Cancer Survivors Celebrated at 2018 Relay for Life
The Survivors Reception at the June 9 Fauquier Relay for Life event offered good food and inspiring conversation — with steadfast folks who have survived (or are surviving) cancer.
Sharing a table at the reception were Jackie Keller, Sarah Mawyer, and Michele LeBlanc. Every survivor’s story is unique, but all three of these women have battled breast cancer and won — and all three are upbeat and grateful for every day that is given to them.
Jackie Keller, now a volunteer greeter at Fauquier Hospital, had a mastectomy in 2009, two days after her retirement party. “I was fortunate. A mammography found it so soon that I didn’t have to have chemo. I tell everyone, ‘Have a mammogram. Catch it early.’ ”
Sarah Mawyer works in the materials management department at Fauquier Hospital. She helps in the storeroom and delivers mail around the health system. She said that she had two lumpectomies after her first diagnosis in 2011; when those surgeries did not eradicate the cancer, she had a double mastectomy. Five and a half years later, she had some itchy skin near the scar tissue on her chest. The oncologist immediately sent her for a screening and found that the cancer was back. “It was just a little itch on my skin. That was the only symptom. The cancer was in the muscle.”
This second round of cancer treatment was especially challenging. “Chemo was horrible for me,” said Sarah. “Leg cramps kept me from sleeping. I’d be sitting there in the dark, miserable. I couldn’t eat. I was dehydrated. I just couldn’t see an end to it.”
It was rough, but she said support from friends and family made it bearable. “My work family was great. They were with me every step of the way. My daughter came with me to every appointment and kept a journal for me. I tried not to stress about it. I stayed busy, I lived my life.”
Michele LeBlanc, a member of Fauquier Health’s Medical Imaging team, had four separate tumors; one was DCIS, a type that stays in the ducts and doesn’t spread, but the other three were malignant, with some cancer cells in one lymph node.
She said that she has only an 11 percent chance of a recurrence, but even so, it’s often on her mind: “It’s hard not to worry about every little bump you feel.”
All three women are concerned for their children. Michele said, “I want my daughter to be monitored.”
Sarah, mother of five and grandmother of ten, added, “My daughter started to have mammograms when she was only 35 because of what happened to me.”
Of course, it’s not only women who have to cope with a cancer diagnosis. About a year before her breast cancer diagnosis, Jackie lost her husband to colon cancer. He had had colonoscopies faithfully, but was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer a year after a screening. “The surgeons couldn’t reach the cancer, couldn’t get it out. He did six months of chemo, then had five months with a good quality of life but was in a lot of pain. It’s hard to watch someone you love go from 250 pounds to 100.”
After finishing her breast cancer treatments, Jackie moved from central New York to Virginia to make a whole new life for herself. She is an active volunteer at Fauquier Hospital, keeps up with her grandchildren, and is active in her church. Where does she get her strength? “I learned it from my husband,” she said.
Michele said, “I never got depressed. One out of three women get breast cancer. I just told myself, ‘It’s your turn.’ ”
Fauquier Health Raises More Than $15,000 for American Cancer Society
As a platinum sponsor, Fauquier Health was all in at the June 9 Relay for Life event at Fauquier High School to benefit the American Cancer Society. Sixty-four employees participated, including all full time and part time employees in the Infusion Center, and the members of the health system’s senior management team, CEO Chad Melton, COO Donna Staton, CFO Lionel Philips and CNO Sharon Marti.
Employees sponsored dozens of events to reach their $15,000 fundraising goal, hosting a spaghetti dinner, special lunches and “pay up to dress down” days.
Local residents will benefit directly through the ACS’s Road to Recovery program and Look Good, Feel Better classes. The ACS provides most of the educational materials distributed in the Infusion Center and ACS representatives also participate in the health system’s Cancer Committee.