Cancer survivor: you learn to embrace life
A three-time cancer survivor has described how faith and family kept her positive throughout her journey.
Joy White, 73, who overcame cervical cancer, breast cancer and now has stage four breast cancer, hopes that her story can inspire others to make the most of life and appreciate what they have.
She told The Royal Gazette: “You learn to embrace life, to be more humble and more understanding. I have had a lot of support from my family and friends, especially my daughter, and my doctors have been phenomenal.
“I believe in the power of prayer, I have my faith. I pray and ask God to guide the doctors to do the right thing for me. I am a true believer.”
Ms White, who was raised in the Marsh Folly area of Pembroke and worked in the hospitality industry as a bartender, was first diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 50. She was quickly cancer free after receiving a radical hysterectomy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Eight years later she found out she had breast cancer. She had chemotherapy and surgery in Bermuda and travelled to the then Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts for radiation therapy. Within a month of receiving her diagnosis she had a lump removed and was back home.
Her most recent diagnosis came last year in June when she was told she had stage four metastatic breast cancer. It is incurable as it has spread to various areas of her body including the lungs, kidneys and spine. However, the spread has been contained and she says she is feeling good.
Ms White felt compelled to tell her story in part because October was Cancer Awareness Month, but also because she recently lost many people close to her and felt that telling her story would help others.
She said her last diagnosis was the most difficult as she had just lost her sister in the March of last year and her nephew was diagnosed with cancer on the same day as her in June.
Her nephew died of pancreatic cancer in December of last year.
Ms White’s only daughter, Toni Tucker, said telling her story was helping her mother to heal.
Ms Tucker said: “It was therapeutic for her knowing that she could talk about it and knowing how strong and brave she is. It is part of her healing.”
Ms White said: “Out of all of them, this has been the worst in terms of the spread, but neither one of my journeys were that bad – I just did what I had to do.
“My doctors are phenomenal – Dr Christopher Price at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and my GP Heather Montgomery with Island Health. I am also connected to PALS and Nurse Merlyn Burgess has been brilliant.
“I am feeling okay. I have my moments – I feel more emotional than sick.”
Ms Tucker added: “PALS has been super supportive. They come in and assess you in the beginning - they check your financial needs, your living conditions, they make sure you can get your medicines or whether you need someone to just come and sit with you – they have medical staff, psychologists – anything you need.”
Ms White takes a chemotherapy pill called Ibrance which is inhibiting the spread of cancer.
“They just check my treatments and I get a scan every three months – everything has been coming back fine. I’m looking forward to going on a family holiday to Hawaii, New Jersey and Detroit with my daughter, grandson and great granddaughter next year.”
Asked what advice she would give to others who may find themselves in a similar position , Ms White said: “Don’t be afraid because there are people out there you can go and talk to it won’t cost you anything – PALS is one.
“It makes you stop and think. Sometimes we are so quick to judge people, but we don’t know what they are going through.
“In Bermuda we need to open up our eyes because we are so blessed with this little island. We need to appreciate it.”