Last Modified: Saturday, October 20, 2012 9:07 PM
Hope, faith and a strong support system are common threads in survivor stories for many Southwest Louisiana women who have made the journey and continue to conquer breast cancer.
Beck Mestayer, who said she has had yearly mammograms and is a strong advocate for the exams, attributes her victory to her faith; her support group; and her husband, Ricky — the “silent strength” behind her.
“I cannot say enough about how wonderful he was through it. He was right there every step of the way, and that really helped,” she said. “He’s been tremendous, and his support helped me so much. He would say, ‘You’ve got it knocked, you’ve got it whipped, you’re in control.’ ”
Her husband also helped her maintain a positive attitude, which she said was essential.
“It’s so true that everything goes back to having a positive attitude,” she said. “He really helped me in every way to maintain that and to reinforce it. He was also wonderful when it came to taking care of things so I wouldn’t have to worry about them.”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Mestayer’s journey began in 2009, and she has been cancer-free for three years now. Her battle began after a routine mammogram detected something abnormal, she said.
“I got a call from the doctor, who said there was something that looked suspicious and they wanted to refer me to a surgeon,” Mestayer said. “When reports came back it showed that the cancer was malignant, but it was in its early stages.”
She said the first surgeon she saw wasn’t able to get all of the cancer, so her husband encouraged her to go to M.D. Anderson in Houston, where she had a second surgery on March 31 — her wedding anniversary — and then underwent six weeks of radiation.
Mestayer said her primary piece of advice for women battling breast cancer or who have been recently diagnosed is to “have hope and keep your faith.”
“I have to say that my strong faith is what really helped me get through my battle,” she said. “My faith and the undying support of people around me helped me to never give up hope.”
Tara Hebert, whose mother was diagnosed at 35 years old and lost her battle at 41, said her breast cancer was also detected through routine mammograms.
“When I turned 30 I started having my mammograms done because I was at high risk,” she said. “I went once a year to M.D. Anderson to have them done and in January 2011 when I had one done I received a call back within four days telling me they saw something abnormal.”
Hebert said she went back to Houston to have extensive tests done and on Feb. 7, 2011, she was told she had stage two breast cancer.
After undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy and eight surgeries, she has been cancer-free for 14 months. She overcame it, she said, because she was “never in the fight alone.”
“No one should go through this journey alone; use the support of friends and family,” she said. “Take one day at a time, and never be afraid to ask for help because there is so much help out there.”
Hebert said the Ethel Precht Hope Foundation also helped her through her journey.
“They formed a support group, and words cannot describe the feeling of being in a room with people who actually know what you are going through,” she said. “They are either going through it too, or they know what you’re facing.
“Not only would I meet with these women once a month but they became family to me, and if I needed them they were always just a phone call away and always willing to offer up support.”
Hebert said it’s also important to remember that “everyone’s journey is a different walk.”
Both Mestayer and Hebert said the most significant thing they want to share with women is the importance of routine mammograms.
“The best advice I can give any woman is that breast cancer has no limitations on who it attacks,” Hebert said. “Take the time and get a mammogram; it truly can save your life.”
Mestayer said the best way to battle breast cancer is to catch it in its early stages.
“People diagnosed with breast cancer are surviving, and they are living longer,” she said.
“There has been tremendous progress in the field with treatment and detection. I highly encourage that all women have their mammograms done, and always maintain a positive attitude. That’s extremely important. Never give up.”