Cancer survivor Larry Moss can’t help but sing.
That’s life that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June
Sinatra’s message is personal for Larry, who is now cancer free after his cancer diagnosis in February.
Larry sang Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” during “Coffee, Cookies and Canvas” paint night at Spectrum Health Cancer Center at United Hospital. His wife, Susan, taught the participants how to paint, creating a special memory and keepsake while on their cancer journey.
This past winter, while practicing the bass trumpet, Larry felt an ache in his lower abdomen. When the dull ache turned into acute pain a couple days later, he asked Susan to take him to the Spectrum Health United Hospital emergency department.
Larry had an endoscopy at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital the next day.
“I think I was in shock,” Susan said of hearing the news. “I don’t even know how we got home.”
“It totally came out of left field and hit me in the back of the head,” Larry said. “The last thing I expected was cancer.”
His first session of chemotherapy would begin on his birthday, Feb. 19. He had diffuse b-cell lymphoma, or blood cancer.
“I said, ‘OK, I’m giving up this birthday, but I want 20 more,’” Larry recalled.
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race
“Larry’s attitude was so positive,” Susan said. “He never believed for a moment he wasn’t going to make it.”
“I’m an optimist,” Larry agreed. “I always see the glass overflowing.”
After completing his first round of chemo in Grand Rapids, the Greenville, Michigan, couple decided to have the remaining treatments at the nearby United Hospital cancer center.
A retired English and communications instructor, Larry underwent six chemo sessions, three weeks apart. Each session included three doses the first week followed by two weeks of recovery.
Larry said the second week of each session proved most difficult.
“It was just like falling off a cliff,” he said. “I would be a bag of rocks for four or five days.”
I said, that’s life and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around
Susan would accompany Larry to his treatment visits and they both grew fond of the team at the United Hospital.
“The staff were incredibly helpful and positive, just really wonderful,” Susan said. “They’re a family. And they treat their patients like family.”
With chemo treatments behind them, Larry and Susan received good news in August after a PET scan revealed him to be cancer free.
“It’s indescribable, a miracle—God’s providence,” Susan said. “We’ve been very blessed.”
The couple credit the support of family, friends and the community for helping them face cancer, buoyed by Larry’s outlook.
“They (cancer center staff) kept remarking to me that I had a great attitude and it was my positive attitude that was going to get me through this,” Larry said.
During their visits for treatment, Susan had the idea of a special way to give patients a break from treatment and share a positive experience.
It struck her that some patients were younger than Larry, and some didn’t have such a positive prognosis. She mentioned to Larry that she could host a painting class for the patients. Nurse Nycki Chatman overheard her and said she had been thinking of doing something similar.
The idea quickly grew legs. Cancer center employee and cancer survivor Amy Flynn volunteered to help organize the event. Spectrum Health Foundation for United and Kelsey Hospitals donated funds for supplies.
It was the first event of its kind at the United Hospital cancer center, and practice manager Judith Smith didn’t know what to expect.
She said it was an opportunity for staff to show the patients they care outside of work.
On Aug. 26, patients and caregivers filled a hospital classroom to create an acrylic painting and enjoy refreshments.
“It was amazing,” Smith said. “Everybody had a great time. Sue did a fantastic job.”
“I don’t know how to describe the feeling of seeing the blank canvas come to life and everybody feeling a sense of accomplishment,” Smith said. “You couldn’t help but smile.”
Greenville resident Susan Bellinger, who is receiving treatment for liver cancer, loved the event.
“I had a very enjoyable time,” Bellinger said. “Some artistic ability runs in our family, but not through me.”
Bellinger dabbled with painting and drawing in high school, but said her brother is the artist in her family. Bellinger likes to sew and crochet, but said she’d definitely attend another class.
“Being a former patient and an employee, it was so nice to get together with some of our patients and do something fun outside of getting treatment,” Flynn said. “When you are going through treatment it can feel like it consumes your whole life. I think it was a nice break for the patients and it was an honor to work with Sue to organize it.”
Smith and Susan have discussed another class idea, creating luminaries during the holiday season.
“I paint because I feel the need to, and it makes me happy,” Susan said. “But the cancer journey has caused me to realize there’s more to everything—there’s the giving back component.”
“When they look at the painting, they’re going to remember the day when they sat with a loved one and laughed and joked about how their sky or grass looked,” she said. “They all turned out great.”
Another patient, whose cancer has progressed, attended the class with her parents. “This is going to be a memory they will always have,” Smith said. “And it’s going to be something physical she’s going to be able to leave behind.”
Their three paintings are already hanging in their home.
“You just never know when that one patient may need that smile you have to offer them and the impact it may have on their day,” Smith said. “Or it may change a bad day into a good day.”
That’s life I tell ya, I can’t deny it
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly