Humans of HOAF: Breast Cancer Survivor Stories
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, two HOAF breast cancer survivors, Sharon Glad and Valencia Bailey, share their journey and experience battling breast cancer. Listen now to go behind the diagnosis and hear the empowering stories recounting the importance of family, faith and the support of the HOAF community throughout their breast cancer journeys.
Welcome listeners. It is October and that means Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We are very pleased to have two patient testimonials today on this podcast. These patients are going to relay their journey and experience with breast cancer. Hopefully this will be informative for our listeners who are battling similar hardships and situations.
Breast cancer has had some amazing new clinical advancements in the world of oncology. Recently, we just had, over the summer, a big change when the development of a new conjugate agent was shown to be very beneficial for advanced breast cancer. This is a drug called NHER2 and is really going to become a powerful player in treatment of breast cancer. It is not your typical chemotherapy, so it allows a great response rate, but also allows patients to really function and do very well with advanced breast cancer. This is also on the backbone of recent developments in [inaudible 00:01:02] therapy along with other oral agents.
This has been such a big advancement over the past two to three years. It seems like patients with advanced breast cancer are living so much longer and doing so much better. We’re very proud of being able to provide such good support at HOAF. Our survivorship programs continue to thrive. We really focus on patients’ functionality, making sure that they’re following certain guidelines of general wellness.
We’ve had some really good talks on medical nutrition and how that can support our breast cancer patients. And we are also very proud to have started to utilize some integrative practices. We’ve had previous podcasts focus on this such as yoga and other integrative techniques to really help our breast cancer patients thrive as best they can while they’re going on with therapy.
Without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce Sharon Glad. We thank her so much for sharing her stories with our podcast audience.
My name is Sharon Glad, and currently I am living in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was diagnosed in May of 2012 through my yearly mammogram. My mother had had breast cancer at 72, so I started having mammograms when I was 40, and then I just went for my regular yearly mammogram and they saw something suspicious. It was an immediate referral to a surgeon. That time I was not living in this area, so I was referred to a surgeon where we were living and I immediately went and had a biopsy, and then met with him a week later to get the news that I had invasive ductal carcinoma.
Well, because we have a family history of that, I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was taken back when the surgeon came in and said the news wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. I was just, like I said, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was taken back by that. I was 62 and I was still working and there was a lot going on in my mind about what’s going to happen now and what is my life going to be like. That’s actually what I was thinking more than anything else.
When I originally met with Dr. Maurer and the doctors at HOAF, the plan included 18 weeks of three drugs. I was also HER2 positive, so that meant that after the initial chemotherapy treatments of 18 weeks, then I would have to go one full calendar year. So after the initial treatment, I continued to get treated for the HER2 with one drug, and then also my treatment included radiation.
Dr. Maurer had come highly recommended to me, so I went in with a very positive attitude. And at that time, I found that team to be a very focused, compassionate, caring group of people. And I think I explained this to someone at the end. It was almost like when I left there, I left my family because everybody was very interested in what was going on with me in following me, the infusion nurses, the nurse practitioners, Dr. Maurer. And so I kind of felt like when the whole thing was over, it was a little disconcerting because I felt like I had left, like I said, I felt like I had left my family. That was the caring environment that they provided.
They’re great and everyone was so helpful regarding lifestyle changes, what I should be eating to keep up my blood levels in a good range and what I should be doing. If I had a question, I felt very at ease and free that I could ask them and that I would get an honest answer. Well, I did want to continue to work and Dr. Maurer and I had many discussions about that piece of the treatment, but I did want to continue to work because I didn’t want this to get the best of me and I wanted to continue a normal life every day and not feel like there was something terribly wrong with me.
I was able to do that. I worked in a school so it was a little iffy, but I was able to work the whole time. I was an administrator at the school, an instructional coordinator, and so I worked in the office. So I had to adjust the way I did things a little bit. I stayed in my office a lot, but I did get up every morning and I got ready and I went to work, which was good for me. I also started to really kind of focus on some self-care things, which helped a lot, just taking better care of myself as far as getting sleep.
Of course when you’re going through treatments, you can’t help but get a lot of sleep and just taking some time for myself. I think it really helped. It really helped me to get through things. And other women that I have talked to have, I think are beginning to feel the same way, that they don’t want it to be taking over their lives as this very negative thing, but looking at it more as just it’s a bump in the road. It may be a huge bump, but it’s a bump in the road that you kind of live your life around.
Well, today I have five grandchildren, which I spend time with. I am very busy all the time and I’m very grateful every morning when my feet hit the floor that I can do the things that I do during the day. I have lots of friends and really enjoying things on a daily basis, being in the moment. I really like to help people and mentor people that are going through the process. My friends, I mean I’ve had many friends that have been diagnosed after I was and share my experience and give them support because I think that that’s very important.
