FAIRMONT - So far, Erin Muller is beating the odds against a rare and aggressive form of cancer. It has come at a cost.
Since the Fairmont woman's diagnosis of thymic carcinoma in July 2009, she has been in and out of hospitals. Earlier this week she was in Chicago receiving preventive radiation treatment.
"We can't call it in remission, because [thymic carcinoma] has never not come back," Muller explained. "It really is a different life."
Thymic carcinoma involves the thymic gland under the breastbone in children.
"It's where you get your antibodies when you're young," Muller said. "Then it disappears. But mine didn't disappear; it had a cancer cell in it and it began to grow."
Thymic carcinoma occurs more often in women, usually developing between the ages of 40 and 60. It is considered terminal.
"After the first time, it's estimated that there's only one to two years before a recurrence," Muller said. "The life expectancy is about 12 to 24 months, and I'm now at 27 months."
The only symptom Muller had before the diagnosis was a persistent cough that wouldn't go away for three months. A chest X-ray revealed the tumor.
"It was so large there was no time for chemo," Muller said. "They weren't even sure if they could perform surgery, and they gave me two months to live. I started making goals to try to have at least one more of everything. One more birthday, one more Christmas, one more Easter, then I got to see another grandchild born. That baby is now nine months old."
Spending time with her grandchildren is bittersweet for Muller.
"When I think of them, it's hard to know I won't see them graduate, and that I won't be an incredibly young great-grandma," she said. "But we're still trying to do some fun things ... It's a challenge, and I'm trying not to be a burden, and try to put a positive look on my face."
But she admits it's not always easy staying positive. From all of the radiation treatment, she has breathing issues, with only a 15 percent lung capacity and no use of her diaphragm. She has been getting high doses of radiation every three months to attempt to fend off the recurrence.
"I miss people and being productive," Muller said. "I have worked since I was 14, and now it's strange not being able to do that anymore."
But she's been doing things for family and friends instead.
"Once with my girlfriends, we did massages; we had the hot wax, rollers and oils; we gave each other manicures," she recalled. "We ate food, all the stuff that we usually feel guilty about eating."
Muller has been making friends at the Cancer Center in Chicago.
"You become close to a lot of people," she said. "They're friendly and there's a lot of hope. Not false hope, but hopeful ... We get that feeling we're cared about, and it holds us over for a long time."
A benefit is being held for Muller 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Cedar Creek Park in Fairmont. The event includes a lunch for a donation.
"Everyone knows that they're going to die, but it's different when you're thinking about it every day," she said. "We got to talking about it, and I realized I want to have my wake when I'm alive. I mean, there's food, and everyone says nice things about you. Why wouldn't I want to be there?"