A survivor's journey
October 24, 2015
HURLEY - Joanne Bruneau's breast cancer diagnosis started with her typical mammogram at the end of February.
About a week later, she was called back to Aspirus Grand View Hospital for a second mammogram as the doctors thought they noticed something in the right breast.
Her second mammogram included an ultrasound, which confirmed she did have something there.
"You're in total shock at first," she said.
"I had my daughter come with me at first because she knew what questions to ask and she was a great amount of help for me. After the shock, I was angry and then it was like 'Well, what are you going to do? You have to move forward and take one day at a time and get through this,'" she said.
She had a biopsy and after it was confirmed she needed a lumpectomy, which her doctors hoped would take care of everything and that she wouldn't need anything further.
However, her lab results from Wausau had come back with another little glitch.
Her doctors thought it best she go back into surgery and the following month, at the end of June, after her lumpectomy, she went back into surgery for a mastectomy.
Bruneau and her daughter, Jen Rye, share a feeling of gratitude for doctor Charlie Iknayan, who alerted everyone of the glitch.
"When they took the sentinel node out, (they) didn't see anything that looked suspicious," her daughter said.
"But because of Charlie's diligence it was found that the sentinel node did have a very, very small cell that he detected. We were pretty lucky."
Bruneau then had four rounds of chemotherapy and after seeing a radiologist in Woodruff, she was deemed too healthy for radiation and didn't need anything further.
"Even though we had a lot of bumps in the beginning, everything really worked out for the best," her daughter, a health care professional, said.
Bruneau said there were highs and lows throughout her experience, but she remained positive and carried on as if life were the same.
"She's not going to say anything, but what is amazing about her is that no matter what side effects she got from the cancer, she was not going to let cancer define her life," her daughter said.
"She continued with her life. She did whatever it took to stay positive, to stay focused and she did. She would go to her chemotherapy and then she would go back to work. She was unbelievable."
Her perseverance and naturally spunky attitude helped her get through the tough times.
"You have two choices: Are you going to roll up in a ball and die or just get up and fight this thing," Bruneau said of her cancer news.
"And I was never one to roll up in a ball. I decided I was just going to go on and do what I do."
Husband Bob, former Iron County sheriff, agreed she was extremely strong throughout her surgeries and treatments, putting everyone else before herself.
"She's a trooper. You can quote me on that! She's a tough woman and I don't know if I could have done what she did," he said.
Joanne Bruneau adamantly believes the support she received throughout her journey played a major factor, as well.
"The amazing part was the treatment. Between the doctors, nurses and the chemo center - they were exceptional. Every step of the way they let me know what was going to happen and the support was amazing," Joanne Bruneau said.
She also received an abundance of support from her friends, family and the community.
"And the support in this community is totally unbelievable. Among church, family, friends, the mental support, the prayers - it was amazing," she said.
"At times I felt a little guilty because I didn't feel I was as sick as you would think you should be. But I believe that was because of the support I received, which never made me lose hope."
She received gas card donations, which she was flabbergasted and grateful for, as well as other gifts, including a prayer shawl from her girlfriend.
Her girlfriend and the other women from her church each said prayers while making the shawl, a comforting thought whenever she looks at it.
"I can't say enough how great the area, the clinic, the chemo treatment, the women, the nurses, the doctors ... they were amazing. And they never once made me feel like a number," she said.
She felt she had it easy in comparison to what some women have to go through and feels extremely fortunate she only had to have four treatments of chemotherapy.
"It's surprising what the human body and the mind will do when you know you have the strength, the support and the faith, you can get through stuff," she said.
She shares some advice for other women facing breast cancer, including talking to others and not being afraid to ask for help.
"Each person who goes through this has to have her own journey and they have to have their own way of handling it," she said. "But sharing in each individual journey will help everyone. You have to communicate with each other, and not the horror stories. You don't want to hear the horror stories."
She referred to a site called CureDiva, which offers an abundance of information for women about breast cancer, from diagnosis to treatments, to after it's all over.
She buys headbands, hats and other things from the site and all proceeds go back into cancer research.
Daughter Jen said her mom loves to shop and they all laughed when she mentioned once that she was "shopping for a cure."
Her high spirits and good nature helped her along her journey, including through her few treatment side effects, which she said mainly consisted of skin issues and reactions to the medicine.
She even laughed over the fact she may have accelerated her hair loss during chemo.
"The funny part of it was, I have to laugh, because I would go every four to five weeks to have my hair done - you know, a color and cut," she said.
"And I went a week after my first treatment to get my hair done and about four days later my hair was starting to come out. Silly me! I think by doing that we accelerated it!"
The Hurley City Council member is a very determined woman, as the people in her life know well, and that determination and inner strength helped her through her tough journey.
"It was a life-changing experience and I hope to God I don't have to go through it again, but if I do, I'll face it the same way I had to face it this time."
Editor's note: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is one of a series of stories about women fighting breast cancer to be presented by the Daily Globe this month. If you'd like to share your story or have an idea for one, email managing editor Larry Holcombe at [email protected]