8 Yampa Valley breast cancer survivors share their stories
October 14, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Cancer-free for 12 years
Julie Brown and her sisters were waiting to find out who would be next. The family already had lost its mother and one sister to breast cancer.
And then, Julie found a lump in her lymph node in 1999. Throughout nine months, Brown had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstructive surgery, and through it all, she had her friends and family to help her on her journey.
"I had an incredible support system," she said. "And I was really surprised — I was able to do everything here except radiation. Steamboat is great for taking care of you."
Now on the committee for the Bust of Steamboat, an annual fundraiser for the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project, Brown is part of a nonprofit that helps women with the costs of prevention and treatment.
"It changes your whole life," she said. "I'm lucky I've survived this long. It's always on your mind."
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Cancer-free for four years
Local resident Bonnie Madderom wore a sunny smile at the 2012 Bust of Steamboat preview art show Oct. 5, a ray of positivity despite battling breast cancer twice in the past 15 years.
Madderom first was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. It came back 10 years later, and she underwent a mastectomy.
A member of the Bust of Steamboat committee, Madderom said she hopes to help local women detect possible breast cancer in its earliest stages.
She said it was a network of support all across the state that helped her through her battles with the disease.
"You have to just a have a positive attitude," Madderom said. "I haven't met too many people who have had breast cancer who haven't been so positive."
And she has some advice for any women facing a fight with cancer:
"Seek support," she said. "And know eventually there is going to be a cure; I know it."
Cancer-free for four years
Janet Faller said she'd rather go through a fight with breast cancer herself than watch a friend go through it. But that doesn't mean it was easy.
Four years ago, Faller had a Stage 1 lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, a series of treatments that took about six months.
But through her treatments, she continued to hike and bike, even taking on a ride up Rabbit Ears Pass after chemo treatment.
"I was lucky. I got it early," she said about the outcome of her bout with breast cancer. But through it all, she kept a sense of humor.
"I always joked about my hair and said I looked like a baby orangutan," she said.
Cancer-free for four years
Hayden resident Ann McMenamin started getting yearly mammograms at age 28. Twenty years later, in 2005, her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, and two years later, McMenamin herself received the dreaded news: She had Stage 3 breast cancer.
"From that point on, my life and the lives of my family changed forever," McMenamin wrote in a letter to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Medical lingo, doctor after doctor and the reality of that first chemotherapy treatment were tough to digest, but her husband, Tim, was there for her.
He shaved his hair off when she lost hers and was there for every treatment, every appointment.
Then, McMenamin's mother was diagnosed, as well. Although her mother died in 2008, it wasn't from breast cancer. They were a family of survivors.
"I try to stay positive with all we have endured, but there are days when I'm not so positive for the other things cancer has done to my body and for what it looks like, But through all this, one thing has remained a constant and that is the love and support of my husband, family and friends. There are people/groups out there to talk to. … Don't go through this alone."
Cancer-free for five years
As a local physical therapist at Steamboat Spine & Sports Physical Therapy, Stephanie Loomis is used to taking care of others.
But she looks at life differently after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007.
"It's very scary, just as everybody says. It's a surreal experience," she said.
Even more surreal was the fact she and her mother went through chemotherapy for the disease at the same time.
Loomis found that staying active while she was in treatment helped her through the experience of surgery, chemo and experimental radiation.
"I have some great friends," Loomis said. "I rode bikes all the time; I rode my bike to the chemo treatments. I'd go do my mountain bike rides on Emerald just like I always did, and that helped."
When she was first diagnosed, Loomis didn't want a lot of attention from the community about what she was going through. But now, she's vocal about the kind of prevention that could help save lives.
"Since I found my mine, and it was small and contained, I really encourage people to do their exams," she said. "It's really true, if you find it early, it's best."
Cancer-free for 5 years
Her initial reaction was a strong desire to slip into a hole and never come out. But local photographer Karen Schulman soon resolved to take care of her mind, body and spirit with a holistic approach to treating her breast cancer.
"I realized I could use this time," she said. "I don't think of myself as a victim. It was not easy, I had four rounds of chemo."
And within two weeks of her diagnosis, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.
But she also got weekly oncology massages and took art lessons. She and her husband, Joel, bought an inflatable kayak and paddled on Pearl Lake.
"It was healing for my soul."
She never dwells on "What if I get sick again?" Instead, she works as hard as she can to listen to the signs her body is sending.
"The breast represents our femininity, and I really do believe we need to pay more attention to our inner selves," she said. "I believe in learning from whatever obstacles come my way."
Cancer-free for two years
Three decades into her career as a nurse at Yampa Valley Medical Center, Patty Bender found herself a patient.
"You never like being the patient," she said. "But every time you're a patient, it gives you more empathy for the patients you care for. It's a bit of a humbling experience."
Throughout her breast cancer treatment, which included a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, she said she continued to work as much as she could.
"I felt well enough that I could work, and that kept me going," she said. "It keeps you from thinking about your diagnosis. You're thinking about other people."
She said she stayed active, hiking and biking, throughout her treatment. She went into remission, but two years later she was diagnosed with lymphoma.
Still, Bender feels lucky that she's gone through two bouts of cancer in a community like Steamboat.
"They're very caring and they make you very comfortable," she said about the medical professionals who provided her treatment. "They go out of their way to make it a better experience. It's like going to see your friends."
One month out of treatment
At her home in rural North Park, Gayle Woodsum found a peaceful solace from the hell she was going through.
In November, the self-employed writer and llama farmer was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
She underwent a mastectomy and an axillary dissection, followed by five months of chemotherapy in Steamboat Springs, 1 1/2 hours away from her Jackson County home.
She was grateful that she didn't have to travel to the Front Range for her treatment.
"As difficult as sitting in the infusion room is, you're sitting here, and you're looking at that beautiful mountain, and you're watching people ski down the mountain," she said.
She does a lot of driving — to Steamboat and to Edwards for radiation — but she said living in "this beautiful place" helped her get through it.
"Some of the biggest things that helped me were that the medical folk did their best to be honest and clear about how hard it was going to be. That was helpful," Woodsum said. "You deal with the reality of it the rest of your life. It's a life-changing experience, even if you get to survive."
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com
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