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Courage STORIES OF

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Published by

HOUSTON Publications, Incorporated

1210 Washington Street P.O. Box 1910 Perry, GA 31069 Phone: 478-987-1823 www.hhjonline.com


Stories of Courage

CONTENTS

8

Angela Heath

Angela explains her battle with Breast Cancer.

12

Monica Wilburn

Monica goes from tears to recovery in her battle with Cancer.

15

Mary Ann Watson Find out how Mary used her family as motivation to beat Cancer.

16

Janet Shoenfelt

Janet shares her journey to being Cancer-free.

18

Solange Koehle

Solange put her faith in God on her Journey to defeat Cancer.


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ANGELA

HEATH

By LATASHA FORD Journal Staff Writer lford@hhjnews.com


T

he battle may not be quite over for Angela Heath, but that doesn’t mean she’s giving up. In March 2012, she had a normal mammogram.

“Everything was fine,” Heath said. “I did not have any problems. I did not have any symptoms. It was just a routine mammogram.” Then, in August, her right breast had almost doubled in size. Between March and August, she developed a tumor that was the size of a baseball. “It was not misdiagnosed in March. It was just not there,” Heath said. “I had several doctors go back and look at the mammogram. It was not there in March. It was a very aggressive and fast-growing cancer.” It wasn’t until October that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I started in August going to the doctor and getting tests, but the tests kept coming back negative,” she explained. “But, my doctor was very persistent. I think he knew it all along.” Once she had minor surgery, they were able to diagnosis her in October. The cancer had already advanced to stage III. Heath had neoadjuvant chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before undergoing surgery. From November through February, she had a high dosage of chemotherapy. The tumor shrunk to almost nothing. Heath said she had surgery in March or April over spring break. She had a double mastectomy. After the surgery, she had 33 treatments of radiation. She said her reaction to being told that she had breast cancer was devastation. However, she also said to herself, “What are we going to do? What’s our next step? How are we going to approach this?” “I was very trusting of all of my doctors who have been phenomenal. All of my caregivers have been outstanding and just wonderful,” she said. Heath is the first to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her family. She said God and prayers from many people is the only reason she is alive today. “This entire community embraced me in a way that

I could never repay them,” she said. “They really carried us through that.”

sons, twins Alex and Steven, 21, and Timothy, 17, who is a junior at Perry High School.

Heath, who has been teaching English at Perry High School for 13 years but has been teaching a total of 15 years, said she worked almost the entire time.

“I have daughters here and sisters in my life who are not my biological family,” she added, smiling.

“I took off a couple of days,” she said. “Every time I got chemotherapy treatment, the entire school made sure I had everything I needed. I could just come to this room and teach and then I could leave.” Heath said the students were so good to not touch her or hug her while she was undergoing chemotherapy and they kept the classroom germ-free. “The administration and the staff here at Perry High School were just phenomenal,” she said. Her students put together a 5K Run, “Angels for Angie,” raising more than $8,000 to help her with medical expenses. Heath said her husband, Mark, was self-employed at the time. “He stayed with me through everything, so that really helped pay for our living expenses,” she said. Her church and other local churches were very supportive as well and started a meal train for her family. “I think we had a meal every night at our house from October to March,” she said. “There was not one day that we didn’t have food that people brought to our house.” Heath added, “When I think about who God is and the way that he provided, I think about my front door. I think about how many people he sent through the front door of my home to minister to me, to encourage me and to carry me. That’s exactly what he did. He continues to carry me through everything.” With a large circle of supporters in the community, she said she’s concerned about the people who go through these similar experiences and don’t have such a large circle. “It’s very important for us to support local women,” she said, mentioning Ta Ta Bang! Bang! and Color Me Pink, which both support local women struggling with breast cancer. “I think sometimes people don’t know what to do when someone has been diagnosed with cancer, but you can’t go wrong with sending food, asking for what they need or cleaning their house,” Heath said. “Sometimes I think people want to talk about anything other than cancer. They don’t necessarily want to talk about it all the time. They just want to go through their lives as normally as possible.”

