Survivor Stories: 2019


 

Beth Leatherman//breast cancer fighter//Cancer Survivors Park volunteer//enjoys walking her dog, Ritz//lover of gardening and cooking//retired marketing manager with Fluor Corporation

“In 1996, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with breast cancer through a routine mammogram.”

“I kind of got on a health kick.  I started running and exercising more and paying more attention to my health.   My initial reaction was that I wasn’t terribly concerned because it was not in my lymph nodes.   So we did a lumpectomy and a lymph node dissection.   Since it wasn’t in my lymph nodes, I didn’t have to do chemotherapy.  My surgeon was very positive about getting it all with the lumpectomy and gave me a good prognosis.”

“17 years later, on Christmas Eve 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.   Not exactly the news you want to hear at any time, but especially not on Christmas Eve. I had been going to my family doctor probably a good year complaining that I was having pain in the upper part of my stomach in the area of my rib cage.   My doctor kept telling me it was acid reflux, but I decided to take it upon myself to go to a gastroenterologist.   The gastroenterologist started running blood tests which revealed my liver enzyme levels were out of the roof.   We then did a CT scan and found abnormalities in my liver.   After that, I had a biopsy done and the biopsy came back positive.  I was sent to an oncologist right away.   By Monday, December 27th, 2013 I started chemotherapy.  I went through six months of aggressive chemotherapy.  I continue to see my oncologist monthly and take oral chemo medication.”

“I think I was very positive the first time around.   That’s not to say that it wasn’t scary.  I was scared, but sometimes you just need a wakeup call about life.   The second time around was definitely more serious as it had metastasized to my liver.”

“You think cancer of the liver, that’s really bad, you can’t live without your liver.   Everybody was scared and they were all thinking deep down, “she’s not going to make it,” without verbalizing it to me.   I think it brought me and my friends and family closer together.   We get together more often and take trips together.”

“I’m retired now, so I don’t have that added stress.   I’m able to pay more attention to the fatigue that comes along with the chemo so I can rest a bit more during the day.”

“My most memorable and fun time was when I lost my hair.  Once you lose so much, you end up shaving off what little bit of hair you have left.   I invited several of my girlfriends and my couple friends over to my house for a “hair today, gone tomorrow” celebration.   We made it a fun evening.   We had pizza, a champagne toast, and my husband shaved my head.   My friends brought over some cute beanie type hats and scarves that I modeled.   So it turned a sad time of my life into a fun event.”

“I know everyone’s cancer is different and I’m blessed that this has not gotten me down mentally or physically.   I know there are cancer patients who are much worse off than I am. There are days I get up and feel so good and I think I’ve been miss-diagnosed, but of course the tests prove different.  Your body reacts to cancer in different ways.   The treatments are tough, but I would just tell anyone who is going through this to do your best to stay positive.”

 

INTERVIEW BY AMY DOSER//PHOTO BY PATRICK COX

Robin Wilson//50 years old//survivor of breast cancer//wife to James//mother to Blakely and Riley//pediatric dentist//secretary for the All In Foundation//board of the Cancer Society//lover of photography//two dogs, Millie and Hunter (after Hunter Renfrow)//Clemson fan//volunteer


Interview by Amy Doser//Photo by Patrick Cox 

“I was diagnosed in 2011 with breast cancer and there’s really no history of it in my family.” 

“I kept having this pain under my right arm and I wondered what in the world is that. The pain, I’m a tough nut, but the pain would come, and it would go. Finally, after about 3 months, I texted one of my best friends, who also happens to be my OBGYN, and I said what are we going to do? Within 5 minutes her nurse was calling me, and I had an ultrasound and a mammogram scheduled. It wasn’t even time for my mammogram yet. Because of my dense breast tissue, they didn’t really see anything. Then they said let’s get an ultrasound and that is when they picked up a little something that they thought was suspicious. And then around a week later, I did a biopsy that confirmed the breast cancer so, it was a blessing that it was discovered.”

“I got a phone call on Monday morning and the following Wednesday, after having about 8-10 appointments, I had my double mastectomy, which was about 9 days later.”

“One of my scariest things was not the surgery. I did end up having to do 4 rounds of chemo, it was precautionary, but Dr. Gluck looked at me and said, “if you were my wife, I would ask you to do it.” That was the second time I cried. The first was when I found out I had cancer and the second was when I found out I had to do chemo. You can’t let this stuff stop your life. You have to keep rolling and do the best you can.” 

“My temperament is not passive or quiet. I have that temperament of let’s get it done. So, when I found out that I had it I said, “Nobody needs breast tissue to survive, to feel like a woman, so I don’t need that. I want both of them gone.’ And they were like hold on let’s go over all of this. I had made up my mind. I would listen, but it wasn’t changing.”

“I have two daughters, Blakely, 21, and Riley, 19. You know there were a few little tears at first and they were worried. I looked at them and said, ‘ladies, mama’s got this, so let’s do what we’ve got to do.’”

“You know when you first find out about breast cancer you go, “why me?” And immediately I thought “why not me?” When you have people who you love and people who love you and you have that support system and that mindset, while none of this is easy, and it’s not something you would raise your hand and say, “pick me I want to do this,” you just feel that you can go through it.” 

“My word of the year is “intentional”. Be intentional. Intentional in what you say, in how you act. This whole mess it’s what helped me on the other side to just be more intentional with my time, with who I spend it with, with what I do, with what I say, with how I act. Because you never know who’s watching and you never really know the ramifications of that. Live life to the fullest because it might be gone tomorrow. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got. That’s the take home message for anybody.” 

“I hate cancer. I pray that one day we’ll all be able to be cured from it.”

Interview by Amy Doser//Photo by Patrick Cox
To read more of the Survivors Series visit: http:// www.cancersurvivorspark.org /survivor-series.php

Kiyania Williams//28 years old//survivor of ovarian cancer//daughter//sister//psychiatric technician//getting a Masters Degree in Counseling//traveler 

Interview by Amy Doser//Photo by Patrick Cox 

“I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March of 2015.   I have been cancer free since my first surgery a month after I was diagnosed.” 

“Looking back at it now, I had the symptoms but at the time I didn’t know what it was.     My mom was like there is just no way that you’re sleepy all this time.   I woke up late one night and was vomiting at 3 o’clock in the morning.  I just thought it was a stomach virus and so I went to work, but later that evening I looked at my mom and said, I need to go to the doctor.   She knew something was wrong because I never ask to go to the doctor.   When I got to the doctor, I was feeling excruciating abdominal pain.  They ran tests, scans, did blood work and they thought it was my appendix.  I was sent to Greenville Memorial Hospital. They did a scan and an ultrasound and found out there was a cyst on my ovary.”   

“They were telling me I could go home for 2 weeks and take some medication and see if it will dissolve or I could have emergency surgery, but there was a 50% chance I would lose my ovary.  I thought, well I’m tired of this pain, so I’m just going to get the surgery.  When they went in, the ovarian cyst was actually a tumor and the cancer had eaten at my ovary.  My first surgery was in March and the second surgery for the second ovary was 6 months after that.”  

“As a child, I always thought that if I had a life changing moment or devastating news given to me about my health I wouldn’t tell anybody.   That was always my thing, I’m not telling anybody.” 

“I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my family and my boyfriend.  Looking back on it, when I was diagnosed, I wouldn’t change anything about it.  I know people say I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.  I know I wouldn’t wish this experience on anybody, but I think I needed this experience because it gave me a new perspective on life.” 

“I was able to do a health symposium maybe 6 months after my surgery where 90+ people came out.  I was able to educate people.  People reached out to me and I was able to help a lot of women because being African American you don’t assume that black people get ovarian cancer.  I was able to be an advocate and come to the health symposiums that the South Carolina Ovarian Cancer Foundation had in Greenville.” 

“It’s a surreal moment being a survivor and a huge blessing because not a lot people make it out saying they’re a survivor.   I see a lot of women and a lot of family members attending the ovarian cancer meetings who have a mom or a sister who died, so it’s a huge blessing I take to heart.”

“I would like people to understand that you can’t do it alone.  It’s ok to have help to get through it.  Be knowledgeable of the cancer you’re diagnosed with.    Be able to understand the doctor’s language, do research on everything that is going on with the surgery.   Ask all kinds of questions, don’t just settle for the first thing you’re told.”  

“I don’t know sometimes if I’m living life on the edge.  I’m cautious when it comes to health stuff but I live on the edge when it comes to experiences, different life experiences and traveling stuff.”

Read more from the Survivor Series @bit.ly/CSPSurvivorSeries. Photo by Patrick Cox. Interview by Amy Doser. #survivorspark

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COURTNEY TURNER (39 Y/O)//WIFE TO BRAD//MOTHER TO 6 Y/O NOLA//LIFELONG WRITER//PART TIME BLOGGER//FORMER EDUCATOR//FIGHTER OF COLORECTAL CANCER

 COURTNEY LEFT THIS LIFE OCTOBER 2019.  HER WISH WAS TO SHARE HER STORY.

INTERVIEW BY AMY DOSER//PHOTO BY PATRICK COX 

“I was diagnosed in October of 2015 with colorectal cancer. The unique part about that to me is that I’ve grown up with Crohn’s Disease which is an autoimmune disease affecting the colon.  I’d lost parts of my colon to Crohn’s Disease, which is why it took a little time to diagnose.  As far as the doctors were concerned I was a bit of a medical anomaly.”

“I was very ill from a young age with other things, but I think cancer is shocking for anybody.  At some point pretty early in the process, the disease metastasized to my lungs which is common with colon cancer…we kinda knew then we needed to take a very aggressive approach.  Where we are is at a stage of running out of options, maybe already run out of options, and we’re trying to find ways to appreciate the time I have right now.  It does feel a bit more urgent as far as applying it to direct parts of my life specifically my husband and my daughter.”

“When I was diagnosed she wasn’t quite 3, she was just over 2. And I will say that for most of her 2nd year, I was very sick up until the diagnosis.  I can reflect back and realize that my daughter has probably only known a sick mommy and sometimes that weighs heavy and sometimes there’s the thought that she will be the most empathetic, compassionate adult that she can be having experienced this at such a young age.”

“We never called it just “sick”.   We explained it was cancer, we explained where it was.  At the end of the day this is my reality, it is my life that I am living.”

“I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I have a lot of weight on sweating the little things that actually did turn out to be little things now that the big picture is.   I can definitely say I am at peace with where I am and how it will go.   I will never be at peace worrying about them.”

“I emailed Kay regarding the park and its purpose because I just envision an opportunity for anyone who would want to come together and want to celebrate Nola and share with Nola and Brad what they knew about me.  I wanted to see if it was possible to have some sort of celebration of life.   I wanted to see if that was an intended purpose of the park because we’ve enjoyed seeing it be constructed.  I have a plaque on the bridge with my name on it.  Nola goes and finds it and thinks she’s a celebrity.   We’ve enjoyed that part of it.”

“It’s ok for life to be hard.  We all just need to react in a way that works for us. Sometimes I was really hard on myself like ‘if I had been positive would that cancer have gotten better?’  A lot of people keep looking for the grass to be greener.  A lot of people keep looking for as my husband says, the stations of the journey, but it’s really about the journey.  The journey is what matters.”

“I met my life dream when I became a wife and a mother. However my story ends no one will ever be able to say she gave up.  I’ve fought to the very last second.   It’s been a long fight and I wouldn’t want anyone around me to think I just gave in.  I just hope to leave little nuggets of me somewhere.  I think everybody’s story is worth hearing because they’re so different.  There’s probably uniqueness and probably similarities to everybody.  I don’t regret any of it, every bit of it was exactly as it should have been as far as timing.”

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Read more from the Survivor Series @bit.ly/CSPSurvivorSeries. Photo by Patrick Cox. Interview by Amy Doser. #survivorspark

 

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