I think it’s important not to isolate yourself during the treatment process and feel that this is a terrible thing or that you’ve done something wrong. Why me? Why did I get this? And so I think it’s important for survivors to reach out to people going through the treatment process and try to support them in any way they can. I think it’s really important to find someone that you feel comfortable with and that you can talk with and you can share how you feel about what’s going on.
Luckily the staff at Hematology and Oncology Center are just wonderful with that, but I think it’s important that you find a closer relationship and so that you can talk about how you’re feeling and what’s in the future and how they… Because people are, you will find that women I think are very supportive of other women that are going through this. I think it’s really important too to keep as active as you can, so that whether that’s through walking or some other form of exercise or through meeting with your community groups, playing Mahjong and playing cards, whatever it might be, bingo. But I think it’s important to forge ahead and live your life like this huge thing isn’t happening to you.
And we again thank her so much for sharing her stories. It is my pleasure to also introduce Valencia Bailey. We thank her so much for sharing her stories with our podcast audience.
My name is Valencia Bailey and I live in Orange, Virginia. My first day of diagnosed with cancer was June the 29th of 2020. I did a mammogram two weeks prior to that and then they called me to come in for a session. So on the 29th of June, they told me that they did find a lump in my right breast. They called me from the medical imaging women’s breast mammogram, whatever they call that, and they had a doctor to come in and they explained to me what they found and then they wanted to set up an appointment with a surgeon.
So my primary doctor, Dr. Rafael Hernandez set that up for me. So he set me up with Dr. Dolly Blancher. She is amazing. So I did my first consultation with her the following week and I scheduled my surgery on July the 13th, two weeks out. And I did my surgery. The surgery went very well. And after that I set up radiation. That started on August the 14th. I met with Dr. Lee, the radiologist, and from then we started the radiation.
I started my first set of radiation on September the 16th of 2020, and I completed that October the 14th of 2020. So I did 21 days non stop of radiation, which was a great experience. I think the hardest thing with dealing with breast cancer is actually mentally preparing for it because it’s such an unknown. But because I am a great woman of faith, I believe that prayer and I know everything happens for a reason and has a purpose. So I did a lot of praying and I knew that I would come out.
So during my journey, I wore these shirts that say victorious on it, and I did that every day as a reminder that I am victorious and I will come out. This was not my final destination. I would expire from this. I had to fight it. I was blessed on my journey, I have amazing family, I have amazing support system. My husband went with me to every appointment. He went with me to every radiation appointment as well. And my daughter, of course was back up. So I had the full support of my family, loved ones around me.
Radiation was different because it can be painful because sometime it can burn you. But as long as we communicate that that’s too much, it’s too hot, they will make the adjustments. So I had great team there and they were able to kind of tweak some things for me so my body could receive it. So I was fortunate to walk away. I just had the darkness of the skin, but I didn’t have any severe burns or anything.
I got the news about cancer because everybody’s afraid of, they call it the big C. So I remember a couple of years ago I had to have some tests done because of my digestion system wasn’t operating like it should. Something crazy was going on. But anyway, I was there and I was praying to God about us. Well, everybody talks about the big C, which is cancer. So the spirit said, “No, Christ is the big in your life.” So everything else we can work it.
So I went into this with the same mentality that Christ is the big C and we are coming out of it. And I did. I came out. I’m grateful. I started after that journey radiation, I met up with Dr. Menachery. If you don’t know him, he is godsend to me. He really was. Dr. Menachery, he got to know me when I went to my visits. My first consultation with him, he actually talked to me. He said he got to know me, he wanted to know about my family, the support I had. And he said, “This is what we going to do for you. This is how we going to work this.”
And he was godsend and I knew it and I said, “Okay, Dr. Menachery.” I said, “I’m going to do this.” So he said, “All right, let’s schedule that.” So I did the chemo. I started chemo on September the 2nd of 2020, and I ended on September the 16th of 2021. I did it every three weeks. He has a great staff, Melissa. They put me on a prescription that was causing pain in my body. So when I got there, she was like, “Ms. Bailey, what’s wrong?” I said, “I’m having something that’s not right.” Immediately she said, “We not doing anything. I’m going to see Menachery. There’s a problem because you are always happy.”
So they found out that the prescription he gave me was too strong for my body. I was having a side effect of it. And every day I would go in and Melissa, she was godsend as well. They met me at the door. They make you feel so… They are encouraging that you are doing this, but we are here with you. So I never felt alone. And I did. On one hand, I did my Benadryl before they gave my chemo. And I am proud to say I was never sick. I didn’t throw up one time. I had no side effects. I did not lose hair. I didn’t lose anything during my whole journey.