Originally from Atlanta, Heath said Perry is home. She said the community has motivated her, but “I was held steadfastly by the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” “He sustained me and continues to sustain me each day,” she said. Heath was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in December 2014. She currently takes a chemotherapy pill three weeks out of the month and gets blood work done every month. “I’m alive and I’m here,” she said. “I’m able to go through my daily functions just like anyone else.” Heath said she has some close friends who went through cancer treatments and were able to talk her through the process. As a result, she’s made a lot of healthy living changes. She said her husband even started growing vegetables.

“I’ve had help from people who have walked this path before me,” she said. Her advice to those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer is: “Seek the face of the Lord and he will not turn his face away from you. He will lift up the brokenhearted. He will comfort those who need comforting. The Lord always knows exactly what we need.” Heath said the focus of breast cancer awareness during the month of October is valid and important, but there are people with many different types of cancer and sometimes those get overshadowed in October. “There are people of need around us everywhere and we don’t need to solely focus just on breast cancer in October,” she said. “Breast cancer patients need us all throughout the year and other people suffer with other things.” Heath further advised, “Be wise on how you choose to invest your money. Just because something is pink doesn’t mean it’s going to breast cancer research.” “The best thing you could do would be to show love and compassion to someone who is a patient,” she said.

She said her family has been very strong and amazing. She and her husband have three

Stories ofCourage

9


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Stories ofCourage

11


By LATASHA FORD Journal Staff Writer lford@hhjnews.com

Warner Robins attorney Monica Wilburn, 43, was determined to not let cancer keep her down. “Sometimes the situation, there is not much you can do, but what you can do about it is your state of mind,” she said. “I believe that helps with the healing process. I definitely feel like those support systems and me continuing on my routine day helped me get through what I was going through.” At age 42, Wilburn was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer in 2015. With her getting a mammogram done annually since age 35 and having no history of breast cancer in her family, it was a total shock to be told that she had breast cancer. She felt a lump in her right breast one day after getting out of the shower. “I got out of the shower and thought that I saw something odd,” Wilburn said.

MONICA

WILBURN

She did a normal breast examination and spoke with her husband, Joe, who advised that it was likely a cyst or some kind of growth. She convinced herself that it was nothing to be concerned about. Therefore, she didn’t take anyone with her to her appointment when she was officially diagnosed. Wilburn had decided to schedule an appointment with her treating physician. “When he felt a lump, he immediately was concerned and asked me to head on over for a breast mammogram,” she said. “The radiologist said that she needed to get permission to do an ultrasound. She wasn’t very happy with what she thought she saw.” Wilburn felt that it must not have been good. “Sure enough, when she did the ultrasound, she told me she wanted me to immediately return for a biopsy because she was 90 percent sure that based on the lump and calcification that it was probably cancerous,” she said. A week later, Wilburn returned and three different lumps were found in her breast. A biopsy was performed on all three lumps. She was advised to get in contact with an oncologist. Two days later, she got the phone call from her treating physician, confirming that she had cancer and for her to contact an oncologist as soon as possible. She recalled getting this phone call 10 minutes before her meeting with the


Houston County Bar executive board. “I was shocked initially,” Wilburn said. “At some point, there were tears.” After telling her husband the results, he recommended that she cancel the meeting and stay home. She told him that life cannot stop and she was going to continue on. She noted that the sitting president of the board at the time was a breast cancer survivor. “I knew that she was familiar with what I just now was going through,” Wilburn said, noting a lot of thoughts were going through her head. She figured that it would be a good opportunity to speak with her after the meeting and get a recommendation on an oncologist. Wilburn consulted with a couple of doctors. “As much as there has been breast cancer awareness, I realized that I definitely was ignorant to the entire extent of it,” she said. She learned immediately that a lumpectomy was not an option. She was consistently told that she needed chemotherapy and to have a mastectomy. Wilburn ultimately decided to have chemotherapy. Another lump was found

