October 22, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 247

Breast cancer survivors share stories at women's health event

IRONWOOD — Monday night 98 local women gathered at Maplewood Steakhouse for “Information is Bliss,” a women's health event that raised $509 for the American Cancer Society, educated women about breast cancer, and honored the journeys of two survivors of breast cancer who shared their stories and hope.

Katie Perttunen/Daily Globe
DIANE DECARLO Anderson and Susan Wolfe shared their stories of breast cancer survival at Monday\'s Women\'s Health night in Ironwood, and Iron County Health Officer Zona Wick presented them with survivor themed infinity scarves to thank them.

Breast cancer diagnoses are increasing in younger women, said Iron County Health Officer Zona Wick, which is why self-exams are so important; current guidelines suggest that many women do not need a mammogram until they are 40. The health department, Aspirus Grand View Hospital, and the White Thunder Riders sponsored the event. Information tables and chair massages were available.

Research is being done into the cause, Wick said, but in the meantime, women need to know their bodies so that if something feels abnormal, they know to call their doctor.

The White Thunder Riders snowmobile club provided the health department with $500 to defray the cost of mammograms for two uninsured women, Wick said.

It was not easy to face reliving the feelings of fighting through cancer, Susan Wolfe, survivor, said, as the overwhelming feelings of facing the “mental and emotional game” of cancer, being afraid to go to sleep at night, and trying to stay strong for her children again to share her story with others. She was encouraged by the idea that she is “living proof of hope.”

Bad things happen in threes, Wolfe said, and her father passed away, she lost her full time job, and then got diagnosed with breast cancer on her first day at college to finish her degree in business. The youngest of her three children was 11 in 2011, when it happened.

Wolfe's cancer was advanced, diagnosed as stage three invasive ductal, having spread to her lymph nodes as well. She underwent 16 chemotherapy treatments, a bilateral masectomy, lymph node removal, and 33 radiation treatments, before reconstruction, with one final surgery to face to remove scar tissues and repair her trapezius. After that, she will have biannual check-ups for five years. “Cancer is a life-long journey,” Wolfe said.

The whole community wrapped their arms around her and her family, Wolfe said, and the care, hugs, and prayers helped her to survive as she mothered and worked throughout her illness.

For those facing a new diagnosis, Wolfe said to keep in mind that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and to take control of one's own heath. A good support network is crucial.

Cancer has changed her by heightening her awareness of how precious every moment in this life is, and she learned to let people know how she felt. “What I thought was important then and what I think is important now is completely different,” Wolfe said.

Diane DeCarlo Anderson, originally from Ironwood but currently living in the Minneapolis area, came home to share her story with her home community. She asked everyone in the room who had been touched by cancer personally, or through family or friends, to raise their hands. After the sea of hands went down she said “this just shows you how many of us are here to stand to fight this disease that affects so many of us.”

The day of Anderson's diagnosis, she had a busy day planned; she had to bring her three daughters to a faith class, and she had to teach there as well. After that she had three school conferences to attend, so she didn't tell her husband until after the children were in bed. She and her husband told their daughters the next day after school.

Anderson's diagnosis was 11 years ago, and after a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, and chemotherapy, she took medication up until last week.

“I received this disease to spread awareness,” Anderson said. Like Wolfe, her community supported her family, with assistance in cooking meals, cleaning, shopping, and even holiday decorating.

Over the past 11 years, Anderson has raised $160,000 through Relay for Life, through the support of her community as well as friends and family back home.

“Not everyone is given the chance to see what really matters,” Anderson said.