Denver Bar Association
September 2005
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Humor in the Face of Adversity - One Lawyer's Battle with Cancer

by Stacy Chesney

Clockwise from top left: Mary Phillips, Myra Lansky, Guy Humphries, Christine Boulet, Tamara Vincelette (Photo by Yvonne A. Sprague)
Studio Lites Lingerie & Wig Boutique on Broadway was paid a visit by some unlikely customers on July 7. Mary Phillips, Myra Lansky and Christine Boulet of Powers Phillips, P.C., walked through the doors on a quest for wigs. Their next stop was Salon Sisto in Larimer Square, where they had their heads shaved by Karen Hurtado, free of charge. Just six weeks before, they had learned that firm partner Mary Phillips would undergo chemotherapy to treat ovarian cancer.

Says Myra, "When we heard the news, I felt like I was at a loss, because there was nothing I could really do. Shaving our heads was one action we could take to show our support."

Take one look at the Powers Phillips, P.C. homepage (http://www.ppbfh.com), and you know this is a unique bunch: "Powers Phillips is somewhat peculiar in that six of its lawyers are, to put it most politely, uppity women, who through various shenanigans and underhanded schemes control the firm." So, when coworkers Christine, Myra and Tamara Vincelette, and subtenant Guy Humphries decided to offer their support of Mary’s upcoming battle by going bald, she wasn’t too surprised. "We don’t take ourselves too seriously here, so I knew they meant it when they said they were going to do this."

Mary’s upbeat attitude and calm spirit are soothing in the face of the monumental battle she faces.

"Everything changed that week in May. On Monday, I knew something was wrong because I could feel something inside my abdomen. I thought I was just gaining weight."
She laughs.

The "weight" was a 6-inch tumor. "The first thing I did was schedule the surgery as soon as possible." Just seven days later, on May 23, Mary underwent surgery that sliced open her abdomen and removed her ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, and appendix.

"I was devastated," she says, "I think anyone would be." That attitude didn’t persist, however. In the days before her surgery, she was taking charge of the situation.

Michele O'Neill and Mary Phillips
Pulling out an accordion-file crammed with paper, nicknamed her "cancer to-do list," she selects an article from "Health after 50" and reads Western medicine’s interpretation of the success of acupuncture, which she recently has started, because she believes being physically fit and mentally positive are the two best ways to overcome the disease. "I have a weight trainer. I meditate. I do yoga, Tai Chi, and walk three miles a day. I’m going to a therapist for cognitive imaging."

Chemotherapy is every three weeks; one day, six hours. She describes herself as lucky, because her side effects have so far evaded nausea. What follows her treatment is a week of extreme fatigue, where she says she’s so exhausted she can’t read a book or drive a car for fear of "running into a tree." The next week she has to follow a strict regimen that means a diet avoiding bacteria (fruits and vegetables have to be washed and peeled) and frequent hand-washing, because her immune system is at its lowest. By the next week, she’s back to feeling better, and the process begins again.

Her family and friends have helped her through this tough time. Close friend Betty Wytias, of the Attorney General’s Office, who battled breast cancer last year, has offered endless support. "She helped me prepare for chemo. And because she works with the Colorado Medical Board, she offers to investigate doctors on the Board’s public website for me before I go to them," Mary jokes.

"This experience completely reordered my priorities — I realized that staying alive is number one." The end of this year will bring retirement for Mary, who will be 62 in October — a decision brought on a bit early by the sudden change in health. Giving credit to her partner, Kathy Powers, for taking on much of her work, Mary describes the past few months as "almost stress-free."

By the time this article is published, Mary may have undergone additional surgery. Her third chemo treatment will determine if the growths on her liver and a lymph node need to be removed. Those with Mary’s type of ovarian cancer typically have a 40–50% chance of living five years. Undeterred, she is confident her positive attitude and proactive approach will defy the statistics.

"I tell my husband (Hon. Steve Phillips), ‘Aside from the ovarian cancer, I’m really healthy.’" Undaunted, she uses laughter as her power to move forward. "You have to have humor in this situation. I make jokes from it."

Editor’s Note: In line with the strength Mary has found in humor, the firm of Powers Phillips, P.C., would like your help in updating their website. Below are six possible captions, written by Jay Powers, for the photo featured on page one. Select your favorite and e-mail it to Rosie at rjb@ppbfh.com by Sept. 12. The top choice will be featured on their website, http://www.ppbfh.com.

1. Firm Denies Ridiculing Appearance of Irish Singer Sinead O’Connor
2. Firm to Re-evaluate In-House Hair Salon
3. Firm Reeling from Merciless Wig Theft
4. Pouncing on Latest Trend, Firm Announces New Buddhist Practice Group
5. Firm Announces New Bald-Headed Practice Group


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