SURVIVOR’S PURPOSE — Gift of Life program helps Sharon Williams, others stay on track

Published 11:20 pm Friday, October 13, 2023

For those surviving breast cancer, the journey doesn’t end when the cancer is gone.

“You still have the thoughts, you know, could it come back?” survivor Sharon Williams said.

It was a 12-week program called Active Living After Cancer through the Julie Rogers Gift of Life that helped Williams work through those feelings, have questions answered by people in the medical field and sparked an interest in exercising.

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Her journey with breast cancer goes back to a time she was living and working in Austin. Her husband died from cancer in 2009 and approximately four years later the technician noted something odd on a mammogram and ordered a 3D mammogram and ultrasound as a follow up.

The thought of getting cancer was terrifying to Williams, mainly because she didn’t want her two daughters to see another parent go through cancer.

Life got busy for Williams, originally for Beaumont. By 2014 she retired, sold her home and moved with one of her daughters to College Station and later to Nederland.

A call from one of her doctors in Austin told her she needed another scan and needed to follow up on the mammograms.

And she did.

She later underwent a biopsy, which came back positive and was told she need a mastectomy. The cancer, she said, was encapsulated and did not impact her lymph nodes or other areas and did not require her to undergo chemotherapy.

“Once they said mastectomy, I said I wanted bilateral,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to worry about the other breast.”

Breast cancer survivor Sharon Williams, left, and Rita Davis with the Gift of Life. (Mary Meaux/The News)

She had a stipulation on when she wanted the surgery performed.

“I wanted the surgeon to do the surgery as he was retiring at the end of the year. The only stipulation was it had to be done on Dec. 24 (2015) but I had to be home for Christmas morning,” she said. “It took a little bit but I did get to go home Christmas day.”

Recovery was slow but she survived, she said.

Williams took the BRCA gene test that came back negative.

According to MD Anderson, everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, the test is to see if the genes work correctly. A positive test for the gene mutation increases the risk of cancer in women.

“For women, the likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lifetime moves from 12 percent to up to 87 percent after a positive test, and a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer moved from 1 to 2 percent up to 44 percent after a positive test, according to the website.

“The BRCA test came back negative, so my daughters don’t have to worry,” Williams said.

Williams said she had no indication anything was wrong with her prior to the mammogram.

“I didn’t feel a lump or anything, they found out on the scan,” she said.

Her advice to other women: get your annual checks such as mammograms and pap smears.

“Take control of your health, be very proactive,” she said.

Connecting with others

After her initial diagnosis and surgery, Williams went to Gift of Life survivors meetings.

“You go and there are people who are recently diagnosed and some are just going through their journey, all different stages. It helped so much,” she said.

There were different speakers at the meetings, and there was even a fun event where they got together similar to Painting With a Twist. Then there’s the Monster Mash 5K later this month.

Williams will be in attendance but may not be participating at the level she’s used to, due to knee replacement surgery.

The best part of her journey was the Active Living After Cancer program. Rita Davis, one of the coaches and a registered nurse, tried to get her on board twice but the timing just wasn’t right.

She finally was able to fit it in her schedule and loved it.

“These meetings were the best thing I have done since I was diagnosed,” she said, adding Rita Davis and coach/registered nurse Jodie Wood made an impact.

“I would suggest anybody that has had cancer do this class. It’s about an hour long, sometimes longer. You talk about your journey, the reaction of other people toward you. There’s a section on staying healthy and exercising.”

Because of the class she was introduced to Davis and Wood who, she said, were caring and help with anything. And if there’s a question they can’t answer, they will find the answer.

“You get to meet new people. I started exercising because of that class and have met new people and have joined some clubs,” she said. “Because of that class I’m better, more social and more physically active.”

She considered herself blessed and has grandchildren that she is able to babysit.

“I’ve often thought what’s my purpose, why was I so blessed to not have to struggle, and it all goes back to them,” she said of her grandchildren. “God saved me so I can be a part of their lives.”

The Gift of Life provides free medical care for vulnerable individuals, in addition to extensive cancer and wellness educational outreach for youth and adults.

To reach Gift of Life, call 409-833-3663.