Georgia couple battles cancer together

Image 1 of 13

Lee Francisco has more Barbie’s than she can count, some dating back to 1959, the year Barbie was born.

The dolls are part of the Cumming 67-year old's story. 

So, unfortunately, is breast cancer. 

The first diagnosis came at 45.

"I knew I had a lump in my breast because I had found it," Lee Francisco says.  "It felt like an almond."

Lee and her husband Jack felt lucky; they'd caught the cancer early.

"So, they ended up doing a lumpectomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy," she says.

Then, for 15 years, their lives normalized.

"She was free of cancer, she was off all treatments," Jack Francisco remembers.  "And, again, out of the blue, she felt something."

That was in 2010, and this time things were even more serious.

"Literally, in one day, she had a biopsy, a CT, an MRI and a diagnosis that, yes, she had breast cancer again," Jack Francisco says.

Lee Francisco was stunned.

"Anger was sort of the biggest thing I had to deal with," she says.  "Because I was, like, I did this already!"

Just days after surgery to remove both breasts, Lee, still groggy and in bed, turned her focus on her husband Jack's health.

"She said, 'I don't think you had your physical this year," Jack Francisco remembers.  "And I said, 'Don't worry about it.  We're working on you right now; I'm fine.'  She said, 'No, you need to get in.'"

That's when Jack got a PSA blood test, used to screen for prostate gland abnormalities like inflammation, enlargement and cancer.

At 60, Jack's PSA level should have been no higher than about a 4.5.

"My PSA was 59," he says.

His doctor referred Francisco to Georgia Urology's Dr. Lewis Kriteman, who performed a biopsy.

"So, in the biopsy, we found cancer, and we found quite a bit of cancer in his prostate," Dr. Kriteman says.  "Once we had that diagnosis, we sat down and had a long conversation about what the treatment options were."

Because Francisco had a moderately aggressive cancer, he chose not to wait and have Dr. Kriteman closely monitor his PSA.

Surgery, he felt, wouldn't be a good option either, as the cancer had spread beyond his prostate.

"I had a double radiation, from the outside and the inside," Francisco says.

For 3 months, the Franciscos underwent parallel radiation treatments, Lee each morning, Jack each evening.

For Lee, recovering from a mastectomy, it was grueling.

"It's all you can do every day to get up and brush your teeth and put your clothes on. That takes every ounce of energy you've got."

The Franciscos are now 8 years out, both in remission.

These days they prefer to focus on their 9 grandchildren, not on their cancer story.

"It's always in the back of your mind, you're never over it," Lee Francisco says.  "But, that's not how we live."