Married photographers Jerry and Lois Levin had been keeping their eyes out for signs of stomach cancer — other types weren’t on their radar.
Last February, two days before Jerry’s birthday, his wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She had been exhibiting odd behavior that seemed to align with appendicitis. He said they weren’t going to risk it; Lois was taken straight to the doctor.
“It took a long time to get an answer,” he said. “Then we got those words you never want to here: ‘It’s not appendicitis, we found a mass.’”
For decades the Sammamish couple has constantly been on the move, taking photo assignments and planning projects together. Since late winter, they have stopped working aside from taking a few small jobs. Simultaneously, the medical bills have piled up.
A group of Sky Valley and regional musicians banded together Sunday at the Blue Boy West Golf Course in Monroe to help knock the stack down. Roger and Mike Fisher, former members of the band Heart, headed planning. The idea had been in the works for a while, Mike Fisher said. It was important the two brothers were able to help out their friend.
“She found out she had this really advanced situation to deal with, and you know, it is amazing how many people are experiencing things like that,” he said.
Lee Oskar, formerly of the group War, world-renowned Beatles tribute band Apple Jam, Downtown Joe Bryant from the Bob Rivers Show and other noteworthy performers comprised the lineup for “Lois-Palooza.”
The festivities happened to coincide with the Levins’ 34th wedding anniversary. Lois was feeling well enough to make it out, despite having started her second round of chemotherapy last week. The treatment will last for four months.
“I am feeling great today,” she said with a smile.
Jerry said every day the couple is learning something new about cancer. One lesson was that chemotherapy causes nerve damage. Lois was left with sensitivity so severe, it felt like she was “swallowing razor blades, and touching anything cold felt like knives,” he said.
After the first round of chemotherapy her tumor had decreased to half its previous size, Jerry said. Soon after, she developed severe blood clots and was given blood thinners. Then she had surgery. Lois’ gallbladder was removed, as well as her appendix, ovaries and suspicious slices of liver, which turned out to be fine, he said. Half of Lois’ large intestine and part of her small intestine was removed, and her abdominal cavity was debulked and sprayed with chemotherapy that was heated to a 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lois and Jerry met as freshmen 40 years ago at the University of Washington, Jerry said. For the first three years they knew each other, there was no love lost between them. Jerry was a prankster, and Lois wasn’t impressed.
Jerry said one day she ran into him on campus. He had a big smile on his face, and she embraced him, not realizing his joyfulness was the result of some recent mischief. They have been inseparable ever since, he said.
After graduating, Jerry ended up writing software for more than two decades while Lois worked for a marketing and advertising firm. They eventually said that wasn’t enough and delved into photography.
Together they have shot for King 5, which included personalities like Jimmy Fallon and Katie Couric. They have also worked for the Woodland Park Zoo, Miss America USA, the American Kennel Club and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Roger Fischer’s girlfriend Linda Manning said she has known the couple for close to a decade. She said he friend Lois’ her intuition when shooting wildlife and her kind personality are exceptional. The Monroe resident said the couple has always been a part and big supporters of the regional music community.
Monroe couple Michael and Karen Jacobson didn’t know Lois and Jerry before the event, but came out Sunday to support their neighbor, Roger Fisher. Both Michael Jacobson and Manning said they help support the musician when he has a new cause. Newcastle woman and Lois’ friend Julie Varon said the music community has been a great one for Lois to have behind her during this trying time.
Jerry said they wouldn’t have missed the benefit for any reason. He said he has been so grateful for the support shown to the couple. So far, thousands of dollars have been raised, and so many people have stepped up to help, he said.
“These are all our friends,” Lois said. “They are the people we expected, and then some.”
She said the main purpose of the event was to raise money. However, there was so much talent around Sunday that she hoped people were there to have fun and enjoy the experience.
Jerry said Lois is certain she will beat the disease. It will be about another year before a prognosis is made clear. Once things settle down, he said he and his wife will be compiling the updates they post online detailing her experience to create a guide to living with cancer.
Anyone wishing to donate or see Lois’s updates can visit gofundme.com/HelpMyAngelBeatCancer. Photos by Kelly Sullivan: Lois and Jerry Levin came out to the ‘Lois-Palooza’ cancer benefit at the Blue Boy West Gold Course in Monroe on Sunday, Aug. 13. Brother and sister band Exapsos were the first of many to perform during the ‘Lois-Palooza’ cancer benefit. Lois Levin embraces one of her many friends who came out to support her during the ‘Lois-Palooza’ cancer benefit on Sunday, Aug. 13.