Breast cancer survivor stories

In October 2015, a group of breast cancer survivors participated in the ETMC Pink Ribbon Getaway fashion show and shared their journey with the audience. Here are their stories about their battle with breast cancer.


Karla Hutchison, Jeanie Waggoner, Patty Evans, Jamie Boyd, Jo Ann Birks and Heather Eastwood

Jo Ann Birks

I thank God for my husband. Were it not for him, I would never have had a mammogram in March 2011.

After my breast reduction at age 29, I was told to have a mammogram annually for the next two years, then I could wait until I was 40 to have the next one. Well, the two mammograms were negative; so, I became too comfortable and when age 40 rolled around, I didn’t heed the reminders to schedule one. My husband kept telling me I should go have one, and finally, after three months of encouragement, I agreed to go. They found cancer.

I have worked at Tyler Hematology-Oncology (now Hope Cancer Center of East Texas) for five years and I was shocked that this could happen to me. You never think you could be a patient one day. But I was.

It was a very emotional time. The worst part was explaining it to my 12-year-old daughter. When you hear someone has cancer, you automatically think they are going to die. I had to help her understand that this not the case. You just have to have hope and a lot of faith in God.

I had surgery, chemo and radiation for my stage IIA breast cancer. It hasn’t been a great experience, but I can now sympathize with the patients I see every day, and try to give them hope and encouragement.

My sister told me the first three letters of the word cancer is “can,” meaning you CAN survive.

I urge all ladies, to go get your mammograms! Don’t put it off!

Jamie Boyd

I have always been committed to health and exercise. When I felt a lump in August 2014, I was not really worried at first, because I had a mammogram in May. I had my OB/GYN feel and she thought it was just a cyst. I tried not to worry, but something told me it wasn’t right. I finally called and said I wanted it rechecked.

Dr. Michael Klouda put me on the table for the sonogram; he too thought it was just a cyst until he put the sonogram wand on me. I could tell from his face, it wasn’t just a cyst. I turned my head to the wall and my first thought was, “I can’t believe I have cancer. No one in my family had breast cancer. I was at a healthy weight, never smoked and exercised almost excessively. How can this happen to me?”

Turns out I have what they call dense breasts. We still do not know if the mammogram missed the lump or if it just grew after that, but my world changed Sept. 22. My tumor was small, but aggressive. I had a double mastectomy Oct. 21 at the age of 44. I started chemo Nov. 20 and finished April 9, 2015. I had six weeks of radiation and finished that July 10.

I am happy to say I am cancer-free and had my last surgery Oct. 16, 2015!

Heather Eastwood

January 2013, I noticed a strange lump above my breast. I had just been through a divorce and moved from Oklahoma to Texas. The doctor didn’t think the lump was anything, but scheduled a mammogram.

The mammogram barely picked up the mass, so a sonogram had to be performed, then a biopsy. On Feb.1, I got the diagnosis: “It’s cancer.” I was only 36.

I opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction because I knew that was my best option in preventing the cancer from coming back. On March 1, I lost the breasts that tried to kill me, but felt so much relief that the tumor was no longer in my body.

The next step was chemotherapy. I had 16 treatments over the course of five months. My hair fell out, and after the second treatment, I was hospitalized because my white blood cells had bottomed out and I couldn’t fight the infection in my colon.

I moved on to my weekly treatments of Taxol for 12 weeks. I retained so much water and ate like a horse, but my hair was starting to grow back, while my eyelashes and eyebrows were falling out. Talk about feeling like an ugly duckling.

On Aug. 22, I had several of my co-workers with me, and my mom, who lives in Colorado, on FaceTime, to watch me ring the bell 16 times, one for every treatment I had. My final breast reconstruction was in September and I had my first haircut over Thanksgiving.

I never imagined that at only 36 years old I would face what I did, but I know now that I am so much stronger than I ever thought possible. I have one of the best support systems, the friends who gave up their Thursdays to sit with me during treatment, my parents who moved in with me while I recovered from surgery and my employer who was so supportive when I had to work from home.

Today I am 100 percent cancer-free. Cancer is a scary disease and I will have to live with my scars, but I fought like a girl, and won!

Patty Evans

In spring 2009, I heard those three little words. No, not “I love you,” but “you have cancer.” I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think it could happen to me, but it did. I was horrified and terrified.

In June I had a bilateral mastectomy. A week later I had another surgery to remove more tissue, then several other surgeries for reconstruction. Now, almost seven years later, I bear the scars and remember vividly the terror of it all. I am so thankful for my doctors, my amazing family, church family, co-workers, a very special group of ladies from the breast center support group and my savior, Jesus. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support I received. So maybe those three little words were “I love you” after all.

Patty is the ropes course facilitator at ETMC Behavioral Health. She was recognized as the 2014 Practitioner of the Year by the state of Texas group that oversees these programs. She has been with the ropes course since 1987. At the awards ceremony, Patty was praised for leadership, superior programming and exhibiting exemplary practices.

Karla Hutchinson

Karla, who was diagnosed at age 45 with breast cancer, is a survivor. Her mother also was a breast cancer survivor, and lived until she was 91. Karla’s mission is to support and encourage young women going through breast cancer by leading a support group called “Breast Friends Forever.”

Karla also is a board member of the Susan G. Komen Tyler Affiliate, which allows her to give back to her community and support the efforts of breast cancer education, research and outreach in her hometown.

Karla is a four-year survivor with a daughter, who is a nursing major at Stephen F. Austin University.

Jeanie Waggoner

My journey started with diagnosis in early 2008. I had several fluid-filled cysts aspirated over the years, and knew I was at risk for breast cancer. But I am a strong, fearless woman and did not think it would find me. But it did.

I started with rounds of doctor visits, surgeries, chemo and finally radiation. I sometimes felt like a washing machine on overload!

My family was very supportive; however they lived all over the country and were still raising their own families. As I was experiencing the wonderful world of chemo, I found (by accident) that my oldest son also was undergoing chemo for Hodgkins lymphoma. He did not want to tell us because of my cancer. It was heartbreaking that I could not be there for him.

Although having lived in East Texas only eight years, the friends I bonded with here became my second family. Several trudged to Tyler with me weekly, and when I was ready, I rolled my IV pole out to the atrium at the oncology center and we played mahjong until the poison filled my system and I could go home again.

I believe one of the most traumatic times was when I lost my hair. It began to come out and, out of fear, I did not wash my hair for a week. Then it was on the floor by the shower drain and I also was on the floor crying. My great husband came in and held me while I cried and said, “Do you want me to shave the rest of it off?” He did.

It became, to me, an outward sign to everyone: cancer. Then the strong, fearless woman that I am appeared again, “It’s only hair, it will grow back;” unlike the breast that I had lost. Now, some years later, I have a new breast and new hair.

Go to the ETMC Breast Care Services page.