Brain tumor fighter finds comfort and community in Rocky Mountain Fisher House

Eugenia Mahaffey had moved away from Laramie, Wyoming to Wichita, Kansas, and she wasn’t particularly interested in returning for her 20-year high school reunion, but her parents convinced her to.

“So I came to the 20th reunion and they always have a mixer the first night, where you kind of get to know each other again,” she said. “And, I walked in and the tallest man in the room was my [future] husband and I just, ‘Wow.’ You know, ‘There he is. He's pretty cute.’ So anyway, we hit it off and before I knew it, he had me in a moving truck moving back to Wyoming.”

Eugenia was a dental auxiliary, and she quickly went to work in a new dental practice in Laramie and lived with Michael, a Vietnam veteran and postal carrier. The couple had been together for 38 years when Eugenia started having trouble with all sorts of things, from her memory to speaking to being able to tell whether she was standing or sitting.

It took her doctor a long time to find the problem, but he kept pushing and doing more tests until, one day, he sat her down.

“He says, ‘Everything is just fine and dandy, except you have a brain tumor.’ I said, ‘No, I do not.’”

But she did. A small tumor was sitting on her pituitary gland, probably since birth, and it had been slowly growing larger and then rapidly developed a cyst. The pressure had thrown her pituitary gland off balance and affected the rest of her body and mind. She got a radiation oncology team and was told that she would need six weeks of radiation, because surgeons couldn’t cut too close to the pituitary gland.

A patient advocate let her know that, because of her husband’s service, she would be eligible to stay at the Rocky Mountain Regional Fisher House.

Mike served in an artillery battery in the Mekong River Delta in southern Vietnam where he was tasked as the unit mailman, good preparation for his over 30 years as a postman.

Eugenia thought she remembered seeing the Fisher House. She was thinking of an old brick building that might’ve dated to the 19th century. When she mentioned that, her patient advocate just laughed and said, “I think you will find this might be just a little different than what you’re thinking.”

A staff member, Wanda, gave them a tour of the Fisher House.

"She just nonchalantly takes us over to the kitchen, and I'm like, ‘Oh my God, I can't believe that. It is just amazing. So I can't say good enough, enough, good stuff about it. And the Fishers, I mean, how wonderful that they are able to do wonderful work that benefits future generations, that benefits the patient, the spouse, the children, the grandchildren. It's just something that keeps on giving.”

“Everybody is very friendly and caring and they to do whatever they can do to help you out no matter what kind of situation you're in,” she said.

Eugenia made a lot of friends while she was at the house, including other families that were there to fight cancer. Celia, from Nebraska, was supporting a husband fighting cancer, and the two women would talk for hours.

“Her husband was pretty ill and didn't come down to the kitchen very often,” Eugenia said, “but she and I were down there flapping our mouths and we, we did solve a lot of problems of the world.”

Between her new friends at the Fisher House and her husband, Eugenia had a full support group as she went through radiation. On February 11, Eugenia’s surgeon gave her the good news: The tumor and the cyst had shrunk significantly. She’ll likely not need any further treatment.

“We both feel blessed to have the Fisher House just two-and-a-half hours from our home,” the couple said. “What a lovely warm welcoming facility. We were made to feel at home the moment we walked in the door. It’s clean, warm and has friendly staff and caring fellow residents. You just can’t beat it.”