About one in eight U.S. women (roughly 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. When Joyce Well, admissions services coordinator for Presbyterian Village North, received a call at work in January 2009 and learned she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she was stunned. She never thought it would be her, and as a million thoughts crossed her mind she found herself shocked that she was now one of those one in eight women. Anybody could be one of the one in eight women, which is why Presbyterian Village North (PVN) is hosted a Lunch and Learn presentation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The event was led by Heather Ashby, who is a trained volunteer with Susan G. Komen and works as the director of residential and assisted living for PVN. Ashby presentd current information and research. To conclude, a resident and teammate panel answered questions during a Q & A session. Survivors, or “thrivers,” as they prefer to be called, were able to share their journeys and answer questions for those in attendance. Well is an eight-year thriver and going as strong as ever, but with a new perspective on life and death. Ashby is a one-year thriver.
“When I heard the diagnosis at 9:00 a.m., I went into fighting mode right away,” said Well. “I booked an appointment with my doctor later that day at 2:00 p.m. and made an appointment with the surgeon as well. I had my surgery that very month, then started chemo and radiation. In the subsequent months, I went through six rounds of chemo and 33 rounds of radiation. While I heard terrible things about chemo and radiation treatments, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever been through. There were side effects, of course, but I got through it just fine. It was not easy, but I remained hopeful and confident. Honestly, it was a mental thing for me. I didn’t dwell on the outcome, I accepted that the treatment may or may not work and I just stayed mentally focused on doing what I needed to do to hopefully overcome it.”
Well strived to maintain normalcy in her life as much as she could during her recovery. It was very important to her that she look and feel as normal as possible. When she lost her hair, she got a wig and false eyelashes so no one noticed. She didn’t dwell on it with family and friends, instead choosing to do the same things they always did and talk about all the things they always conversed about. She didn’t let the statistics get to her and she didn’t let outside influences get to her either.
“During the course of my treatment, they advised me to only look at two websites they referred me to,” said Well. “They suggested that I didn’t look at any other information. When fear crept in, it was hard not to give in to the urge to Google it to learn more, but I avoided the temptation. I told myself I wouldn’t let it get in my head, and that what I don’t know couldn’t affect me emotionally. I am so glad I followed their advice. Turns out I had triple-negative breast cancer, but at the time I didn’t realize how serious that was. In the post-recovery appointments, I learned just how serious it really is. I feel incredibly lucky to be alive today.”
Well has met other women who were diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, and most only had one to two years to make the most of their life. She does not understand why she has been so lucky, but she concludes that it was just not her time and continues to lead a life in which she gives to and serves people every day. Her journey of conquering breast cancer did change her perspective on death though.
“Before I got the diagnosis, I had a fear of death,” said Well. “I work in health care and understand that people die every day, but yet it still scared me. My diagnosis changed every feeling I had about death. I came to terms with the fact that it could happen to anyone at any time because you cannot control what happens all of the time. I knew it was out of my hands, but I still gave it my best shot. I don’t have a fear of death anymore. It gave me a whole different emotional outlook on what’s happening in the world.”
Well’s advice for women who have not been diagnosed is to do regular self-checks. She has a mammogram every year, and in December 2008 she had her annual female checkup, which went well. Three weeks later, she felt a lump and made an appointment right away to have it checked out. If you think there might be an issue or are just getting diagnosed, her advice is to act quickly. Do what needs to be done. Her final advice is to maintain as much normalcy as people are able. It helped her tremendously. She continued to go to work and do many of the things she did previously during her treatments.
“At Presbyterian Village North, we want to be a resource to those who are or could be affected by breast cancer,” said Ashby. “In addition to the Lunch and Learn, the community is wore pink on Fridays to raise even more awareness. We are glad that people like Joyce are willing to share their stories because it instills hope and confidence in others who are going through similar experiences.”