When Janet King opted to delay surgery for stage 3 lung cancer so she could march in UNLV’s May 2017 graduation ceremonies, she didn’t know if she’d live through the year.
King, a lifelong nonsmoker, was diagnosed in 2015 and went about completing a 15-item list of experiences she wanted to have before she died. Now that surgery and medication have kept her cancer at bay, the 55-year-old east valley resident has renewed optimism — and a new bucket list.
Already crossed off the new list are an Alaskan cruise and — her favorite — attending a University of Alabama football game and having a surprise lunch with coach Nick Saban. Other new goals include attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, taking a cruise around Hawaii and seeing her youngest and oldest daughters graduate from high school and college.
“It’s been only in the last few months that doctors have been giving me hope,” King said. “They say comments like, ‘Janet you’ve made it three years; virtually no one makes it three years.’”
King’s UNLV degree is a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, with a focus on educational technology. Before that, the Alabama native earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and sociology at the University of North Alabama in Florence in 1984, followed by a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University in Starkville in 1986.
“When I graduated from UNLV, it was mixture of happiness and sadness,” King said. Distressingly, doctors had recently found spots on her lung again, but she said use of the anti-cancer medication Xalkori quickly mitigated the problem.
Childhood friend and University of Alabama faculty member Linda McCollister Parsons has helped King negotiate life’s turbulence.
“She seems to just be really determined to maintain some level of control of her life,” Parsons said. “I think making this (latest) bucket list and enjoying this time she has allowed her to do that.”
Another health scare reared its head in December, when an MRI showed King had sphenoid mycetoma — a sinus fungal ball — wrapped around her carotid artery and optic nerve. She had surgery to remove it several months later, but her health is still fragile.
“No matter what has happened, I keep going,” King said of her resolve through the trials.
King volunteered for the Red Cross following Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, as well as for Welcome Home Troops, a nonprofit group that helps veterans affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.
She said she was asked in Florida why she was there, given her poor health. Her reply: “I would rather die helping someone else.”
King aims to spend as much time as she can with her children, ages 27, 24 and 16. She said she’s also working with a publisher to create a book based on her dissertation.
This month she’s set to take a cruise to Mexico with longtime friend Judie McQuarrie — a breast cancer survivor — to celebrate surviving cancer and their birthdays.
“She beat the odds,” McQuarrie, 74, said. “She’s just like the Energizer Bunny.”
15-item bucket list she created after a lung diagnosis cancer LUNG DIAGNOSIS CANCER? three years ago, as well as a series of other health issues.