Diamond, Thomasson: Best friends, former roommates, chemo buddies

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 26, 2019

Holly Thomasson and Stacey Simmons Diamond have been best friends since middle school.

They lived together after college.

And most recently, they walked a cancer journey together, scheduling their chemo treatments to coincide so they’d have uninterrupted hours to talk.

What began as a cough that wouldn’t go away in October of 2016 led to Diamond being diagnosed with Non-Hodg-kin’s Lym-phoma in early 2017.

“The cough just kept going on,” Diamond recalled. “They thought I had a bad sinus infection, and did an X-ray of my sinuses. But at the end of January, one Sunday morning I woke up, and was swollen basically from my waist to my bra line. My eyes were almost shut, and my hands wouldn’t close,” she said. “I knew something was wrong. The next day, I had an appointment with my family physician, and he sent me to a lung specialist.”

After a series of tests, doctors were more concerned Diamond would die from a shortage of blood supply: A tumor growing in her chest was pressing on the superior vena cava, the  large vein carrying deoxygenated blood into the heart.

Specialists tried a needle biopsy, and a bronchoscopy, but it wasn’t until she had a surgical biopsy that  the suspected diagnosis was confirmed: Diamond had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She was diagnosed on March 6, 2017. 

After the biopsy, Thomasson stayed with Diamond in the hospital. Doctors had had to go through her ribs, and had a difficult time getting to the tumor.

“At one time, Stacey needed to sit at an angle so she could breathe better,” Thomasson said. “So she was in the recliner, and I was in the bed. I had to convince the nurses who came in, ‘Oh, no, it’s her, not me.’ ”

But it wasn’t long before Thomasson was a patient, too. She had felt a little lump while shaving under her arms.

“I thought it was nothing, but I had it checked out,” she said.

Four days after her best friend’s diagnosis, Thomasson learned she had breast cancer. Hers was triple negative, Brca positive, among the most difficult breast cancers to treat.

Diamond had six complete cycles of chemotherapy, three weeks apart, including the very harsh “Red Devil” chemo.

Thomasson had 12 rounds one week apart, then did four more rounds of “Red Devil,” two weeks apart. To date, she’s had seven surgeries, and isn’t quite done. 

“As bad as you hate to say it, we sort of looked forward to chemo, because we had four hours straight to talk,” Thomasson said.

It’s not like they’ve been on a picnic, but both women said the experience wasn’t as bad as they expected it to be. They attribute that to adopting the right attitude, the support of family and friends, and their faith.

“It’s one of the best experiences I ever went through,” Diamond said. “It was another confirmation of God’s faithfulness. I was not alone: I had Holly with me.”

Thomasson, who lives in Montgomery, sought treatment at UAB. They paired her with an “angel.”

“The woman I was paired with was an 11-year survivor of my cancer,” she said. “When she was diagnosed, they told her she had six months to live. Before that six months was up, they’d developed the chemo that would treat it.

Thomasson pointed out that much of cancer research is geared toward improving treatment. Medications taken before treatment help mitigate the side effects, she said.

Initially, doctors believed Thomasson’s cancer was a secondary cancer, because test after test showed affected lymph nodes. But that suspected primary cancer was never found. Thomasson isn’t surprised.

“It was prayed away,” she said.

Both women said they are extremely blessed. “God worked in lots of folks’ lives around me,” Diamond, a PRN at Troy Hospital who’s currently focused primarily on being a mom and homeschooling two of her three kids. “I was able to witness to a few family members. Our church family came together for meals, prayers, and support. It was unbelievable. I am a worrier, but I felt totally calm and peaceful.”

Thomasson said, “The Bible talks about the peace that passeth all understanding. We had it. Mother was worried I was walking around suicidal, but I was at peace.”

After her diagnosis, Diamond said she remembered a dream she’d had in December of 2016, when the lingering cough began.

“I dreamed about my brandma, Christine,” she said. “I could physically feel the pressure of her hands on my chest. She said, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’ ”

The dream’s meaning became clear months later.

“Her hands were exactly where the tumor was,” Diamond said. “I figured that out after the diagnosis.”

Thomasson also experienced an outpouring of love. She often spends time with her parents Carole and Kyle Thomasson, in Andalusia, and said she consequently had the support of two church families.

Diamond, who is the daughter of Ralph and Barbara Simmons, said she also had great support from her parents, and from her husband.

“Blake took care of me,” she said. “He did things I never thought he would do. Mom and Dad took the kids, and that was huge.”

Diamond recently had a routine PET scan. Thomasson is not yet finished with complete recovery. 

Both said their illnesses empowered them to help other people.

Friends who had fallen out of touch reached out to them, they said, adding that each has boxes of cards and letters of encouragement.

“You are energized as a Christian, friend, daughter, aunt and sister,” Thomasson said.

“It is mind-boggling to me how people go through this – or any trauma – without the hope of Christ,” Diamond said.