The Fight of Their Lives

Lonnie Lewis and family face a 2nd bout with brain cancer, but thanks to friends, they’re not doing it alone

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Oct. 14, 2007 - Just looking at Lonnie Lewis, you’d think he’s an average dad and family man with few cares in the world. 

Phooto Courtesy of the Lewis Family

Lonnie Lewis (second from left), with (left to right) son Zachary, wife Neva and daughter Maurie, underwent a second surgery to remove a brain tumor in July. Friends of the family have organized a number of upcoming fund-raisers to help cover extensive medical costs.

He’s not one to complain about pain, and like most guys has to be encouraged to visit the doctor. Weeknights he can be found cheering on his 15-year-old daughter Maurie’s volleyball team, and three weekends a month travels to her softball games. He cheered for his son, now 19, who is attending college; now Lonnie and Zachary spend as much time as they can together outdoors fishing. He’s still attentive to his wife of 24 years, Neva. 

But behind the cheers and jeers, the smiles and love, Lewis is waging the battle of his life against a foe like none he’s ever faced — brain cancer.

Lewis’s struggle began nearly a year ago in November, shortly after his wife was accepted into dental hygiene school, when he began having minor headaches. 

As is often the case, he did go to the doctor — not for the headaches, but for other symptoms which seemed to indicate a more serious ailment. That’s when the tumor was detected.

On Nov. 10, 2006, Lewis was sent directly to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas after an MRI revealed a brain abnormality — a golf ball-sized tumor on his right frontal lobe.

After receiving medication for three days to reduce the swelling, which apparently was causing Lewis’ headaches, a neurosurgeon removed the tumor, which he diagnosed as glioblastoma multiforme — the most aggressive of all forms of cancer.

Lewis received chemotherapy and radiation treatments every day for six weeks. Since then, he’s had chemo treatments once a month and MRI tests every other month. The MRI tests results were clear each time until July, when a mass even larger than the first was discovered.

�That shows you how aggressive it is,� said Neva Lewis, who, ironically enough, helped chair the first Relay For Life in Hopkins County. �He had an MRI in May. Everything was clear. In July, it had come back even larger than the first and in the same place.�

Lewis underwent a second surgery on July 27. Doctors removed most of the tumor but weren’t able to completely remove all of the growth from Lewis’ brain. 

He continues to have MRI tests every other month, and travels to Baylor every Monday for a different type of chemo treatment. No radiation treatments have been ordered — his body has taken the maximum sustainable amount during the previous treatments, his wife explained.

�Within the next few weeks, he will have his first bimonthly MRI following the second surgery to see just how well the new chemo is working.�

While the Lewis family is anxious about the results, they also know regardless the result, they will continue to count their blessing and find positive things to focus on, like the outpour of love and support they have received from family and friends in the community since Lonnie was first diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme.

�We are truly blessed each day to have another day together,� Neva said. �We have learned so much, know what�s important. We have a strong faith. Our church family and friends have been awesome. I do not know what we�d do without our family and friends.�

Throughout the past year, while Lewis had required treatments, he has insisted his family continue their normal activities, such as Maurie playing volleyball and softball in the off-season with the traveling team. He also insisted that Neva continue to go to school full time to be a dental hygienist, which requires she attend classes weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

�It�s a comfort to know while I�m at school, people are checking on him every day,� Mrs. Lewis noted. �Some have even brought dinners. We�ve had such support from friends and even people we don�t know offering support, help, prayers. Maurie�s on the traveling softball team and even people she�s just played have sent stuff.�

Lonnie has also been especially appreciative of the cards and letters of encouragement, which makes checking the mail something for him to look forward to, Neva said.

�They make him feel so good. He is touched by them all � by everything. This community has been great,� said Neva, who helped raise funds for Kids Kingdom which Lonnie helped build.

She said their faith has been their light, what they draw strength from. The family is especially thankful for the many prayers said for their family.

��I know it may sound funny, but I know they are praying,� Neva Lewis said. �We can feel their prayers, feel lifted up. It�s through that, through God, that we have found immense strength to deal with this.�

Lonnie told his wife he values every minute he can spend with his kids, and finds the small, everyday things like going to Maurie’s games or time spent together the most important.

