Breast Cancer Survivors Offer Hope, Share Misconceptions

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Saturday at Hammons Field, thousands of people will be celebrating breast cancer survivors and giving hope to those still fighting. The Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk is a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. Each year, certain survivors are honored for overcoming their battle with cancer. This year’s Portraits of Hope honorees have two very different stories.

“Because of my family history with breast cancer, I was always self-checking,” said survivor Edith Van Hoesen. “Even one of my son’s pointed out, we were just waiting to see how this was going to turn out. We knew this was going to be apart of our lives in some way.”

In September 2015, those suspicions were confirmed when Edith found a lump in her breast.

“I did chemo first, had surgery then did radiation after that,” Edith said. “When you’re in chemo and you have the powerful chemo drugs, you’re hair is going to fall out. And they tell you that, but there’s nothing that prepares you for that happening.”

As a hair stylist, Rhonda Birlew knew that would be a challenge for her, too.

“I didn’t wear a wig,” Rhonda said. “I wore scarves. Mine is a very different story.”

With no family history of cancer, the diagnosis came as a surprise, especially since there was no lump.

“I went to my primary care physician for annual blood work, and she noticed a symptom that I had not noticed; a clear discharge that I had not noticed,” Rhonda said. “She sent me immediately for a mammogram and ultrasound that both came up negative. So they scheduled me for another test, which is a galactogram, which is an ink dye test, again came up negative. So when I spoke to the doctor about that, he suggested I wait, gosh that was October, so until February to come back to have it checked out again. And at the urging of a friend of mine, She said ‘you need to contact this surgeon.’ So I contacted a surgeon at Cox and he wanted to see me. I had surgery I had pathology, and it came back that I had breast cancer.”

Both women say it’s important to tell their stories, so others battling breast cancer know what to expect, and that they’re not alone.

“My favorite thing to do is to talk one-on-one with people because when someone can step up and say look, this is how it’s going to go, it really makes a difference,” Edith said.

“There is hope,” Rhonda said. “Keep yourself informed and make sure that you take care of yourself mentally and physically because the mental thing is a big thing with all cancers.”

Both women credit the American Cancer Society for its information and programs, such as the Look Good Feel Good program. Rhonda said she ties t-shirt scarves at the survivor table at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. It’s something she learned to do in the Look Good Feel Good program, and she enjoys seeing women feel confident again.

The Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk is Saturday (Oct. 27) at 9 a.m. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.

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