Honored U.S. Veteran Fighting to Win Her Own Battle against Cancer
BY RHONDA BIGOVICH, Two Rivers Tribune
It was right after Thanksgiving when Charlene O’Rourke got word she was diagnosed with Stage Four Gastric Adenocarcinoma.
O’Rourke wound up in the San Louis Obispo emergency room, where they found a blockage in her intestines; she described it as the size and shape of a potato.
The primary growth began in her intestines, and then spread to her ovaries.
“The pain was so bad that it felt like I was giving birth,” O’Rourke said.
“It hurt to stand, but hurt worse to sit down,” She said.
Immediately she went into surgery where they removed the tumors, and O’Rourke was forced to have a partial hysterectomy.
When she tried to drink water, it felt like trying to swallow a brick.
O’Rourke enlisted in the Navy in 1998 and completed her service in 2006. Upon her release, she was classified as a Petty Officer Second Class.
She lived a normal daily life, yet she was having difficulty digesting food, she thought she was having minor cases of heart burn, or acid reflux.
Her weight fluxuated she was gaining and losing large amounts of weight.
Unknowingly, she thought they were all simple things that could be changed or fixed with out to much hassle.
She was surprised when her doctor looked her in the eye and said she had stage four cancer. She was given a life expectancy of a few months to a few years.
“I’ve always been pretty healthy; I exercise, always taking good care of my body,” O’Rourke said.
Charlene O’Rourke’s parents are, Yurok Tribal Chairman, Thomas O’Rourke and mother Floriene McCovey, who are divorced.
Both continue to be very supportive to her and act as advocates on her behalf.
Sidney Am, has been Charlene O’Rourke’s live-in roommate for several years.
“He is one of my best friends, he puts up with me, and I put up with him too,” She said as she laughed.
“After the surgery, she was really weak, and was taking the maximum amount of pain medication allowed,” Am said.
McCovey said about Am, he has gone above and beyond to help his roommate get better faster.
“It was the intravenous chemotherapy the knocked her down,” Am said.
During this period many expect fatigue, lethargy, loss of appetite and hair loss.
For O’Rourke, it was different. Her appetite increased. She couldn’t eat large portions of food, but it seemed like she couldn’t eat food fast enough.
“I have a good appetite. I got so hungry, that I got mad, my food would not cook fast enough,” She said.
“I felt like I could eat raw meat, because I didn’t want to wait,” She said.
O’Rourke craved whole foods, such as steak, hamburger, and not light snack foods.
“It looked and seemed that it was painful for Charlene to get hungry,” Am said.
As for her hair, she decided to shave it off because it felt like the smallest pulls would irritate her scalp.
The rest- fatigue and -pain- Charlene O’Rourke had to endure.
Her mother said, “She is holding up pretty good.”
“She has lost a lot of weight, but she is doing everything she can do to fight,” McCovey said.
O’Rourke is up on her feet; she has completed her fourth regiment of chemotherapy, and in the next few weeks, is will be starting the fifth.
A main concern for many is always the possibility of environmental carcinogens coming from the Klamath River, which O’Rourke has had plenty of exposure too.
As far as environmental concerns go, O’Rourke wanted to request for as many people as possible to look up and reach out to Activist Erin Brockovich.
O’Rourke said there are so many metals in which we consume. If everyone wrote her a letter with concerns about our water, perhaps she will help us with our water rights movement.
Many of O’Rourke’s family members have been diagnosed with various types of cancer.
“We may be known to have cancer, but now we are known to survive it as well,” She said.
Recently she had a second scan of her abdomen. The doctor who read it said if he didn’t know better, he would have thought she was a perfectly healthy person.
She takes various vitamins and alternative health remedies to help her immune system, vitamins to encourage her health, and some that help her to detox imbalances.
“It helps to see the funny side of things,” She said.
O’Rourke is far from giving up; she is still focused on her goals and her future. She has a six year old daughter.
She is set on going back to school to become a Bio-Engineer to help find a cure for cancer.
There are donation jars to help Charlene O’Rourke at Ray’s Food Place, Hoopa Mini Mart, and at Joe’s Deli.