One woman’s journey through cancer

June 26, 2019

A cancer diagnosis isn’t just life-threatening. It’s life-changing.

And it’s largely up to the person being diagnosed just what kind of changes those will be.

For Joan Ball of White Stone, who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in late 2016, her journey “changed me in many ways. I’m more compassionate, humble, understanding. Now I understand what it’s really like for women who go through this. If I didn’t know how they truly felt, I do now.”

The journey begins

After she had first noticed a lump, Susan Sanders at White Stone Pharmacy recommended that she see Dr. Vicki Kinsel, who in turn let Jean Nelson, Executive Director of the Northern Neck – Middlesex Free Health Clinic, know that Joan needed testing. The Clinic, with the help of Grace Church funding, paid for the screening and then the diagnostic mammograms, which led to a biopsy.

 The malignancy was confirmed. Joan was employed but uninsured, and the diagnosis was “overwhelming at the time,” she said.

Over the ensuing weeks Nelson and nurse practitioner Tamara Hall at the Clinic, Dr. Kinsel, and Jo Crockett of RGH helped support her through the ordeal, and the Clinic “put me in all the right places,” Joan said.

The first was to set her up to see a breast surgeon, who did another biopsy of lymph nodes under her arm, which were confirmed as cancerous. The surgeon sent her to Dr. Michael Steinberg for chemotherapy to shrink the tumors.

She had eight treatments every other week at the RGH Cancer Center, where “people were so good and so kind,” the last one on April 24, 2017.

She said of that period in her life, “At times there is the thought, ‘Why me? I want my old life back,’ but then I realize, ‘Why not me?’ I am like any other woman and now I know this…. Even with my life as it is now, with the breast cancer, I would not change a second of it.”

Surgery still loomed, and she said she sometimes felt “all this was taking so long. When I found out the date for the surgery I was happy. But I had some fear. I asked the Lord to take that from me and give me understanding, peace, serenity, and most of all blessing. I asked that when going in the operating room, that He will be present at all times, and that the doctors and nurses will know what they have to do.”

In August she had a mastectomy, and following that received 23 radiation treatments over a month’s time – about one every day. Today she’s cancer free.

Challenges and changes

“This was an unknown world for me,” she said. “Every day was a challenge,” including the chemo and radiation treatments, the side effects, the surgery, the periods of pain and sickness, and the emotional ups and downs. “But I’ve been shown compassion, love, friendship, and most of all understanding. I would like to think that with everything I’ve gone through, I would be able to help someone who is just now entering that unknown world.”

She looked at the year as “a journey, a test of my faith and belief,” she said. “When I found out, my prayer was about the unknown world I was entering. I prayed to Him to help me through it…. My prayer has never been about cancer, but about giving me strength. It’s not been an easy journey, but when you have family, friends, and even people you don’t know encourage you and give you hope, and when you have belief, you’ll do fine.”

Doing fine took loads of introspection. She went in to the mastectomy “knowing you will lose a part of yourself” and had to find a way to deal with the mental and emotional effects from the surgery. At times “the hardest part for me was looking in a mirror. I felt no longer complete,” she said.

Profound appreciation

She talked with others, relied on family and friends, and “asked God to give me strength to accept the inevitable and find the peace that passes understanding,” she said. Family included two brothers, a sister, nieces, nephews, granddaughter, grandson, and “my loving and caring son and daughter-in-law, Eddie and Dawn. They have been remarkable. I could not imagine what my life would be like if they were not a part of it. They too have been on this journey, giving me hope, compassion, love, reassurance.”