In an interview last Friday, Bladen County cancer victim, 82-year-old Roland Clark of Clarkton, described his primary caregiver-his wife, Frances-as his "guardian angel." Clark said her day-to-day attention to his needs had helped keep his spirits up through the difficult fight.
Clark, a Bladen County native, enlisted in the Navy in 1939 after graduating from Clarkton High School. He served six years in the Navy, which included service in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters of operations during World War II.
He was assigned to a ship that launched assault landing craft onto beachheads during the war.
He participated in the invasion of North Africa early in World War II, and later in landings on islands in the South Pacific. He was discharged in 1945 and returned to Bladen County, where he later married another Clarkton area native, Frances Burney. That was almost 55 years ago.
Clark later decided to reenlist in the military, but could not get a slot in the Navy. So he enlisted in the Army, where he remained until he had served 20 years of active military service. He retired in 1964 and returned to Clarkton, where he and Mrs. Clark had already built a home.
He soon went to work for Clarkton Steel Company, where he worked until 1970. He then went to work for Billy Hinson Chevrolet, first in Clarkton and later in Elizabethtown. He remained at the dealership after Robert Henry Jessup bought it and continued to work there until age 80, after he became ill.
Clark first became ill early in 2000 after slipping during the snow of that winter.
"He did not tell me he had slipped," said Mrs. Clark. "He went on to work the next day and I did not find out until he became very ill during the night about two weeks later. We left for Womack (Hospital at Fort Bragg) at 6 a.m. and went to the Emergency Room.
"He was in severe pain and I thought he was having a heart attack," she said. "They initially treated him as if her were having a heart attack and got him stabilized. They couldn't find anything to indicate that he was having a heart problem and we went home.
"We returned a few days later for further testing and a MRI," she explained. "Two days later the doctor, Dr. Prevost, called and asked when he fell. I told him that I didn't know he had fallen. The doctor then told me he had fallen and had an injured spleen. They put him in the hospital for three days and drained the fluid from his chest and found a cyst on the spleen and drained it.
"He continued to have problems and we continued trips to the doctors for treatment until July," she said. "In July, his chest started filling with fluid again. On July 26 in the morning, he started to have an episode and I called 911. His doctor said take him to the nearest hospital as fast as we could."
He went first to Bladen County Hospital, where they stabilized him, and transported him to Womack, where he was immediately put in intensive care.
They first removed the fluid from his chest. Then on July 29, they operated on him and while removing the spleen, they found the cancer. He was on the critical list in ICU for nine days and was in the hospital a total of three weeks.
Then on July 29th, the doctors discovered that Clark had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Clark then underwent chemotherapy for the disease, which began in September and continued for six months.
"That was tough on me and the boys (sons Jim of Summerville, South Carolina, and Curtis of Raleigh) to accept at first," said Mrs. Clark. "He had always been healthy until he had the problem with his spleen after the fall, and when he was diagnosed (with cancer), we just weren't prepared.
"During the time they were treating him for the spleen problem, they had done numerous blood tests and hadn't found any sign of it before," she explained. "As time passed, however, we came to grips with it.
"Now we've accepted the fact and are thankful that God has given us these extra months together."
During this period, Mrs. Clark was by his side virtually all the time, taking care of his needs and making sure he got food that he would eat, as well as other attention. She worked with him to keep him active throughout the ordeal.
As it turned out, the fall probably gave him more time because it meant the disease had been found earlier than it might otherwise have been found, Mrs. Clark says.
"The cancer seemed to be in remission for a while, but returned in six months," she said. "Four more treatments were then done, but they did not help. In February 2002, the doctors said there was nothing that could be done."
Mrs. Clark says she believes that taking care to see that he gets the foods he can eat and plenty of "Ensure" has helped to keep his weight up and kept him able to remain active
"The main thing I've found out that you can't just plan meals," she said. "You have to prepare things around what he can eat to keep his weight up.
"When he got out of the hospital he weighed 140 pounds," said Mrs. Clark. "Now he's back up to 162 pounds, and the doctors say they don't want him to get any heavier."
Clark says his wife has been by his side almost constantly since he became ill.
"She's been my guardian angel-by my side 24 hours a day-and that has made it less difficult to endure the tough times," said Clark.
"He's a good patient," said Mrs. Clark. "He's easy to care for. Sometimes he has good days and sometimes he has bad days, but he's able to get around most of the time and we're getting through it."
Mrs. Clark says she intends to care for her husband throughout his illness.
"We've been married almost 55 years. I can't remember my life before I lived with him," she explained, smiling. "It's (taking care of your mate) just what you do. When you say your marriage vows, you agree to take care of each other through the good times and the bad."
The Clarks say they hope to be able to participate in this year's Relay For Life on May 31st through June 1st.