October 26, 2011 Edition

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Emily Copeland, a native of Imboden, recently found out that she has cancer and underwent lung surgery. Well-known for her singing ability, she has begun performing again.

Unique young lady battling
unique form of cancer

Susan Johnson
Contributing Writer

To just define Emily Copeland as unique would be an injustice to the talented 19-year-old.

She was delighting crowds with her beautiful voice and musical talents at the tender age of three. In the years that followed, Copeland, a Sloan-Hendrix student who transferred to Pocahontas to finish her high school days, added acting and dancing to her list of talents; appearing as Annie at the Jonesboro Forum, Dorothy in the Imperial Dinner Theatre's production of "The Wizard of Oz" and Clara in the "Nutcracker," also at the Imperial Dinner Theater.

During the past few months, Copeland's parents have learned another uniqueness their daughter holds during what has been one of their worst nightmares.

Copeland's mother, Susie Flannery, said her daughter had always suffered from frequent bronchitis but it wasn't until Memorial Day weekend that they learned there was something far worse growing within their daughter's right lung.

"She always got sick so easily with bronchitis and pneumonia, and I even bought a special filtering unit for the house a couple of years ago, thinking that might eliminate some of the problem," Flannery said. "Memorial Day weekend we had to take her to Urgent Care (Five Rivers Medical Center in Pocahontas) where she was diagnosed with pneumonia in her right lung."

Four days later when Copeland was still not responding to antibiotics she was transported to St. Bernards in Jonesboro. Another CT scan was performed.

"They said they felt something else was going on and they were going to find it," Flannery said. Flannery said three to four different antibiotics were being pumped into her daughter, but she continued to grow worse.

"And then the doctor came in and told me that while there was bronchitis in her lung, he had found something he wasn't expecting to find," Flannery said. "My heart just sank."

What had been discovered was a rare type of tumor in Copeland's right lung.

"He said that in all his years of practice he had only seen four," Flannery said. "He said only one in a hundred were cancerous and that they were normally very slow growing and most are only one centimeter in size."

Copeland was dismissed June 8 and an appointment was scheduled at UAMS in Little Rock where it was discovered that Copeland's tumor was unique in that it was four centimeters in size and was A-typical (cancerous).

"She was the one in a hundred," Flannery said. "I was told that this type of tumor was usually found in people in their 50s and older."

Surgery needed

Flannery learned her daughter needed surgery and would perhaps lose a section of her lung. However, on the bright side, it was believed to be contained in her right lung.

"I remember saying I wanted my surgeon to be about 60 and one who had done lots of these surgeries and to know what he was doing," Copeland said. "When he walked in he looked to be about 36."

Copeland learned her young surgeon had completed his training at M.D. Anderson in Texas, and as he explained the procedure and its difficulties, Copeland was told she could be on a vent for the remainder of her life because the breathing study had not been favorable.

"He told us he wasn't too proud to send her to Houston where a number of these types of surgeries had been completed," Flannery said.

Copeland underwent surgery Aug. 16 in Houston where the tumor and the bottom lobe of her right lung were removed, as well as seven lymph nodes.

"You actually have three lobes in your lung," Flannery explained. "They took out the bottom one and had to re-inflate the middle lobe. The right upper lobe was still functioning, but they had to take out a section and reattach it to the bronchial tubes."

Copeland' surgery was deemed a success, although she did have to stop midway on the trip home to receive a blood transfusion. It was determined the cancer had spread, and radiation treatments were not an option for after-surgery treatment. Due to the type of cancerous tumor, Flannery said chemotherapy was also out of the question because of complications involved.

Copeland will now make the trek to Houston every three-to-four months for three years, where she will undergo a full body scan to monitor her recovery.

Plans return to Williams

Since returning home, Copeland has continued her recovery. In January she plans to return to Williams Baptist College to begin her sophomore year.

"After high school I thought about which way I wanted to go - singing or college," Copeland said. "I decided to go to college as a back-up-plan before pursuing a career in music. Actually, my dream job would be to become a television writer. I like singing and playing the guitar, but I would love to be an author - be behind the scenes as a sitcom writer."

Copeland said she feels the cancer has somewhat affected her singing but feels, in time, everything will return to normal.

"They (medical team at M.D. Anderson) said singers always do better after this type of surgery because their lungs are stronger," Flannery said. "She's the rare-of-the-rare in that hers was more aggressive and spread outside the original tumor."

Copeland is indeed the rare-of-the-rare in that she has not only had a speedy recovery, but has even returned to singing, making her first appearance Sept. 23 at Stan Moleski's birthday party in Pocahontas. A couple of weeks later she took the stage at a fund-raiser held in her honor at Sloan-Hendrix School in Imboden.

"I'm not totally back but I'm getting there," she said.

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