Citizens of the Week
October 2, 2008 · Updated 3:33 PM
When Virginia Sharpy learned five years ago that her husband, Dave, had liver cirrhosis, she thought he had received a death sentence.
Virginia's mother had died within a few years of the same diagnosis, and she feared her husband would share the same fate.
The Sharpys' story however, is not one of death, but of survival against tremendous adversity.
In 2001, Dave learned he had hepatitis c, which he thinks he contracted as an emergency medical technician in the 1970s.
"By the time they found it, my liver was pretty shot," he said.
He started medication injections, which he called "chemo light," and was perpetually exhausted for months.
"I had side effects galore; it was a nasty process," Dave said.
"The treatment makes you sicker than the disease," Virginia said. "These medications would come with long warning labels of the bad things that could happen to you. And most of them did."
Meanwhile, Dave was having some dental issues and lost three teeth. After visits to specialist after specialist, an ear, nose and throat doctor finally found a squamous cell tumor in the sinus area below his eye that had to be removed.
"They scooped it out like a grapefruit, and it took a year to rebuild the area with prosthetics," he said. He also underwent almost two months of radiation, and had a feeding tube installed in his stomach.
Dave is now cancer- and hepatitis-free, and his liver is in good enough shape that he likely won't require a transplant. Though there's a bit of a cavern below his left eye, you wouldn't know by looking at him of the ordeal Dave survived with the help of his wife of 26 years.
"I've always been good about taking care of myself, but it was Virginia's time to shine taking care of what I was, which was a mess," Dave said.
Virginia admitting to having a hard time with the gross stuff that comes along with illness.
"I'm not a medical kind of person. Anything on the inside, I don't want to see on the outside," she said.
But she was the pillar of strength when it came to handling the day-to-day operations of their home, and managing complicated correspondence with insurance companies; she filled several binders keeping track of payments.
"It was about $350,000 in medical bills, and I was bringing home pills in big shopping bags," Dave said. "She took care of it all. There's no way I could have paid any attention to that."
When there was a dispute with an insurance company about who should pay for the prosthesis, Virginia took matters into her own hands.
"I wrote a letter to the insurance company: This is not cosmetic; this is not dental. This is medical. You paid to scoop his head out, and you will pay to put it back together, because if I have to parade him in front of the insurance board without his prostetic to show that he cannot eat and speak without this, I will," she said.
The result? "We got it paid for," she said with a proud smile. In fact, the prosthodontist who helped Dave asked for a copy of Virginia's letter, because none of his other patients had ever had such success with insurance payment.
As hard as it was to face her husband's illness and possible death, Virginia said their experiences made them stronger.
Dave once asked Virginia if she'd considered leaving when things got bad.
"I said, 'Heck no, just the opposite.' When you face adversity in your life, you can let it enhance you or diminish you. We chose to let it enhance us," Virginia said.
Now that he's relatively healthy, Dave serves on the committee of the Relay for Life of Snoqualmie Valley, which raises money to fight cancer. He also volunteers to counsel cancer patients who face surgery similar to his.
"When you go through it, you have no one, and your neighbors and friends don't know how to deal with it," he said. "It's a way to try to share, let them know there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I want to give something back, because I've been so fortunate."
* Do you know Valley residents who deserve recognition for their good work? Nominate them for Citizen of the Week, an award co-sponsored by the Valley Record and Replicator Graphics. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.