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The most potent drug of all

Loving care, from her family members, friends and former colleagues, helps a woman deal with her third bout with cancer.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2006


Smoke from slightly charred bacon wafted through the house as 15-year-old Morgan Preble attempted to make the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich she'd been craving that morning before school.

Her mother, Debbie, who minutes earlier had offered to fix the sandwich, gave advice from a living room couch. No, one doesn't need oil to fry bacon, she said. And please, turn down the heat under the pan.

About a year and a half ago, there would have been no such interplay between mother and daughter. Debbie Preble was battling a second bout of cancer and Morgan, 13 and new to eighth grade, was thrown into the uncharacteristic role of caregiver. She cleaned the wound from her mother's surgery, gave her shots in the abdomen, slept in her room and cooked.

"I was basically cooking for me, because she couldn't eat. She was drinking a lot of Slim-Fast. I ate a lot of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. The microwave is a great friend," said Morgan, now a sophomore at Osceola High School.

"I couldn't eat, so I looked at the Food Channel," her mother said. "We laugh about it now, how I watched the Food Channel 24/7."

The two got through the treatment and recovery together, but a year later Preble received bad news for a third time. The cancer had returned.

This time, though, as she prepares for chemotherapy, Preble and her daughter are allowing others to help. "I know how to give, but I don't know how to ask for help. Not that I'm better than anybody, but it's just hard to ask," said Preble, a single mother who also has three adult sons and three grandchildren.

Morgan, a serious, matter-of-fact teenager, thinks she could have handled the crisis better.

"Everything is easier with help," she said. "I think now I look back at it, I didn't want my friends to help. Now I use my resources a little better."

On Saturday, Preble's friends from Pass-a-Grille Beach Community Church will hold a garage and bake sale and an antique quilt giveaway to raise money to help her with medical bills, her mortgage and other day-to-day expenses. The sale, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., will take place at the church, at 107 16th Ave. in St. Pete Beach.

The past few years have been difficult for Preble, 53. The administrative assistant at Abbey Carpet in Largo found out she had breast cancer late in 2002. "I was taking a shower and it was just a few days before my 50th birthday and I was doing a self-breast exam and I discovered a lump. I'm like every woman. I just knew. I didn't want it to be true," she said.

She had surgery, followed by 26 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. For a while, she felt healthy, but a year after finding the lump in her breast, she learned that the cancer had spread to her right lung. There was more surgery and chemotherapy.

"But this time, the chemo was a lot stronger and my body did not accept it well. I was very, very ill," said Preble, who was working for the now-defunct Eckerd Corp. at the time. "I went to work many a day extremely ill. I had to take another leave of absence, because I was so ill. My body reacted so badly. I lost a good 9 pounds a week. I couldn't eat anything."

Still, she needed to work. "I went back to work, but Eckerd had already been sold," said Preble, who was among the first to be let go. She found one part-time job, left to take a better paying one and then landed her current position at Abbey Carpet. "Then I had an entire year of good health," she said.

In May, the cancer returned, this time in the left lung. Her financial situation was so desperate that she considered not having surgery again, but a good friend, Carole Rainey, "wouldn't hear of it," Preble said.

She decided to fully confide in her friends, who immediately rallied to her aid. "Debbie needs help and she can't do it herself," said Rainey, who has known Preble for about 15 years and is helping to organize Saturday's fundraiser. "She means a lot to us. She's an inspiration."

Former colleagues from Eckerd Corp. collected money for groceries and offered advice. "They all showed me how much they cared for me. They call, they check on me. I've been so blessed by so many wonderful people who care," Preble said.

She said her 85-year-old mother visits almost every day and cooks breakfast and lunch. Additionally, during her first bout with cancer, her ex-husband moved back in to help, until his job took him to another city. This time around, one of her sons and a friend have moved in to give their support.

But it's Morgan whom she praises most, remembering the girl's care and sacrifice during her illness in 2004 and 2005. "She would set a chair up in the shower and she would wash my hair and she would lay me on the bed and blow dry it. At her age, she had to cook the meals and clean the house. She didn't go anywhere or have any friends over ... Her friends would ask her to go out to dinner or a movie, but Morgan wouldn't leave me," Preble said.

Morgan said she wasn't really afraid until her mother began chemotherapy. "And that's when everything got a lot more scary," she said.

A new series of treatments will begin in a couple of weeks. They will continue through Morgan's 16th birthday, on Oct. 2. She would love to celebrate by spending the night at Disney World, her mother said, "but we know that I wouldn't be able to."

Morgan understands. "I mean, it's just a good thing that she's alive, and that's all that really matters. Plans can be put off until she's better. If she were to die, then I wouldn't be able to even do it with her."

[Last modified August 23, 2006, 20:12:05]

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