Archive for the ‘Survivor Spotlight’ Category

Survivor Spotlight, 25 Years A Survivor: Brenda Benner, Perry County

Posted By on April 14th, 2016 at 12:16 pm | 0 comments.

brenda photoWhen I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, the PBCC had not yet been created. I learned about the PBCC last June when the traveling photo exhibit visited Perry County. I was really overwhelmed to see how many survivors were represented, and the program at the exhibit opening was very touching.

On that August morning in 1990, I was reading and reviewing my Sunday School lesson when I felt a lump in my breast. The next day I called my gynecologist and he made an appointment right away. A needle biopsy proved it to be cancer. I was in the middle of the Perry County Fair and my kids showed animals, so I said I can’t do anything now. The doctor was going on vacation the week after the fair so we scheduled surgery for the following week. I had a lumpectomy at first and then a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy.

My husband Glenn and I have a beef, cattle, and hog farm. We have two married daughters and four grandchildren. I did a lot of the farm work until our daughters got married and then our sons-in-law took over my jobs there. I taught school for 32 ½ years and I worked for Senator Jake Corman for seven years. Now I serve as Chairman of the Perry County Commissioners. I fill all my spare time with community things, volunteer efforts, serving on the board of Wings of Kindness, and anything that makes Perry County a better place to live and work.

Often someone will come by my office to ask advice for a friend or relative who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. I tell them to remember that it’s not a death sentence. I believe that having a positive attitude is a major part of the survival process. And I believe a religious conviction is extremely important too.

Wayne County Survivor Dedicated to Service after Diagnosis

Posted By on March 15th, 2016 at 8:31 am | 0 comments.

Melissa-Rickard-survivor-story-for-PLMelissa Rickard, Wayne County

Going through breast cancer taught me to accept what I cannot change. My grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s and passed away in 2009. That April, I found a lump while doing a breast self-exam. I had a biopsy and then, on my 37th birthday, the surgeon told me I had DCIS and an area of micro-invasion. I had a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction.

If I had waited until I was 40 to have a mammogram I probably wouldn’t be here. Cancer is non-discriminating and that includes by age. I’m a nurse practitioner at Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers, and I encourage my patients to talk with their provider about screenings.

Wayne County conducted a community assessment and one of the barriers it highlighted is transportation. We learned that women weren’t getting screened because of lack of transportation to medical care and many were being diagnosed at a later stage with a higher mortality rate. We held a community campaign called Putting on the Pink to raise funds for a mobile mammography van. There is funding now for the equipment and the next step is to fund the van itself.
I also represent Wayne County in the PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s photo exhibit, 67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in Pennsylvania and spoke at a recent exhibit opening at Wayne Memorial Hospital.
The biggest lesson I learned through my experience is that some of the things I thought were important just really weren’t. It was a tough adjustment, having surgeries and at the same time still being in the Reserves. But I’ve learned to prioritize and to be present. When I’m not working, I take time to enjoy gardening, exercising, and reading.

Young Survivor Finds Peace, Healing through Family & Fishing

Posted By on February 15th, 2016 at 9:20 am | 0 comments.
Survivor Mary Waugaman, center, found comfort through a fishing program for survivors called Casting for Recovery. For more information, see this month's Patient Advocacy tip!

Survivor Mary Waugaman, center, found comfort through a fishing program for survivors called Casting for Recovery. For more information, see this month’s Patient Advocacy tip!

Mary Waugaman, Indiana County

My mom had breast cancer in 1997 and her surgeon said, “When your daughter turns 35 I want her to get a baseline mammogram.” So two months before my 35th birthday in May 2006 my mom started nagging me. I scheduled the mammogram for July just to get her off my back. Luckily for me I turned 35 when I did and my mom kept nagging me because with that baseline mammogram I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

I had a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection and then chemo and radiation. Then in 2008 I had a recurrence. The recurrence was estrogen positive so they suggested removing my ovaries, which I did in January 2009.

I found out that I was very strong. I hadn’t known that about myself. I remember before my first chemo treatment my dad saying, “It’s OK to be scared, honey.” But I wasn’t scared. I got very sick with the chemo but I knew what I had to do and I did it. When the recurrence happened, I didn’t think twice. I knew I had to have a mastectomy. I felt like breast cancer was coming back for me and I wanted to stop it. When my ovaries were removed I went into instant menopause. Of course then that meant I was unable to have children. Cancer took that from me too. I found myself getting depressed. You go through all the medical stuff and do what you have to do and then when it’s over you say, “what just happened?”.

My job as front office supervisor at Pediatric Alliance is two hours away from where I live so I don’t have a lot of spare time to connect with people and do therapeutic things for myself. But in 2012 I went to a Casting for Recovery retreat. That was the most amazing experience of my life. Casting for Recovery is a program that offers 2 ½ day fly fishing retreats for women with breast cancer. There were so many women with different stories and while no one’s experience was just like mine, each one could relate to one part of my story and vice versa. I got back into nature and found peace and quiet. That was the beginning of the healing of my mind and soul that I didn’t even realize were damaged. It brought me back to the person I was before breast cancer. I still stay in touch with those women.

