Former caregiver in need of a helping hand

Oct. 31, 2012 @ 02:09 PM

SOUTHMONT — When Deborah Sanders Clewis first spoke with the Thomasville Times in 2003, she was taking care of three family members in a small house on Fisher Ferry Street, washing a half dozen loads of laundry a day, changing diapers and driving back and forth to the hospital.

Nearly a decade later, Clewis is the one who needs to be cared for.

Living alone in a Southmont trailer park, Clewis, 55, is battling leukemia and needs to start chemotherapy treatments in High Point soon, but with no means of transportation, she is beginning to wonder if anyone will come to her aid as she did with her brother, mother, grandmother and step-father.

"I've always been alone," Clewis said. "I need some help bad. I sit and cry a lot. Right now I don't know what the future holds for me. I really don't. I got mad once and said I got dealt a bad hand, but I can't say that because God doesn't like ugly. I am afraid because I don't know what's going to happen to me. I don't know which road I'll get to go down. I'm hoping it will be easy, but nothing has ever been easy for me. Never."

Clewis faced death for the first time in 1983 when her father died from cirrhosis of the liver. In 1989, her brother, Tommy, came down with a cold that wouldn't go away. Following a trip to the emergency room, doctors at Moses Cone Hospital diagnosed him as HIV positive. He died 11 months later at age 35.

"Tommy's death was very difficult," said Clewis. "I fell into a deep hole after he died. We were so close. He was everything in the world to me."

Clewis had more hardship ahead.

In 2001, Clewis' stepfather, Mitchell Goodwin, developed a lump on his face that turned out to be skin cancer. Not long after that, Clewis' mother, Betty, suffered a series of strokes, leaving her paralyzed. Clewis was responsible for her two parents and her grandmother, Adele Mercer.

"I didn't know I was going to be the caregiver for all three of them," Clewis said. "But even taking care of them I was always alone in my mind. Alone in the dark is the way I always felt."

In 2002, Clewis and family moved into a house on Fisher Ferry Street to be closer to High Point and the medical care her loved ones desperately needed. Between 2005 and 2010, Clewis would lose all three.

"I feel like I have taken care of everybody who needed me, anybody who called and said 'I need you Debbie,'" said Clewis. " I would just go and drop everything I was doing. Losing the ones you love is the hardest thing for anybody."

With her time as a caregiver behind her, Clewis went to the hospital for minor wrist surgery. Clewis' doctor noticed she wasn't feeling very well and decided to run some simple tests before the surgery. Results came back showing Clewis had leukemia. With no family in the area, Clewis is facing the daily battle alone, wondering how she's going to get to her doctor's appointments and who will look after her the way did for her family for nearly a decade.

"I'm scared to death to take the chemo," Clewis said. "The main thing about it is I'm out here and it's going to cost me about $1,200 to get my car fixed. Sometimes I just want to pick up the phone and call my momma."

Clewis said if someone could help her get a car she could move back to Thomasville and be closer to the Hayworth Cancer Center in High Point where she is scheduled to begin chemotherapy this week.

"It's just too much for my nerves to worry about," said Clewis. "I stay so stressed out. Having a car would be a blessing. I've been blessed very well because God blessed my hands to be able to take care of my family. He blessed me when I was so tired when I couldn't keep my head up."

Aside from her dog Hank and her cat Prissy, Clewis feels and is alone, living by herself in the middle of the country, miles away from the care she needs. She isn't looking for a handout but Clewis would like a helping hand.

Anyone interested in helping can call Clewis at 859-8220.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com