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Star Group - Veterans Helping Veterans holds annual cancer survivor day

Cove Leader-Press

“Cancer survivor awareness lets everyone know that they’re not alone,” said John Cook, Star Group – Veterans Helping Veterans Vice President.
To support cancer survivors, anyone going through their own battle with cancer, and their families, Star Group hosted its annual Cancer Survivor Awareness event in their building Saturday at 11 a.m. There, they invited five cancer survivors to share their stories with those in attendance.
“Today was emotional,” said Cook after the event ended. “A lot of people here had some amazing stories.”
The first speaker, Donna Stewart-Wilson, is a 20-year veteran and breast cancer survivor. She shared her story, admitting that she was in denial until she was ultimately diagnosed in December 2011—on her son’s birthday. She said that she was absolutely devastated when she heard her diagnosis (admitting to “ugly crying”), but her doctor assured her that her cancer had been detected in the early stages and that she should be able to celebrate a lot more of her son’s birthdays.
“And when I went outside, it was a beautiful day…and I knew going forward that it was going to be all right with God by my side,” said Stewart-Wilson.
Stewart-Wilson talked about what a survivor is and some adjectives describing a breast cancer survivor including persistent, tenacious, fighter, warrior, and tough cookie.
Stewart-Wilson ended her speech announcing proudly, “I am a breast cancer tough cookie!”
For many undergoing cancer treatments, family and support groups can make all the difference.
James Freeman, an 18-year prostate cancer survivor, shared his story. He said that he was 65 years old at the time he was undergoing radiation treatments. Freeman said that he had to undergo radiation treatments five days a week for two months, but he was still able to make light of his journey and what he had to endure, and, of course, made sure to thank his wife who was there for him every step of the way.
Lou Whidbee was diagnosed with kidney cancer in May 2022. He said that he was on the golf course when they called him to tell him to “come in right now. You have cancer. You need surgery.” Whidbee’s daughter was there for him as well as his golf buddies and members of his PTSD support group. Those support groups make all the difference. Now, Whidbee makes it his mission to help spread awareness. He encourages everyone to get checked because you never know—that lab work just might end up saving your life.
Jovann Farley is a veteran and 29-year breast cancer survivor and 5-year ovarian cancer survivor.
Farley lost her mother in 1994 to breast cancer on Easter Sunday then had to PCS to Korea on Mother’s Day that same year. About one year after she lost her mother, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Farley said that she had nobody to help her through her struggles until she met a 19-year-old during her chemo treatments. Farley talked about how the 19-year-old lost her hair while Farley “got fat”. She talked about how devastated she was when one day she came in for treatment and the 19-year-old wasn’t there—she had passed. And she talked about how much it meant to her when that girl’s parents continued to come to be with Farley for her treatments as one of that girl’s final wishes. 5 years ago, Farley was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but was determined to beat cancer again.
Farley said that, due to her own experiences, she always tries to do what she can to support others who are going through the same things so that they don’t have to go through it alone.
“My job now is being there for them,” said Farley. “Those chemo treatments are no joke.”
John Clark talked about how he found a lump on his leg April 7, 2023 which turned out to be a carcinoma.
“My world turned upside down,” said Clark after hearing that he had cancer. “There’s no way to describe the way those words feel when they’re directed at you.”
As of February 18, this year, he is officially cancer free. Clark talked about how the struggle is emotional and how he felt like an alien who didn’t belong with “normal” people.
“If you know someone with cancer…Be aware that this is not only life-changing, but also a life-long issue. It’s scary as heck for everyone involved. It can be hard to know what to say or do, but don’t let that prevent you from doing or saying something,” said Clark. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and just say ‘Hey I’m thinking about you and just wanted to let you know and see if you’re ok.’ A simple message, text message, a little card in the mail, an old-fashioned phone call, an email, something every few days, once a week, just to let them know that you care…I guarantee they’re going to appreciate it.”

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