A Christmas miracle
Newlyweds battle cancer, share love
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
Tommy and Vickie Sivley of Hartselle agree that God has answered many prayers for them since they met nearly two years ago, but the one the Sivleys are most thankful for is the chance to share another Christmas together.
"This is our second Christmas together and we didn't even think we'd get to have it," Tommy explained. "I'm just so excited about this Christmas because we have so much to be thankful for. We've just put our faith in the hands of the Lord."
That faith is what has brought the newlyweds through Vickie's trying battle with brain cancer this year and love and laughter into their home.
Vickie, 53, was diagnosed with brain cancer last fall when an eye exam discovered nerve damage and something that needed a closer look by her regular doctor.
"I asked the eye doctor, 'Do you think it's a tumor?,' and she said, 'Yes,'" Tommy recalled. "We went to the doctor and a MRI found three tumors, but Vickie didn't want to have surgery during the holidays. So we just had a great big old Christmas together."
Tommy and Vickie were engaged when the tumors were discovered and the couple was planning for a Valentine's Day wedding, but Vickie wasn't sure Tommy would still want to marry her with such a daunting health problem.
"One Friday morning, I told Vickie to get cleaned up and ready to go. I said, 'We have an appointment with the justice of the peace at the courthouse."
And so Tommy and Vickie were married Jan. 3, 2003. On Sunday, Jan. 5, Vickie experienced a string of convulsions and was admitted to Huntsville Hospital for a 17-day stay.
Surgery removed two of the tumors and 30 rounds of radiation treatment worked to shrink the third. Specialists at John Hopkins University and Mayo Clinic agreed that Vickie's cancer was very rare and aggressive.
Vickie's doctor told Tommy that he hated to give survival chances, but explained that out of 100 people with Vickie's diagnosis, only seven would be expected to live one year.
"We decided then that we wouldn't dwell on what could be, but on what is right now," Tommy said. "The doctors told us that she might not make it through the surgery, that she might be completely blind or have permanent memory loss. But you've got to believe in the power of prayer. That's what has got her where she is today."
Today, Vickie is legally blind, but says her sight is improving daily. She doesn't suffer from brain swelling or convulsions, but has noticed some short-term memory loss.
"The doctors can only do so much," Tommy said. "Prayer is doing the rest and letting her heal on her own."
Vickie's vision problems have made driving impossible and household chores a challenge, but she and Tommy have quite a sense of humor about the whole situation.
"I wash the dishes and then Tommy and my daughter, Morgan, go behind me and wash them again," Vickie admitted with a hearty laugh.
"And I saw her drive before she started losing her sight, so I don't know how big of a loss the driving is," Tommy teased. "She overfills the cat's food dish sometimes, too, and dresses herself funny every now and then, but little things like that are fine. She just keeps trying and Morgan and I just keep coming behind her and fixing things."
A representative from the Institute for the Blind visits Vickie and helps her to adjust to daily tasks, like cooking and applying makeup. However, Vickie said her biggest source of support comes from Tommy, whom she calls another answered prayer.
"I know we are supposed to be together," Vickie said. "I prayed every day for God to bring me a spiritual man, someone to love my daughter and be there for me. And God sent Tommy. He's been a joy and a blessing to me and my little girl."
"I don't know what I'd do without these two girls," Tommy said of Vickie and step-daughter Morgan Kominstsky, 15. "God sent them to me."
Tommy and Vickie, both longtime employees of Wal-Mart, met at work when a co-worker suggested to Tommy that he seek the counsel of Vickie.
"I had just lost my 23-year-old son, Brent," Tommy recalled. "Vickie had also lost a 23-year-old son named Brent. Everyone at work kept saying that I needed to go talk to Vickie. We talked about our loss together and got to know each other. I asked her out to lunch for Mother's Day, and then to a movie, and then I fell in love with her."
Tommy ended his 22-year career with Wal-Mart and began a new career selling insurance so he could have more time to spend at home with Vickie and Morgan.
"Now, I can drop in at home and have lunch with her or just check on her," Tommy said. "I realize now how precious every moment truly is. And I never leave without saying, 'I love you.' I know now that there are things more important than riches."
"As long as he and I are breathing the same air, I never feel alone," Vickie said. "We depend on each other."
Tommy and Vickie both believe their time together has been made possible by their faith and the faith and continued prayers of others.
Tommy, a member of Cedar Creek Free Will Baptist Church, and Vickie, a member of Fairview Church of God, attend church together weekly, rotating visits between the two churches.
"Both churches are families to us," Tommy said. "Our church families have prayed for us, brought us food, and checked on us since this all began."
"We've had people praying for us that we've never even met," Vickie said. "We've been on prayer lists from here to Georgia."
"And because of all the prayers and our faith, we know we're going to be together for a long time," Tommy said. "It's a Christmas miracle."