Inspiring People: Lisa Thomas believes you must be positive

OKEECHOBEE — Lisa Thomas is a native of Okeechobee, although she was actually born in Lantana. Her family moved to Okeechobee when she was very young.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Lisa Thomas believes you only have one life to live so you’d better make the most of it.

Ms. Thomas said she felt she was probably nominated for the Inspiring series because her husband, Wyatt Thomas, passed away from cancer in 2011 after they had been married for 15 years. Nine years later, on Valentines Day, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “You wouldn’t know it to look at me, though,” she said. It is stage four, metastasized. It began in the right breast and moved to her right hip, her back bone, a rib, her chest, and her left femur. “It kind of ping-pongs around,” she said. “It seems to stay asleep for about two years and then wakes back up somewhere else.”

She said she has an amazing oncologist, though, who has been able to put it back to sleep every time so far. “You joke around with it some,” she said. “You have to. It’s the best way. People always tell me they would never know I had cancer and I just laugh and tell them, ‘Oh, it’s all the chemo. It’s like an embalming fluid.’” She is on chemo for the rest of her life. She has met a lot of women through Facebook, because she has a reputation for being a positive person, and when women are struggling, often she is asked to reach out to them to help them through a rough patch. She doesn’t mind at all, she said. “You have to be positive. I had just bought my first barrel horse about two weeks before I was diagnosed,” she explained. Her husband had passed away, and she was alone. She thought, “It’s just me, I’m going to barrel race.” About two weeks later, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer and told she was not ever going to ride a horse again. “The biggest mistake a person can make is to ever tell me no,” she said. “Just don’t tell me no.”

She had always worked out. She worked cattle with her husband and considered herself a strong woman. She figured, “How hard can it be to barrel race?” She had seen it in rodeos when she was a little girl. When she bought her first barrel horse, the horse looked a little scrawny, and everybody kept saying, “I can’t believe you bought her.” “I told them all, I’m missing a boob. Who am I to judge this poor horse?” she said. She told them they would heal together. “She healed. I healed. It took us about a year. We call her my angel with an attitude. Sometimes she had an attitude, but it was great. It kept me fighting.” Since then, they have won four buckles and a saddle.

Ms. Thomas’ mother, Janice Troost, is 78 years old and barrel races with Ms. Thomas. She got her first buckle last year. Mrs. Troost’s husband, Ms. Thomas’ dad, passed away in 2012, and she just kept sitting around in the house, said Ms. Thomas. “I told her, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no. You told me I had to get up and keep going when my husband died, and so do you.’ So we do this together as a mother/daughter type thing,” she said. “People love it.” Her mother also spends about 35 hours a week volunteering as a pink lady at the hospital. “They tried to put her on the payroll,” said Ms. Thomas, “but she said no, because she wants to be able to take time off with me if she needs to.”

Once a month on Fridays, Ms. Thomas has her appointment with her doctor for her treatment. Once she gets the chemo shots, they make her a little nauseated, she said. She works throughout the day, goes for her shot and then heads straight home. The pills that she takes on a daily basis don’t really bother her anymore, though. On Valentines Day this year, it was six years since her diagnosis, and she considers herself blessed to still be here. Normally she said, they give you five years max, and she is still barrel racing. “I have a horse trailer painted pink. Eddie Lehman painted it pink for me. It was a big to-do back then. Melissa McKay from Custom Graphics painted, “Never give up” on the front, and I haven’t.” She often brings the trailer to barrel races, because you can’t miss it.

She met her “significant other,” Shayne Sage, four years ago. She has always been very independent, she said. She is a hard worker. When she met Shayne, she told him she wanted to keep working, and she wanted to barrel race. She remembers one day coming out after a hard day at the arena, and he looked at her and asked what was wrong with her. She was pretty down, because she had hit a barrel and she remembered thinking, “I can’t do this. What was I thinking? I’m 53 years old. I have stage four cancer. What in the world was I thinking?” She was unsaddling her horse, not noticing he was talking. He was saying, “What about your ‘Never give up’ motto?” She said, “Yeah, it just went out the window. I can still be positive and not chase this crazy dream.” The whole time she was talking to him, he was re-saddling her horse, and she wasn’t paying any attention to what he was doing. She was pulling stuff off, and he was putting stuff back on. Finally, he asked her if she was done, and when she said, “yes.” He told her to get back on the horse and get back out there. It wasn’t until she was back out in the arena that she realized he told her what to do, and she let him.

She has worked at the MidFlorida Credit Union for 18 years and has been in banking for 35 years, pretty much since she got out of high school. She began as a branch manager in Okeechobee and was promoted in 2012. She went to Vero to help with a merge and never came back. Now, she is regional manager and is over 11 branches. “I love my staff, and they all know. I don’t hide anything about my cancer.”

People always ask me how I can be so positive. I tell them you can either sit down and quit or you get up and fight back. I chose to get up and fight back,” she said. “You only live once.”

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment