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Cancer survivors share stories to help others

Oct. 09, 2013 @ 08:54 AM

HUNTINGTON — Listen to your inner voice. Know whom among your friends are “ever­greens” — who stand by you through all seasons — and lean on them. Try to find something good in every situation.

These are the messages that cancer survivors Robin Rowe, Crystal Welch and Ronna Woods gave to the women who gathered Tuesday afternoon at Guyan Golf and Country Club for the Eighth Annual Ladies in Pink Luncheon, hosted by St. Mary’s Medical Center.

The luncheon is held each year to raise awareness about breast cancer, as well as funds for St. Mary’s Pink Ribbon Fund, which offers free mammograms, diagnostic ultrasounds and breast health exams for women who are uninsured or under­insured. The program has been able to expand the screenings available recently because of the generous support of the com­munity, said Anne Hammack, clinical manager of the Breast Health Center at St. Mary’s.

Those who want to further support the Pink Ribbon Fund can go to Lee David Salon on Sunday. For a $40 donation to the fund, guests can receive haircuts, manicures, pedicures and facials.

The luncheon is a way to get a group of remarkable women together to share their stories and advice with other women in the community, said Dr. Vera Rose, vice president of oncology services at St. Mary’s. She added that it was exciting to see her former patients in attendance — survivors who are doing well and ever cheering the cause.

One of them was Welch, a nearly four-year breast cancer survivor who started attend­ing the luncheon long before her diagnosis and found herself behind the microphone for the first time this year.

Evergreens are the trees that complement the autumn leaves and spring blossoms, blend per­fectly with the summer green­ery, and are strikingly beautiful covered in winter snows, she said. And in life, evergreens take the form of family members and friends who stand with you, unwavering, in all circum­stances.

“Through my experience with cancer, I came to call on those evergreens in my life — those people you can call at 3 in the morning to pick you up at the airport,” she said.

She advised women who get that devastating news to go ahead and feel grief when they need to and then with the help of their evergreens, move on and “let joy take center stage.” Ultimately, we’re all the same and should connect with and support each other, she said.

Woods, a medical social worker at St. Mary's, said she had no warning signs for her breast cancer. No pain, no family history, small breasts with a history of breast-feeding four children. She thought she was in the clear, but her doctor told her she was due for a mammogram. And it found a tumor.

Woods said she was angry about it at first. After surgery, reconstruction and chemo, she reflected on the experience and recalled words she often heard from her father while she was growing up, sometimes when she was being punished.

He always told her to try to find something good, something that she learned from the situation. Among the things she learned through breast cancer is how many good people there are in the community, people who truly want to help. You'd think the infusion center at HIMG where patients get chemotherapy would be a depressing place, she said, but the people there make it the opposite.

"I had so many people come up to me in the hallways at St. Mary's and say, 'I'm a survivor, if there's anything I can do to help," Woods said. "People are wonderful. I've really seen that through this." Rowe was diagnosed with lymphoma in March, at a very busy time for her that followed a couple years filled with stressful life events - a divorce, five deaths in the family, two children leaving the nest and a new job. She had subtle symptoms that could also be attributed to stress. But she listened to her inner voice's advice to get tested anyway. The test found cancer covering a sizable part of her abdomen.

"You have an inner voice. Please use it," she said. "We call it different things. Some people call it a gut feeling or intuition. I believe it is God speaking to you." While there's merit to her grandmother's old expression, "Worry and fear are a lack of faith," Rowe said, she also believes that God might give you fear for a reason, and you just have to balance it with your faith.

"I encourage you to listen to your inner voice without letting fear take over," said Rowe, director of patient experience at St. Mary's.

Surround yourself with people who bring you peace, she said, adding that she has a basket of cards from people saying that they're praying for her, as well as Facebook friends and a workplace at St. Mary's filled with people who are praying for her.

That's a pretty incredible thing, she said.



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