So I was able to function every day during the whole process, even with my follow up appointments with Dr. Menachery. He said he’s very pleased with my journey, but I couldn’t have done it without my family. You have to have people who will speak life into you. And the thing too is having a great primary doctor. My doctor, Rafael Hernandez, he’s amazing. I love him. I’ve been with him almost 30 years. When I would receive the diagnosis, he had already gotten it. He lined up the doctors. He picked the best for me.
So when I went there, I felt comfortable because he knows my personality, he knows me, he knows my whole family. So he matched me with the doctors who will receive me and help me so that every day I felt Melissa was there for me, Dr. Menachery was there for me. They called me to check on me. They did follow ups the next day, “Mrs. Bailey, how you doing? Do you need…” It was such amazing experience, but I know that God has placed people in my life to help me walk this journey.
So this journey was not just me. And my daughter, they did, they were so kind to her because she self-employed. They would even FaceTime her, “What are your concerns? How does your mother act at home?” And it was just a great experience. Would I do it again? I told my husband to help someone else. Yeah, because there was a lot of women that I met, stay in contact with that they didn’t have support. They didn’t have someone being positive.And so I met a lot of great people on this journey that I wouldn’t have met before. So I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the journey. And I went to the doctor, so I did my last mammogram. I’m clear. I don’t have to go back for another year now. Dr. Menachery did the bone density for the x-rays. That’s good. They said they’ll see me in two years. All my blood counts, everything’s great. So I’m good.
Once you receive the bad news, don’t crumble. Because immediately people think “I’m going to die from this” or this… That’s not true. You just have to change your mindset to fight it. It’s a fight, but you can win the fight. So many times people give up. You can’t give up when bad news come your way. You have to take the lemons and make some lemonade. You have to figure out how I’m going to get this to work and how I’m coming out. So it is a mindset. You have to change your mind about it. People die from a car accident, it could be anything. So cancer’s not the end.
I think that it’s a great thing that we do once a year to recognize, but I also think those patients need more than just once a year. I think that it should be some type of program or something to follow up with them once they get home. Are you okay? Because it’s a mental thing first. And mentally, if some people already felt “Well, I’m not going to make it so I’m not going to fight.” But you can. You have to have the right people in your corner.
You have to put yourself with other patients who have survived to encourage you that you can make it. But if you are by yourself, I know a lot of them are depressed. They get depressed very easily because I met a lot of them and they say, “Well, you just don’t understand. I’ve been through it.” Well, but you coming out. So you always have to have people around you that are very positive. Yes, it’s a very serious disease, but I’m a heart patient survivor as well. I fought that. I survived that. So when the cancer came, I was like, “Okay, this one other thing we have to fight.” And we did. So we survived.
So I am a heart patient survivor and a cancer survivor. Can you believe it? We have to go through situations in life to have the testimony. If you never go through anything, you can’t help anybody else. I did chemo, I did radiation. I was in my [inaudible 00:19:10] probably less than a month left before I told the people at church on Zoom. We did Zoom two or three times a week. They never knew it. One of them said, “I like your victorious shirts. You always have them on a Thursday.” Because it was like the third Thursday. And I was like, “Yeah, I did nice shirts.” And they were like, “We want some.” But I never told them until the month before I ended the journey because I did not want, “Oh, I’m sorry. Oh, oh, that’s terrible. I know so and so had…”
I didn’t need that in my life. I needed people around me and say like, “Okay, we got one more to go and then we going to celebrate.” Two of my godchildren and my daughter, we had a huge celebration because we were looking forward to the end date. So my godchildren and my daughter, they are amazing. I think even when I wanted, I want to say, “Look, I’m tired.” They were like, “What are you doing? We coming over.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So it kept me moving.
You got to have purpose. You have to have purpose in life. And wherever you can get the love from, receive it. My godson, he lives in now Northern Virginia as well, but he called me every day when I was on radiation going to it. Soon as he knew I was coming out, “Hey mom, how you doing? You’re going to get [inaudible 00:20:33].” I was like, “Can I get in the car?” He’s timing it and that’s how they were keeping me focused, keeping me going, constantly calling and checking on me, encouraging me. You have to have people around you who will help you fight.
I want to thank you Sharon Glad and Valencia Bailey for their candor and grace in sharing their breast cancer journeys. And it’s been a privilege to share these stories with our community. And to learn more about breast cancer and initiatives, please join us at ww.hoafredericksburg.com for more insight.