Lighthouse Ministries is composed of individuals who devote their time to helping Florence county residents who are in need.
Among those who serve within the ministry are five breast cancer survivors.
Thelma Hawkins is a volunteer at Lighthouse Ministries, and she said that even though she could not serve for a while because of breast cancer treatments, her fellow staff members at the organization were very supportive.
“I think the fact that you’re there to help somebody else, they’re there to help you with whatever your problems are because you hear so much from the participants, so you couldn’t hear anything worse,” Hawkins said.
She received a diagnosis of breast cancer after having a mammogram in 2014.
“I had surgery in June, and then I had radiation,” Hawkins said. “Because it was just barely stage two, I didn’t have to have the chemotherapy.”
Hawkins said her case was not dramatic, but it was a well-supported one. Both the gynecologist and surgeon who cared for her were her former students.
“The thing I’d like to tell people is check out what Florence cancer centers can do for you because I’ve just had the best of care here,” Hawkins said. “Now, I don’t have one of the aggressive types of cancer, and they’re all individual. And there’s a good support system.”
Hawkins said her cancer is in remission, but if it comes up again, she will deal with it again. Her keys to staying healthy are exercise and a good healthy diet to build the immune system and keep it running.
“It (breast cancer) isn’t a death sentence necessarily, but they’re all different kinds,” she said. “We lump it all together and wear pink, but that’s not the case.”
Lighthouse Ministries’ director of administration and marketing JoAnn King has been free of breast cancer for 19 years. She said she found a lump in her breast one day and mentioned it to a friend.
“She asked me if I had called the doctor, and I told her no. She said, ‘I’ll call you back,’ ” King said. “She called me back and said, ‘You have an appointment this day, this time, with this doctor. Pick me up. I’m going with you.’ And she saved my life.”
King received a poor prognosis from doctors. She said she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in October 1996.
She waited until the day after Christmas to have a mastectomy because she thought it would be her last Christmas. Four months of chemo and two surgeries helped lead King’s cancer into remission.
“It was very difficult, emotionally. I guess it was the uncertainty of not knowing if you’re going to live or die,” she said. “And with the support of my family and close friends, it’s the way you get through it. You get through it from support of other people.”
King said her late husband was always positive and kept telling her she would not die. Doctors told her that if by any chance they got her through her first experience of cancer, they wouldn’t get her through the second. There was an 85 percent chance of the cancer returning. Nineteen years later, the cancer has still not returned.
“I say that I’m grateful for every day. I really am,” King said. “I feel that gratitude. I get up and I think wow, this is a bonus day.”
King said no matter what someone may be facing, there is hope.
“I made it. I have no idea why,” she said. “And maybe it’s to be working at Lighthouse Ministries because I love what I do here. I work with the most amazing people.”
It has been 15 years since Lighthouse Ministries volunteer Anita Flowers underwent surgery and radiation for her breast cancer. Her cancer has been in remission since.
Flowers said that after being diagnosed following a mammogram, she was sure to schedule her radiation treatments in the afternoons so she could continue her volunteering with the organization. She started volunteering at Lighthouse Ministries around the same time her cancer was diagnosed.
Flowers said she was 70 when she realized she had breast cancer. No one in her family had ever been diagnosed with the disease.
“I said, ‘Well, this is it. We’ll do what we have to do,’” she said. “And my family supported me and my friends supported me. And then I think it’s there when you realize how many other people have it.”
She said she feels she overcame breast cancer with God’s blessing, along with the caring of her doctor, family and friends. Flowers said she continued with her life and her normal activities, and that was a factor in her survival, too.
“Put your faith in God,” she said. “He’ll get you through it.”
Volunteer Jean Williams received a diagnosis of breast cancer near the beginning of October 2014 and had surgery the end of the same month. She said her fight with the disease was quick.
She did not have to receive any treatment following the removal of her breast, Williams said.
“They removed the lump, and they did the biopsy and all,” Williams said. “They did take surrounding tissue, but everything came out OK. I did not have to have any other treatment.”
With several other members of the Lighthouse Ministries team who had already won the fight against breast cancer, Williams said they told her not to be concerned. She said her colleagues were very upbeat and positive and assured her that the doctor would take care of her.
Her diagnosis came as a surprise, but was not upsetting, Williams said.
“I guess I trusted in God because I never felt bad about it or why me,” she said. “I was just like, ‘Well, it’s happened. This is it. And we’re taking care of it.’ And I have a great family, my two children and my husband, a lot of support.”
Volunteer Christine Byberg said her breast cancer was only found in one spot in 2013. Her doctors told her she could wait and see what would happen, or she could do something about it right away.
An oncologist conducted a test that revealed the cancer would later occur in her other breast also, Byberg said.
The doctor recommended a double mastectomy, and it was conducted right away.
“I had no radiation,” she said. “Because it was in one spot, it was not in the lymph nodes.”
Reconstruction surgery followed.
“You have to go through a lot. It’s a lot of surgeries,” Byberg said. “I felt like I was in and out of the hospital. And it’s quick surgeries. It was October to April before everything was completed.”
Byberg said she worked with a plastic surgeon through out her reconstruction, and that was the end.
“There was nothing really that was followed up with,” she said.
Emotionally, Byberg said, she was fine throughout her experience with cancer. Once she had made up her mind to have a double mastectomy she didn’t look back.
“People handle situations like that differently. It’s up to the individual what they decide to do,” Byberg said. “We do talk about it. It’s almost like you’re in a club. And I think its great women can talk about it.”