My best advice for others is to be your own advocate. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s OK to get a second opinion. Talk to people, talk to your doctors, and don’t just do what you’re told unless you feel like you’re making the right decisions. And I share with them what someone told me … it’s OK to laugh and it’s OK to cry. As long as you have that little bit of laughter along with the crying.

Surviving Breast Cancer, One Stitch at a Time

Posted By on January 15th, 2016 at 9:56 am | 0 comments.
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Survivor Heidi Kelly makes beautiful handbags. This month, she is donating a portion of her sales to the PBCC!

Heidi Kelly, Berks County

Four years ago I saw something on my breast … not a lump, a dent. I thought it was a bruise but it wasn’t going away. After a while I kind of knew what it was but I didn’t want to think about it. At that time Giuliana Rancic of E! Entertainment News was going through breast cancer treatment and whenever I saw her I thought maybe I should go get this checked…

When I finally told my husband he freaked out. Michael’s mom had breast cancer and he stayed up half the night talking to his sisters who are in the medical field. He called my doctor in the morning and said we’re going to get this checked. I didn’t want to go because it was our anniversary and I didn’t want to ruin the day.

I had a biopsy and a few days later it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. My husband did the research because reading about it made me too upset. The surgeon wanted to save my breasts but I didn’t want them. I just wanted to get rid of them. I had a double mastectomy and full reconstruction. Then I went on my merry way and was good for two years. Two years almost to the day I found a lump on my scar which the plastic surgeon at first thought might be a suture, but the result was breast cancer again.

During this time, I was sewing and learning how to make handbags. I was using other people’s patterns and then I started creating my own patterns. Strangers on the street started complimenting me on them and whenever I posted photos of the bags on Facebook friends would ask for them. Michael said we might want to try to turn this into a business and HKelly designs was born. Whenever I felt good enough I was sewing. My sewing machine became my therapist. This month, I’m selling handmade items on my website with proceeds going to the PA Breast Cancer Coalition!

This experience taught me that I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. I’ve always been considered an emotional type who cries at TV commercials. I was outspoken though about my breast cancer and several friends had mammograms after I talked about it openly with them. My new motto is live life now; don’t wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow might not come and not necessarily because of breast cancer. Be the individual who you are. Keeping in mind that tomorrow might not come, my husband and I travel all the time now. Las Vegas is a favorite place; in fact, we were married there in 2007 and we’ve gone back twice this year. We were in Italy last spring and we are headed to Alaska next spring!

To check out Heidi’s designs, click here.

90-Year-Old Survivor Finds the “5 Important Things”

Posted By on December 15th, 2015 at 8:24 am | 0 comments.

Audrey-Marschka-edited-for-PLAudrey Marschka, Lancaster County

Going through having breast cancer made me stop and think about the important things. I came up with five: faith, family, friends, food, and flowers.

In December 2000 I went for my regular six-month checkup. At first the doctor thought what was discovered on my breast was a cyst. But being a nurse, I knew when they kept pausing that something was wrong. It was stage 4 breast cancer. It was suggested that I could wait a few months but I didn’t want to do that. Fortunately, we found a surgeon who was willing to do it right away. I was 75 years old at the time of diagnosis and the chemo and radiation really knocked the pep out of me.

I believe my faith got me through. It’s become more and more important as I’ve gotten older. My husband Dave and I have been members of the Grandview United Methodist Church for 60 years. Recently the Sunday school children presented us with roses to commemorate that. Family is, of course, the other thing I relied on, especially Dave and our children. We have three sons, one daughter, seven grandchildren and five great-granddaughters.

It’s important to have friends and no matter where you go you can meet more, when you travel, when you volunteer, in the neighborhood, and at church. We moved into a retirement village two years ago and we’ve made more friends here. One day a lady asked me if I was always happy. I had never really thought about it but I had to say “Yes, I guess I am. It helps.”

As far as food and flowers, my mother taught me about nutrition. I knew all about it before the exam in nursing school. I still eat five to six servings of fruit and vegetables every day. It’s easy if you think about it. And flowers … oh my gosh what would I do without my garden and my sunporch!

Another thing that helped that first year was listening to good music. I like opera and classical music and jazz.

Five years ago, Dave and I got a book about tai chi and we practice that every day for 15-20 minutes and we use a stationary bike. I really believe in tai chi and it helps a lot with balance. Cancer can do a lot of things but it can’t take everything away from you either, especially those five most important things.

Montgomery County survivor “Changed by Chance”

Posted By on November 16th, 2015 at 1:15 pm | 0 comments.

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Elizabeth (Liz) Barker, Montgomery County

I had a 17-month-old son and was six months pregnant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 34 years old, had no family history and was in very good health. Doctors recommended that I abort the pregnancy to “save myself.” They said my child would be slow and small because of exposure to chemotherapy. That child is now 25 years old, has always been a varsity athlete, and is currently on full scholarship to get his Ph.D. in neuroscience.

