APPLETON -- Annemarie Roe Boucher sits quietly at the dining room table, her arms wrapped tightly to her body. She's not looking well and admits to feeling the same.
"I'm in a lot of pain and I've been throwing up," she says.
Twenty years of battling disease and medical complications have taken their toll on this Appleton woman's now-frail body.
At age 12, she underwent radiation treatment that cured her of renal cancer. Then, at age 22, all but 30 inches of her small intestine were removed. The radiation 10 years earlier had adversely affected blood vessel development in her abdomen, making her prone to blood clots. The clots, in turn, rendered the majority of her small intestine useless. Annemarie was officially diagnosed with Short Bowel Syndrome.
Now, at age 32, Annemarie, a member at St. Joseph Parish, awaits multiple organ transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She needs half of a stomach, a pancreas and a small intestine -- and she needs them soon since the remainder of her digestive tract is deteriorating.
The surgery was recommended 10 years ago, but she declined because undergoing a multiple organ transplant -- let alone recuperating -- didn't seem to be a viable option for a mother of a 4-year-old and 9-month-old.
Annemarie estimates she has spent the equivalent of three or four years in the hospital. But she quickly adds that she has had a couple good years, and felt well enough to complete all but one year of sign-language training at Fox Valley Technical College.
"It came fairly easily," she says, adding that ideally she'd like to work in a courtroom where she can interpret legal matters. "I like doing work as an advocate for people's rights."
Her only source of nutrition has been TPN -- Total Parenteral Nutrition. She administers this gallon of solution to herself each night.
On this night, Annemarie heaves onto the table a case containing the TPN sack. She opens the case, fills a syringe with saline and heparin, and squeezes the solutions into the port in the upper left side of her chest. She explains that the saline rinses the port while the heparin prevents blood clotting. She then attaches a hose and the 12-hour drip begins.
Since the beginning of the year, Annemarie and her daughters have been staying with her parents, Dan and Connie Roe, also members of St. Joseph's. She realizes that, for now, she is not strong enough to care for her daughters and a home.
Connie says quite matter-of-factly: "You do what you have to do."
The chronic illness has been a family affair, testing each member, including Annemarie's three brothers, but making the family stronger.
"It's made us closer," says Annemarie. "I think we're a pretty close family."
Perhaps the most profound change has been with Annemarie's faith.
"I think, for a long time, I just gave up on my faith -- asking 'Why me, why are you doing this?' " she says. "Then I got to the point where I know God wasn't doing this to me. My faith has gotten me through this. What I've been through has made me realize there's something bigger than me."
Her pastor, Fr. John Holly, OFM Cap., has journeyed with Annemarie throughout the years and has seen the strength of her faith:
"Unfortunately and fortunately, I have had many opportunities to visit with Annemarie over the past years. I say 'unfortunately because many of those times, too many really, have been when Annemarie was in the hospital often for long stretches at a time. I have been fortunate in that each time I visit Annemarie, despite whatever pain that's present, she's positive, upbeat and faithfilled, trusting that all of this is going to work out, believing that she'll live to see her own grandchildren!"
Eight days after the evening interview, Annemarie sits in a hospital bed at Appleton Medical Center, grimacing with pain, looking exhausted. Her health has declined to the point where her doctors in Appleton and Pittsburgh agree that it's time to be in Pittsburgh's care.
Later that night, Annemarie and her dad fly to Pittsburgh where the medical staff works on stabilizing her for transplant surgery. The surgery is expected to last 20 hours; recuperation will be 6-12 weeks.
She is anxious to be home with her daughters and the rest of her family. If she remains relatively stable, she will return to Appleton for a brief visit before surgery.
For those tempted to feel sorry for Annemarie, she makes it clear that she has no need for such emotions. She's a fighter who has won before and will win this time, too. There's simply no room for doubt because the future is on her mind.
"If I can finish school and become a productive person that would be nice," she says. But when it comes down to it she wants one thing only: "I want to see my daughters graduate. I want to see them get married."
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