"As far as life in general, I've learned a lot of things that you think matter aren't so important anymore. ... You learn to appreciate the time that you have a lot more," Houston said. "But the one thing that I'm most thankful for that has come from this cancer journey is my relationship with God because with him all things are possible. I know that this journey is part of his plan. I don't know what that plan is or what I'm supposed to learn or if I'm supposed to teach from this but I know that one day it's going to be obvious. And I'll look back and I'll say, 'That's why I went through that, that there's a reason for this and that something good is going to come from it.' I really believe that.
"I'm [also] thankful for my husband [Daniel] who's been there for me through all of this. He stays with me at the hospital. When I'm having bad days, he's the one who calms my fears, who comforts me. He's just been so strong through all of this because while it's hard to go through the cancer journey, it's also very hard to watch someone you love go through it and you feel helpless to their pain and what they're going through. So I'm just thankful that he's been there for me through all of that and again [I am thankful for] my family. ... Now we talk on the phone more even when we don't see each other," she said, referring to some of her relatives who live a long distance away. "So that's just an amazing thing that's come out of it. You just don't want to take your family for granted."
Houston's cancer journey started in late February when she experienced pain in her upper left arm and later noticed a lump on her shoulder blade. After seeking medical attention, a biopsy of her bone tumor led to a cancer diagnosis on April 22.
"I'm still in treatment," Houston said, noting her type of bone cancer generally develops in children's limbs. "I did four rounds before surgery on Aug. 10, [when] they took the majority of the scapula out, leaving just part of the joint and replaced it with an allograft, which is basically a donor bone from a cadaver. So that's held in place with metal plates. So he replaced that bone so that I could have more functionality. ... With this surgery I'm able to raise my arm up on its own. I don't have to pick it up and move it. I'm still doing physical therapy to get to that point. So that was what the surgery was, he took that bone out and replaced it with another one. I've had four different types of chemo drugs and I have to be an inpatient. So the one I'm on now, I'm usually in the hospital three to four days. And I'll probably have between four and eight more treatments to go [at Emory University Hospital Midtown].
"When they take the tumor out, they look at it to see how well the chemo worked. So they consider a good response to be 90-percent dead but my tumor was only 63 [percent] dead. So they changed the chemo regimen to where after surgery they changed the drugs I was on and I have to have a lot more treatments. So where I had only four before, if it had had a good response I would only have four afterwards and pretty much one of the same drugs and maybe one different one because they knew that that was working," she said, adding her initial chemotherapy treatments resulted in side effects, ranging from hair and hearing loss to nausea. "But because the tumor wasn't responding as well as what we had hoped now I have to have [a] longer chemo regimen afterwards with different drugs."
Along with her main tumor, which nearly doubled in size in two months, a second, smaller growth was detected in her shoulder blade during an MRI prior to surgery. Referring to this as a skip metastasis, Houston said the additional tumor was significant, increasing her cancer from stage one to stage four.
Following her chemotherapy treatments every 21 days, she receives saline through an IV at Cartersville Medical Center twice a week for two weeks, which helps keep her kidneys functioning.
A senior accountant for Cartersville Medical Center, Houston said her employer has been very accommodating, enabling her to remote work from home or the hospital, when possible. While she is thankful for the opportunity to continue earning a paycheck and assisting her accounting department, Houston is serving as an inspiration to her coworkers.
"Mindy came to work for us here at CMC in 2008 as staff accountant," said Christie Fox, assistant controller for Cartersville Medical Center. "She immediately proved to be exactly what we were looking for, a diligent, effective and efficient worker. While working here, she finished up her bachelor's degree in accounting and then graduated with her master's degree shortly after being diagnosed. In addition, she's passed three of four parts on the CPA exam, with her chemo treatments slowing her down from knocking out that last section. Mindy is so intelligent and has a gift for getting things done. Even cancer hasn't slowed her down as much as you would expect.
"She's had to get fluids frequently in the days and weeks following chemo treatments, which take hours each time. She works from her laptop while waiting and has even joked that she would work at her desk with the IV pole, if they'd let her. Her drive, despite the odds, is inspirational. I've told Mindy that I believe her cancer to be one of God's blessings in disguise. While it's been a terribly rough path for her to travel, it can ultimately serve a good purpose in her life and the lives of others she encounters. In today's world, we can become so forward driven that we miss our real purpose. We can give thanks in knowing that the God of all loves us enough to intervene and re-direct us toward him."
For Houston, the support she has received at Cartersville Medical Center and the community as a whole has been "incredible."
"People that I don't even know that have heard of me through people who work here, they've done things. They've given me gifts. They've made prayer blankets," Houston said. "I've gotten cards from kids at churches. At Relay for Life this year, I wasn't able to go because I had just finished a treatment but some of the people that I work with here [and people from] other departments, they had gotten together and held up signs that said, 'We love you Mindy' and took a picture and then posted on Facebook so I could see it. It's amazing.
"You go through your life thinking that people don't really know you and they're not really concerned about what you're going through but when something like this happens, it just brings so many people together," she said, adding while her bone tumors have been removed, she will continue receiving CTs of the chest because the cancer could spread to her lungs. "I have just gotten [to know] so many people, amazing people, through my church and through work that are in my life. It's just been a blessing. [Some are] people that I would have never met or talked to if I had not gone through this. It just amazes me every day that so many people care about what I'm going through and are willing to do anything to help me get through it. It's just amazing."