That breast cancer diagnosis came at a time when I felt broken inside.  A year before that I had lost my little girl Lauren who was only three years old. Lauren was born with Down’s syndrome and had significant health issues. She spent her first five months in the hospital, and then came home with a tracheostomy and a tube in her stomach to eat. Within five years I had been pregnant three times, and felt like I’d spent five years in unrelenting stress.

I credit my longevity to two things: an extremely positive outlook and keeping active and healthy through yoga. After completing traditional medical treatments I saw a homeopathic physician who gave me a regimen of herbs to cleanse out the toxins from chemo. He also practices astrology and every year I went to him for a reading. Year after year he would say that when the time was right, I’d be sharing my story and be in the public eye. The year that would have been Lauren’s 25th birthday, I did a fundraiser in her memory for the Arc Alliance, a nonprofit focused on people with special needs. It filled me with love and energy, and I said now it’s time. I pledged to start exercising and to write a book about my experiences. “Changed by Chance” took two years to complete and was published this September.

As Irving Berlin said, “Life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it.” When you’re faced with adversity, I say practice the three R’s: Recognize:  whatever you’re facing and own it; Reflect: become educated to understand your options; and React: take action and move forward based on that research.

Perry County Survivor Driven to Help Others

Posted By on September 16th, 2015 at 8:27 am | 0 comments.

helen-michener-for-plHelen Michener, Perry County

I spent most of my nursing career in pediatrics but occasionally would also moonlight a few shifts a week in oncology. I decided then and there that if breast cancer ever happened to me I would have a mastectomy to feel like the cancer was gone. It DID happen to me. And my life changed forever.

My routine mammogram in October 2013 revealed areas of calcification that weren’t there the year before. I was very lucky that it hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes and it was in the early stage. I didn’t need chemo or radiation after the surgery and I’m taking tamoxifen for five years.

I feel like I breezed through it physically, but not emotionally. It changes your life. At first I wanted to just forget about it and not tell people because I didn’t want it to define me. I learned though how to integrate breast cancer into who I am rather than integrating myself into breast cancer. One of the ways I did that was to embrace the community I’m now part of with the PBCC. I visited Kristen Snoke, PBCC Community Outreach Director to discuss how I could help. It seemed like raising funds through grassroots efforts would be a good fit for me. I created a wine-tasting event, Toasting for a Cure at the Vineyard in the spring and we made $8,355. I now know that that’s very good for a first-time effort. I’m planning a fall fundraiser called Drive Out Breast Cancer, and hope to get car dealerships to donate $25 for every new car they sell throughout the month of October.

My husband Bob and I live in an intentional community of seven families who own a 140-acre farm together. It was a great place to raise our children. We have a son and a daughter and two granddaughters. My granddaughter Amelia was ten years old when I was diagnosed and she said, “You talked to Mommy for a long time and now she’s sad. Breast cancer, that’s bad, isn’t it?” I told her, “No, honey, it doesn’t have to be.” Amelia and Kasey are both part of Art Symphony for a Cause and make crafts they sell for nonprofits. They came to the wine tasting and made $170 to donate to the PBCC. The PBCC tagline “finding a cure for breast cancer now … so our daughters won’t have to” really speaks to my heart.

Luzerne County Survivor Diagnosed at 38, Finds New Lease on Life After Breast Cancer

Posted By on August 17th, 2015 at 9:15 am | 0 comments.

Melissa Cole for PLMelissa Cole – Luzerne County

My husband Mike and I were in the process of moving in with his parents. I was loading books into a crate and bruised my chest wall. When the pain didn’t go away after a while, my husband was checking the bruise and said “Do you know you have a lump in your breast?”

I was 38 years old and had done breast self-exam regularly but hadn’t found this lump. It was deeper than I could feel but the injury may have pushed it forward. I had chest X-rays done and the doctor said you need to have a mammogram.
I went to Geisinger Women’s Imaging Center and learned I have dense breast tissue. I had a lumpectomy, 33 radiation treatments and then went on anastrozole.
My family was very supportive. We were up front with our 12 year-old son Chase. He understood and was there to help me whenever I needed him. I teach toddlers at Little Meadows Learning Center and my co-workers brought us food and helped with gas money. To this day, my friends still check on me.
My friend Barb Bowman had been diagnosed with breast cancer before me and she encouraged me to go to the PBCC Conference. She said it would help me to learn how to move forward and live my life. That conference was amazing! The classes were great; I feel like I learned so much. The vendors were a big help too. I wasn’t sure at that time if I’d have to have a mastectomy and at the conference I was able to see and feel a prosthesis and know what it would be like if I had a mastectomy and didn’t have reconstruction.
Now I tell other women not to be afraid to go to the doctor if you find something. It’s important. It took cancer to settle me down but now I know my life is my life and I’m going to live it the way I need to. I’m living a happier life.
FAVORITE QUOTE: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”