STOCKBRIDGE — Hampton resident Joni Dean, a breast cancer survivor, joined more than 200 fellow cancer survivors at Piedmont Henry Hospital’s recent Celebration of Life event. The annual occasion brings together survivors and their caregivers for an evening of empowerment and a chance to reflect on their journey and share stories of survivorship with one another.
To look at Dean, you would never think she had ever battled an illness. In September 2018, a routine mammogram at the Piedmont Henry Breast Health Center discovered a lump in her breast, which further tests confirmed to be breast cancer. Although Dean’s grandmother and younger sister have both battled the disease, the 56-year-old said she was shocked by her diagnosis.
“I was devastated and confused when I first found out,” Dean said. “I had just started a new career at the time, and I was also worried about the side effects, so I refused treatment.”
However, with the support of her family and a few more visits with doctors, Dean had a change of heart and decided to undergo treatment. She started with surgery at Piedmont Henry to remove the tumor. In October 2018, she underwent 24 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by more than four weeks of radiation at Piedmont Henry’s Radiation Oncology Center to complete her treatment.
During this time, Dean found something else she had been looking for — a connection.
“They treated me like family,” said Dean. “I grew close with the staff and other patients I met. I’m glad it’s over, but I’m going to miss them.”
In addition to the care she received, Dean said she came to appreciate the support programs offered through Piedmont Henry’s Thomas F. Chapman Cancer Wellness Center. Each month, hundreds of cancer patients, survivors and caregivers look to the Cancer Wellness for support. The program offers a wide range of comprehensive support care and services, such as cooking demonstrations, art therapy, massage therapy, drumming, yoga and counseling, at no cost, to anyone affected by cancer at any phase in their journey, regardless of whether or not they are a Piedmont patient thanks to the philanthropic support of donors in the community.
“As soon as I found out about the support groups and classes, I joined right away,” Dean said. “Hearing other people’s stories helped calm me before I started any treatment. It gave me something to look forward to. I’ve learned so much and met a whole new set of friends.”
Now cancer-free, Dean encourages those recently diagnosed to keep the faith and find support with other survivors.
“Breathe, and take your time,” Dean said. “Attend a support meeting and hear someone else’s story. You can do it.”
Approximately one out of eight women will be diagnosed during their respective lifetimes with some form of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancer support services like those offered through Piedmont’s Cancer Wellness program have been proven to improve both quality of life and survival.
“It’s not just that we have a free yoga class,” said Quinn Garcia, oncology social worker at Piedmont Henry. “It’s about how these classes are actually helping patients and survivors get through their treatments and giving them a chance to develop relationships, share experiences and learn from others who are facing similar obstacles.”