�So many look back and think of what they should have done. He says he has no regrets,� Neva said. � Even though we are devastated to go through this, we are taking advantage of every day.�

The family also finds comfort in the location of the tumor. Had it grown on the other side, it could well have affected Lonnie physically and mentally. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Neva said that one hard lesson they did learn, however, is that the health care system, including disability insurance, is flawed. Not only did they have what they believed to be “the best insurance possible,” they also had short- and long-term disability policies prior to her husband’s illness. 

�You think you�re fine, that you�re covered because you have insurance. We are devastated,� Neva said.

She explained that her husband was placed on short-term disability at Morningstar where he worked, and was paid “short term.”

�Then the long-term kicks in and you apply for Social Security and are terminated from the company,� she said. �You can�t work. Your insurance drops.�

They could have continued Lonnie’s insurance through COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act health benefit provisions that allows a continuation of benefits under a previous employer's plan after an employee leaves.

�But that�s like $996 a month just for him,� Neva said. �You can�t afford that, but he has to have health insurance. Chemo is $13,000 a month.�

Instead, the Neva and Maurie were dropped from his policy, and obtained health insurance with fewer benefits.

�They don�t tell you that disability stops with Social Security,� she added. �You have to be on Social Security for 24 months before you are eligible for Medicare. They say we make too much for Medicaid. I encourage people to really look into and read the fine print on their disability policy.�

To help the Lewis family out financially, their friends and families of Maurie’s teammates have scheduled a few fund-raisers.

Penny Daniel, Markeda Orwosky, Monica Littlefield and Kim Morton are coordinating a barbecue luncheon to benefit the family Saturday, Oct. 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in First Baptist Church gymnasium. Tickets for the lunch can be purchased for $10 in advance at Professional Land Title, Financial Solutions, Blades or Dr. Phil Jackson’s office, or from the four organizers. They also can be purchased at the door the day of the benefit for $15. 

For more information, or to order tickets or to donate to the Oct. 20 “Barbecue Luncheon Benefiting the Lonnie Lewis Family,” call Kim Morton at 903-348-2639, Markeda Orwosky at 903-348-3590, Penny Daniel at 903-348-6789 or Monica Littlefield at 903-85-2380.

�He�s really looking forward to the benefit,� Neva said. �We�re really social people, and he�s excited to see all of his friends and community, but at the same time, it�s sad � difficult because of the reason to be there

A private skeet shoot among friends was also organized to help raise money, and a Lynx Club Car is also being raffled. The drawing will be held Oct. 20. Tickets for the Club Car are $10 each. For more information, contact Shawn Massey at 903-885-2573.

Julie and Bob Barrows, Gary and D’yon Butler, Wayne and Janie Caldwell made a few phone calls and have a full slate of eight teams for a benefit golf tournament Oct. 27 on the Barrows private course.

Gary Butler will also be cooking brisket during an open barbecue dinner that the group of friends and ball families will be hosting at 6 p.m. following the golf tourney. The Lewis’s family and friends are welcome to attend the dinner, where donations will be accepted. 

�We welcome any who know them and want to come to the barbecue,� Julie Barrows said Friday. �However, we are asking that they call ahead when possible to tell us they are coming so we can properly prepare for the dinner. We appreciate any and all donations. If they want to donate, but can�t come that night, they can also call me.�

The group has also had businesses contribute money and donate prizes for the benefit.

To make donations, confirm attendance at the barbecue dinner or for more information about the dinner or golf tourney, contact Julie Barrows at 903-383-7175.

Barbecues & Benefits

Several benefits are scheduled over the next two weeks for the Lewis family:

What: Barbecue luncheon to benefit the Lewis family 

When: Saturday, Oct. 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where: First Baptist Church gymnasium.

Tickets: $15 at the door, or $10 in advance at Professional Land Title, Financial Solutions, Blades or Dr. Phil Jackson’s office, or from the four organizers, Kim Morton (903-348-2639), Markeda Orwosky (903-348-3590), Penny Daniel (903-348-6789) or Monica Littlefield (903-85-2380)

What: Lynx Club Car raffle.

When: Drawing will be held Oct. 20. Tickets: $10 each. Contact Shawn Massey at 903-885-2573.

What: Open barbecue dinner

When: Saturday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m.

Where: Home of Julie and Bob Barrows

Tickets: Donations; call 903-383-7175

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