The pink ribbon may be the tie that binds during October, which is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But it is the journey through recovery that forever binds together several Copperas Cove breast cancer survivors together in Copperas Cove.
Joan Kelley survived her own battle with breast cancer in 2004. Having defeated the disease, she uses her experience to console other women who are newly diagnosed, through Reach to Recovery, a program offered through the American Cancer Society.
Kelley teams with patients to explain what to expect during the process and options available. She is on call 24 hours a day.
“(Patients) can’t relate to someone who has never had (breast cancer) or doesn’t know how they feel. I had my days of crying, too, and I understand,” Kelley said. “The biggest challenge is when a patient has a negative attitude. I want to change them to be positive and look forward. Breast cancer is not always a death sentence.”
Kelley serves patients in Coryell, Lampasas and Bell counties, driving them to chemotherapy appointments and assisting with shopping for wigs, bras and other items needed during the recovery process.
If the cancer recurs, Kelley continues supporting the patient. Kelley has supported some patients for more than three years.
The relationships built through Reach to Recovery continue well beyond beating the deadly disease. That’s how Kelley met breast cancer survivor Barbara Beeksma, who was diagnosed in 2009. A tumor was detected in her breast after she had a mammogram. It was caught early enough that Beeksma avoided chemotherapy and radiation. But she had a double mastectomy.
“I really didn’t think about it before surgery and didn’t realize the impact it would have on me emotionally,” Beeksma said. “It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been there.”
She spent two months in recovery and said the support of her family and friends truly made the difference.
Kelley was with Beeksma throughout the recovery period. The two women remain close friends and also work together at a Cove pharmacy.
The Salquest family
The Reach to Recovery program is also how Kelley came to know Krisann Salquest and her daughter, Sydney. Salquest was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 after a mammogram detected a tumor in her right breast. Two earlier mammograms indicated cancer could be present. Salquest brought her daughter, Sydney, then a sixth-grader, with her to the third mammogram appointment when both a digital and analog mammogram were performed.
“I was sure that (the doctors) had messed up and that nothing was wrong with me,” Salquest said. “But when the man in the white (lab) coat walked into the room, I knew it was bad. How was I going to tell my little girl? I was not prepared for this.”
Ultimately, Salquest had a bilateral mastectomy and would later have reconstruction to replace both of her breasts. Her daughter, Sydney, realized things would never be the same as her mom began to lose her hair due to the chemotherapy treatments.
“I wanted to take my own hair and glue it to her scalp,” said Sydney, now 16. “It was difficult to see my mom break down. I learned life is not a fairy tale.”
The battle with breast cancer strengthened the bond between Krisann and Sydney Salquest.
Kelley will forever be tied to the Salquests, Beeksma, and the more than 50 patients she has cared for over the past four years.