in her left breast, but fortunately, it was not cancerous. Not wanting to take any chances, Wilburn said she had both of her breasts removed. She immediately started chemotherapy for eight months. Wilburn said what she was most surprised about going through this experience was how uninformed she was. She later found out that the type of cancer she had was HER2-positive, which is fed by hormones. “What they needed to do was to stop my hormones because that’s what was helping those cancerous cells grow,” she explained. Wilburn said she wasn’t told until six or seven months later that the chemo basically kicked her into menopause. “I knew that the chemo and the type of drugs they were putting me on were killing the cells, but I didn’t realize the after effect and what that meant,” she said, noting she also found out that the cancer was in her lymph nodes. Wilburn said her husband flew her mother, a retired registered nurse, in who spent three to four months with her. She said she was determined to not let her situation interrupt being there for her kids, Maya, 16, and Jason, 13, who are active in sports. She said she asked her mother, “Why do I feel like I’m the first lady ever diagnosed with cancer?” On the morning of her double mastectomy, Wilburn said she was able to finally meet with a cancer consultant, who walked her through the entire process and prepared her for what to expect. Trying to hold back tears, she said the consultant even made sure that she had prosthesis so that after the surgery, she wouldn’t feel any different. “It made a huge difference,” Wilburn said. “I would have loved to have had her at the beginning of the process.” She added, “I definitely don’t want anyone feeling so lost.” As a planner, Wilburn said she likes to know what to expect. With tears in her eyes again, she said she was prepared to lose her hair, but she wasn’t prepared to also lose her eyebrows, eyelashes, fingernails and toenails. She recalled being in the grocery store trying to pick up a water bottle for her daughter’s game and one of her fingernails flew off.

Stories ofCourage

“In the grand scheme of things, I’m here and I’m alive, and I’ll take that over the alternative without a doubt,” Wilburn said. She is currently cancer-free but still on cancer drugs and has follow-ups with her doctor. Wilburn said her family was her biggest motivation. She commended her mother for driving her to her son’s soccer games out of town, as well as her husband for being so supportive. “There were a lot of times that he had to be 120 percent to keep us going and he didn’t complain,” she said, holding back tears. “It makes a difference.” Despite her tears, Wilburn said she’s on the other side doing much better. “These are good tears,” she said, smiling. “I’m very grateful.” Wilburn has been practicing law in Georgia since 2007, but has had her own practice, the Law Office of Monica Wilburn on Byrd Way in Warner Robins, since 2011. In February, she was appointed as the judge of the city of Warner Robins Municipal Court, and then in August, she was appointed as a parttime magistrate judge of Houston County. She is the 2016 Houston County Bar president. Wilburn said to be appointed as a judge sitting on two benches and to have a practice that is doing very well with a great staff and a fantastic family, “Life is good. It could be a lot worse.” Her advice to others diagnosed with breast cancer is to “keep your head up and educate yourself.”

“Figure out what works for you, and plan on surviving it. Then, as you’re going through the bumps of it, you know that it’s only temporary. It’s not going to be a permanent thing,” Wilburn advised. She chooses to live life and to not live in fear. She’s going to be diligent with her mammograms, conscientious of what’s going on inside and outside of her body and stay in shape. “I appreciate every day,” she said. “You can’t dwell on the what-ifs.”

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Married almost 30 years, Watson said Dennis “has always been there.” She said he’s laid back and is the kind of person who tries to figure things out. “He’s always supportive,” she said. Watson also commended her doctor for making things easier for her. “He explained things to me,” she said. She didn’t undergo chemotherapy but underwent radiation at the cancer center in Warner Robins for 28 days, which she received a higher dose for a short amount of time. After lumpectomies, she decided to go through with a double mastectomy. Due to some health issues, Watson’s reconstruction isn’t totally complete. She had a stroke in April 2015. Not the first to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her family, Watson follows behind her aunt, grandmother and a cousin. Therefore, she said it didn’t surprise her when she was diagnosed as well. The doctor was able to catch her breast cancer early.

MARY ANN

WATSON By LATASHA FORD Journal Staff Writer lford@hhjnews.com Mary Ann Watson of Warner Robins says her family is what got her through after being diagnosed with breast cancer on Valentine’s Day. Known as the day of love, Watson’s family and fire family pulled together to show her exactly that — love and support.

With her family having different illnesses, she said she learned from those experiences. Her father died of leukemia, and her mother died from complications of diabetes. Watson says her family and friends got her through everything.

“My motivation was my family, especially my grandchildren,” she said. “I also have the best doctors around.” She has three children and nine grandchildren. “A lot of people don’t have the support I had,” she said. As a volunteer support person for the Houston County Fire Department for three or four years, Watson said her fire family was very supportive. “They have been friends and family,” she said. “That’s what get you through things.”

