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Survivor 'reaches out' to help others

Eleven years ago, Patricia Wiley was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a yearlong ordeal that included a bilateral mastectomy, chemo and radiation treatments, Mrs. Wiley knew what she had to do.

"I decided God let this happen to me for a reason. And, if I could help somebody else, that's what I wanted to do," she said.

Mrs. Wiley became a volunteer in the American Cancer Society's "Reach to Recovery" program, in which women that are breast cancer survivors help other women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer through their journey.

"Actually, I had somebody that stepped in when I found out that I had been diagnosed. They previously had been diagnosed, and they just

kind of walked me through everything. It was a total stranger. I had never met them before in my life. Yet, they just made the whole

process so much easier for me, knowing what I was going to face and how it was going to affect me," Mrs. Wiley said.

Her personal experience

After a routine annual mammogram revealed a lump in Mrs. Wiley's left breast, her doctor recommended a biopsy for proper diagnosis.

The following Saturday morning, she received a phone call from her doctor who told her she had cancer.

"I almost dropped the phone," she admitted.

"Because when you fi rst hear that word, 'cancer,' you think you're going to die."

Because he knew her personality, Mrs. Wiley's doctor invited her and her husband, Foster, to come right over to his offi ce and discuss her

options. He recommended three choices: (1) a unilateral mastectomy, because she only had cancer on one side, (2) a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, or (3) either one of the mastectomy surgeries without reconstruction.

"But, I actually went two weeks later for a second opinion," Mrs. Wiley said. "I feel like that's real important for anybody that's diagnosed.

Doctors aren't infallible. They all have a different opinion."

She went to Emory University in Atlanta, expecting to hear a confi rmation of what her doctor in Augusta had told her. But tests at Emory

revealed two additional lumps on the same breast, and they recommended she stay that night and have surgery immediately.

Mrs. Wiley refused, telling them she was going to go home and pray about it. She elected to have her own doctor perform a bilateral

mastectomy, and wait to have reconstruction later down the road. When she had the surgery, a bigger legion was discovered on

the right breast that had not shown up in any of her previous mammograms.

"My doctor said 'So, you made the right decision.' And I said, 'I didn't make the right decision. God made the right decision. I didn't have anything to do with it,'" Mrs. Wiley said.

After her mastectomy, Mrs. Wiley had eight treatments of chemotherapy, followed by 28 days of radiation treatments. After her second round of chemotherapy, her most difficult moment came when she lost all of her hair at one time while taking a shower.

"It was devastating," she said. "I had already bought a wig, but nothing can prepare you for that."

She also became sick after her third treatment, and had to be treated in the emergency room for dehydration.

But her husband was there with her through it all. Mrs. Wiley said her husband runs Curtis Funeral Home in Thomson, and he accompanied her to every single doctor visit and treatment.

"He was very supportive. The best support system of family, church and friends that you can have in place makes a difference," she said.

"I just felt like the more people that were praying for me, the better off I was. I'm convinced that's why I'm still here."

Helping others After her recovery, Mrs. Wiley called her doctor and asked if he ever had patients that need somebody to talk to.

"He said 'All the time,' and I asked him to give them my phone number," Mrs. Whiley said. "That's when he told me about the American Cancer Society's program. I had to go for certifi cation, and I've been doing it for the past nine years."

Mrs. Whiley said the cancer society recommends patients who have similar situations to what she's been through. For example, patients who are facing mastectomies and reconstruction will call her. Those who are having only a lumpectomy will call someone else who had a lumpectomy.

American Cancer Society Community Manager Angel Carter said Mrs. Whiley is one of four Reach to Recovery volunteers in the Thomson area.

Mrs. Whiley said she hears from approximately one patient every month, although sometimes she can get three or four. Some patients only talk with her one time, and others stay in contact throughout their whole ordeal.

"It just depends on the person and their different personalities," she said.

Frequently asked questions include "How did your husband react?", "Did the treatments make you tired?", "Were you able to work?" and "Will I be able to care for my children?".

"There are a million questions," Mrs. Whiley said. "I can only tell them what happened to me. I can't give them medical advice."

Mostly, she just listens. "There's somebody that had their cancer return, and every time I talk to her, she says she appreciates me listening to her. She said it made her feel better to talk to somebody that's been through it," Mrs. Whiley said. "That's the way I felt, too."

For those who do hear the word "cancer," Mrs. Whiley says "Fight."

"This is just one more of those trials in life," she said. "You've just got to be determined to give it the best shot that you possibly can. You've got to fight. And, it is a fight. It's not easy."

Although she cannot give advice to her contacts through the American Cancer Society about treatment options, Mrs. Whiley said that women who are told they need a mastectomy shouldn't worry.

"A lot of people are just in denial," she said. "They can't handle the fact that they are going to lose a breast. To me, my life was more important than those breasts were."

And after the healing and recovery, Mrs. Whiley said life is sweeter.

"All the things that used to really bug me, and I'd get frustrated because I hadn't gotten through my to-do lists, don't bother me anymore," she said.

"I feel like there are a lot more important things to be worried about. I just try to make it a priority to spend more time with family."

The American Cancer Society is currently seeking volunteers for the Reach to Recovery program in your community. The American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program provides information and support for women facing breast cancer through someone who has already been there herself called a Reach to Recovery visitor. Reach to Recovery visitors are breast cancer survivors who are trained to provide information and support to women who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer. The program is one woman reaching out to share personal experiences and give support to another in a time of need. The American Cancer Society will certify Reach to Recovery volunteers on Saturday, November 6, 2010 at the American Cancer Society offi ce in Augusta from 9:00 a.m.until 4:00 p.m. If you are one year since diagnosis of breast cancer and no longer taking treatment, please call Summer Garrison at 706-731-9900 or 1-866-227-0904 (toll-free) to get more information about becoming a Reach to Recovery volunteer before November 1, 2010.

Web posted on Thursday, October 07, 2010

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