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
Angel Carter said Mrs.
Whiley is one of four
Reach to Recovery
volunteers in the Thomson
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
"It just depends on the
person and their different
personalities," she said.
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
"There are a million
questions," Mrs. Whiley
said. "I can only tell them
what happened to me. I
can't give them medical
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,
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
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
"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
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.
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.