On Feb. 14, 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast, which was found by a mammogram. She said her doctor told her the news in person.

Watson, who used to fight fires, became a volunteer firefighter in 1987. She has been with the Houston County Fire Department for 10 years.

To be told on Valentine’s Day was a surreal moment for Watson, but she said you do not want to be told on any day that you have breast cancer. Her husband, Dennis, was with her in the doctor’s office. She said they had plans to go to dinner, but that day now had extra meaning.

Watson is cancer-free today. She said she has gained an appreciation of life.

Watson said her reaction to being told that she had breast cancer was numbness and then she became frightened.

“Always tell your family you love them because tomorrow is never guaranteed,” she advised. Her advice to newly diagnosed cancer patients is: “Get all of the information that you can so that you can make an informed decision about your own health. Join a support group; it helps.”

15


By LATASHA FORD Journal Staff Writer lford@hhjnews.com

JANET

SHOENFELT at work in the middle of the day when he called me,” she said. “We spoke briefly and after he told me that the lump in my breast was, in fact, breast cancer, my only statement to him was, ‘Well, what’s the next step and what do we do about this?’”

When diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma of her right breast in July 2012, Janet Shoenfelt decided then to stand up, fight and beat cancer. “Although my mammogram from the previous year was normal, my GYN doctor discovered a mass at my annual appointment that he felt was suspicious, and I was sent for a biopsy,” said Shoenfelt, who is a paralegal at a law firm in Macon. Three days after the biopsy, her doctor called her at her office and gave her the news. “Normally doctors do not call with test results like these, but he was on vacation that week and I insisted that he call me rather than waiting until he returned to the office. I was

16

After he said that he would set her up with an appointment when he returned, she went right back to work. “My coworkers were a little confused by my reaction, but I knew that I had two choices – I could stand up and fight or I could crawl into a little ball and let it defeat me. I decided that very day that I would fight it and win,” Shoenfelt said. One of the hardest things for her was telling her husband of 23 years, two sons and other family members and friends.

doctor for a second opinion, and he agreed that a mastectomy was the best course of action. “I worked right up until the date I had my mastectomy, which was roughly three weeks after my diagnosis,” she said. “It kept me busy and occupied my mind. After my mastectomy, my oncologist did a specialized test on my cancer specimen to determine the best treatment for my type of breast cancer. It took almost two months for the results, which was agonizing.” The test results indicated that the best course of treatment for her type of cancer was 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

She was referred to an oncologist and a surgeon, and it was decided that she would have a mastectomy of her right breast.

After a mastectomy and chemotherapy, the oncologist said the chances of her cancer returning would be reduced between 1 to 2 percent.

However, Shoenfelt conferred with another

Shoenfelt started chemotherapy in October,

Stories ofCourage


Early Detection

Symptoms & Signs of Breast Cancer

By performing monthly breast self-exams, you will be able to more easily identify any changes in your breast. Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you notice anything unusual.

A change in how the breast or nipple feels Nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area A change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast (some describe this as similar to an orange peel’s texture) A lump in the breast (It’s important to remember that all lumps should be investigated by a healthcare professional, but not all lumps are cancerous.)

A change in the breast or nipple appearancE Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast Dimpling anywhere on the breast Unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if on one side only)

Any nipple discharge — particularly clear discharge or bloody discharge

Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only) Recent asymmetry of the breasts (Although it is common for women to have one breast that is slightly larger than the other, if the onset of asymmetry is recent, it should be checked.) Nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted

It is also important to note that a milky discharge that is present when a woman is not breastfeeding should be checked by her doctor, although it is not linked with breast cancer.

Skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen or may have ridges or pitting resembling the skin of an orange

(www.nationalbreastcancer.org, 2016)

finished in mid-December and went back to work in January 2013.

She said her family, friends and coworkers were all very supportive.

“I waited until March of 2014 to start my reconstruction and it involved three surgeries. First, the plastic surgeon put a spacer in and it involved an appointment every other week to add more saline to help stretch the tissue,” she said. “The plastic surgeon did a LD flap procedure on me, which was quite painful. Then, in December of 2014, I had the final surgery where the permanent implant was put in the right breast, and the symmetry surgery was done on the left breast.”

