource officer at the Clark County Career Center and reserve Clark County Sheriff’s deputy, explained the depth of the hurt she felt by describing her ongoing battle.
Twenty-nine on Dec. 14, 2007, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, “I had surgery twice in that month, then went through … chemotherapy and radiation that took up a whole year,” she said.
“Cancer’s not something that runs in my family,” said Perks, who will turn 35 this month. “It was a surprise and blow,” she added, but after some “very rough treatment,” she was declared in remission.
The divorced mother of a 15-year-old son who attends Kenton Ridge High School and an 11-year-old daughter at Rolling Hills Elementary School said that “everything stayed fine until, I guess, this past November.
“I got sick. I got bronchitis, a touch of pneumonia. I couldn’t shake a cough. Then I ended up having some chest X-rays. That’s when they found it.”
“I was still in a bit of denial,” said Perks. “They said this is cancer, it’s in your lungs. And I’m not even putting it together that this is stage four breast cancer, and I am not going to recover from this and that ultimately I am a terminal patient.”
Perhaps in an effort to spare her from that, Perks said her doctor at the James “won’t talk numbers” in terms of life expectancy. Nor does Perks criticize her for not doing so.
“But I needed to know,” she said. “So I Googled and I Googled and I Googled, and I found.”
Breast cancer survivors whose cancer metastasizes in their lungs and their liver, as hers now has, “live five, maybe if they’re fortunate, 10 years,” she said.
“That’s a big, angry, tough pill to swallow,” said Perks, one she, in fact, spat out.
“I realized I don’t have to be that number. And I can fight harder because I don’t have to be that number. I’m Erin.
“I’m not something that’s bought at Kroger. I don’t come with an expiration date. The fighter inside of me doesn’t have an expiration date.”
With all the friends and family praying and supporting her, “how can I not say that I’m a blessed person, a fortunate person,” she said.
“I have a God that loves me and is trying to heal my body. I have friends who are praying for me, and a family that is standing by me. I have these doctors and this medicine (in a world inhabited by) people who don’t.
“I have one job in this, and that’s to keep fighting.”
Children with cancer “don’t stop fighting because they don’t know any better,” she said. “And I fight for their mom and dad who sits by their bedside. You have to fight it for all the people who can’t fight their own fight or who have lost the battle.
“It’s our job to keep going,” she said. “And some days I’m scared to death.”
“This is the hardest journey we will ever go though,” said Perks. “Not only our patients but our family and our supporters.”
If the allegations are true, she said, Mundy “acted like it was nothing. And this isn’t just a small white lie. It’s far-reaching into the lives and into the hearts and into the wallets and into the souls of many, many people.”
“Hope is the one thing that gets us through,” she said. “We need hope. That’s what pulls us through these days that are so dark. We look towards tomorrow. And there’s someone who wants to shatter that through such a deceitful lie,” she said.
“But as a cancer community we can come back together. And our chain, we are not broken. We are strong and unified. And we support each other. We will continue to support one another.
“I will stay alive, because that’s my job as a mother,” she concluded. “And she does not get to take that from me.”
“It’s far-reaching into the lives and into the hearts and into the wallets and into the souls of many, many people.”
— Cancer patient Erin Perks