Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press -- Dec 3, 2010 Leesa Bradley received money from the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund to help pay her bills while she was dealing with treatments for cancer.
Leesa Bradley woke up one morning several years ago sobbing from the excruciating pain in the center of her back.
"Mom, you have to come get me and take me to the hospital," she told her mother over the phone.
A couple of months before, she had gone to the doctor because of swollen lymph nodes under her arm and was referred to a specialist. But she had put that visit off.
Her family took her to the emergency room that Saturday but after several hours decided to go home and come back Monday.
When she was finally admitted into the hospital the doctor told her family that the lymph nodes needed to be tested for cancer, something she dismissed.
Now, looking back, she thinks she knows why.
"I didn't want to be sick. I didn't want to die," said the 40-year-old mother of two girls, Angel, 11, and Serena, 9.
In 2007, however, Bradley was diagnosed with cancer. It had been growing for two years, and when it was diagnosed, doctors only knew it was a rare stage 4 type of cancer in her blood and bones. Later she developed a mediastinal tumor -- a growth that forms in the area separating the lungs.
She doesn't remember much of what happened in the doctor's office. She found a way to block the news, she said.
"I'm a spiritual person, and what happened in my mind was that Jesus was literally standing next to my bed and said, 'You are not going to die, but you are going to learn how to fight,'" she said.
"That gave me some peace that no matter how bad it got during [chemotherapy], there was just a piece of me that knew I wasn't going to die. I was just being taught to fight even harder."
She went through six months of chemotherapy, what she simply describes as a very difficult time, but in the end it paid off. Her cancer went into remission, and she was able to continue her life.
She had dreams of becoming a court reporter or working in closed captioning for television. She gave college a try several times but, for one reason or another, wasn't able to finish her degree.
Two years went by and she had a feeling the cancer was back. She started feeling very tired, to the point she couldn't get out of bed.
In 2009 doctors confirmed that the cancer was back and it was Hodgkin's lymphoma -- a cancer of the immune system. The swollen lymph nodes had been a symptom.
"Mentally, physically, I wasn't prepared, it wasn't something I could endure again," she said.
Her ex-husband decided to quit his job to move back to Chattanooga and be with his daughters while she went through treatment. He had been in the Navy and had plenty of experience in sales and advertising, so he and Bradley never thought he would have a hard time finding a job. But he did, and still is.
She has had a lot of support -- emotional and financial -- from her family, friends and neighbors, but last month Bradley had to go to several agencies to help her make ends meet.
She had relied on her ex-husband's child support but lost that when he moved to Chattanooga.
Her electric bill was $310 because of poor insulation in her rental home, she said, and the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults was able to pledge $150 using the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund.
"It's humbled me, it's humiliated me to go around asking for help, but this last year has truly been just trying to survive," Bradley said.
She has told her daughters that this year they aren't getting any Christmas presents from their parents, and they understand, she said.
"'I got you and Daddy, that's all the Christmas presents I need,'" Bradley said her daughters tell her.
Her cancer is in remission at the moment, but there's always the possibility it can come back.
"I can hope for the best, I can pray for the best, but now everything is on God's timing," she said.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...