“I quickly learned the value of being diligent with my annual appointments and mammograms. It was the key to my early detection, diagnosis and successful treatment,” Shoenfelt said.

Not only is Shoenfelt a breast cancer survivor in her family, but her mother, who was diagnosed in 1997 at the age of 55, is also a survivor. “I think my ‘get up and fight’ attitude helped me a lot during this process. I never let myself get down or started feeling sorry for myself,” she said. “It’s strange to say, but even after having been diagnosed with breast cancer, I still knew that so many people in this world had it worse than me. I stayed busy and did my best to keep living life like it wasn’t happening.”

For those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, Shoenfelt advises: “Lean on the

people who love you for support. Make sure you are comfortable with your team of doctors. And equally as important, educate yourself and take control of your treatment. Ask questions. Ask the doctor what the options are and for each option, ask: ‘How will this affect my overall outcome?’ and ‘What happens if I don’t?’ The decision about your treatment must be yours. Make sure it’s an informed one.”

Cancer-free today, she said, “I am on five years of what they call an oral chemotherapy medication, with one year to go.”

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S

SOLANGE

KOEHLE

By LATASHA FORD Journal Staff Writer lford@hhjnews.com

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Breast Cancer Fact About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. (breastcancer.org, 2016)

After being by her husband’s side as he battled cancer, Solange Koehle soon found herself facing her own fight with breast cancer.

said. “For me, it was like I was being carried by God’s hands.”

In 2008, she had a mammogram done and then later that year, she felt a lump in her right breast. After two and a half weeks, she still felt a lump and decided that she needed to have it checked. “I went to my OB/GYN. He didn’t see anything on the mammogram. He asked me to go to a surgeon in Macon,” she said, noting an ultrasound was done.

Two days following her biopsy, her husband, William “Bill,” called the doctor who had just gotten the results. He waited until he got home to tell her the news. “I remember I was in the restroom just doing my hair,” Koehle said. “He walked in and I said, ‘Well, did you get the results?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ By the tone of his voice, I knew.”

She said she couldn’t even remember the pain she felt. “I knew the Lord was right there present with me,” Koehle said. “I think it was a wake-up call.” She added, “It’s all for God’s glory.” Koehle is the first to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her family. She noted her mother had colon cancer. “My doctors think that it may have been due to hormones,” she said. “There are some types of hormones that can cause breast cancer.” She said by experiencing this, she appreciates every moment.

“It’s a gift from God,” she said.

She was diagnosed with stage I, grade 1 breast cancer. “Of course, we don’t ever expect to hear that,” she said. “It’s like cuss words. I cried and he held me. But, we’re Christians and we put our faith in the Lord. I just thought, ‘If this is it, that’s your will, Lord. Let it be done.’” In 2009, Koehle had a double mastectomy. She said that entire year was focused on her recovery. She asked to leave her job at the time due to her undergoing chemotherapy. She also had reconstruction done.

A year after her surgery, Koehle was featured in a Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation calendar for the central Georgia area.

“It was very special,” she said.

Koehle said her family went through the struggles with her, but she felt like a higher power was getting her through it all.

“I know it affected them but in a different way,” she

Koehle said she used to try to be in control of things. “But, you’re not,” she said. “God is in control. Just give him the wheel and go on a ride with him.” She said her biggest motivation was her husband. Almost three years prior to her being diagnosed with breast cancer, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. “He never acted like he had cancer,” Koehle said, adding that he never worried about what he was going through. Unaware that she would later be diagnosed with breast cancer, she said she learned from her husband’s strength. Not thinking that she could go through cancer the way her husband did, she said, “The only way was the Lord.” Koehle and her husband are both cancer-free today. She advises for women to have their mammograms and to do a breast self-exam also. Her advice to those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer is: “Never give up hope, because there is always hope. Just remember that God is healing you no matter what. Get closer to the Lord.” Originally born in Brazil, Koehle and her husband moved to Perry from Alabama in 1992. They have three children, Will, 30, Shelby, 28, and Kurt, 23. Koehle is a paraprofessional at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Warner Robins.

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Stories of courage 2016