COLUMBIA, S.C. (Oct. 30, 2018) — One in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer during their lives, as more than 300,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Each one of them has a name, a story and lessons to share for current and future survivors.
To honor these women, Colonial Life asked some of its bravest customers – each a survivor themselves – for lessons they learned in battling breast cancer.
“It is truly humbling to hear our customers share their deeply personal stories of battling breast cancer,” said Tim Arnold, president and CEO of Colonial Life. “Our employees work hard each day to support them and their families in any way that we can.”
Colonial Life was one of the first insurance carriers to offer cancer benefits. And in 2017 alone, Colonial Life made more than 250,000 cancer claims payments totaling more than $140 million to customers to help them cover the costs of treatment, medicines, recovery and everyday expenses.
Here are lessons we’ve learned from five amazing women who are breast cancer survivors: Cheri Toney, Pam Tyson, Shirley Tully, Laurie Burns and Latoya Taylor:
Lesson No. 1: Know your family history
Cheri Toney wasn’t really surprised when she found a lump in her breast in 2017, even though her annual mammogram showed normal results just six months earlier. A repeat mammogram and an ultrasound revealed an aggressive type of cancer called triple-negative — the same type her mother lost her life to 12 years ago. Cheri’s older sister, Debbie, was also diagnosed with breast cancer just two days later. Because of her mother’s experience, Cheri had enrolled in cancer insurance coverage from Colonial Life when it was offered as part of her employer’s benefits package. She also had disability and medical gap coverage from Colonial Life. Together, those plans bridged the gap between what her employer-provided health insurance covered and her significant treatment costs.
Two months after finishing her treatment, Cheri says she feels great.
“I tell them to make sure you get your mammogram every year — and to get Colonial Life cancer insurance,” she said. “It’ll help you as much as the chemotherapy itself.”
Lesson No. 2: Hear the gospel – of self-exams
Pam Tyson was 45 years old when she felt a lump in her breast during a regular self-exam. It wasn’t the first time: A dozen years earlier, she’d also felt a lump, but a biopsy came back clear. She continued to do periodic self-exams and assumed this lump would also be benign. But this time, a mammogram followed by a needle biopsy showed cancer. Three years later, Pam’s cancer journey continues. She still struggles with pain from her surgery, radiation and medications. But she says she feels like she’s on the road to recovery — although there’s a lot of stress in not knowing for sure. She also keeps counseling family, friends, church members and her co-workers in San Francisco about the importance of those self-exams.
“A pastoral friend encouraged me to use my testimony to help others,” Tyson said. “When I talk about my experience, it’s not just about my diagnosis and treatment — it’s about awareness. I believe in being informed. You have to know and examine your own body. It’s on you to take care of you.”
Lesson No. 3: Take advantage of wellness benefits
When Shirley Tully was starting her career in sales with Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company in 1993, she had several reasons to buy cancer coverage.
First off, her husband was a tobacco user and she thought the coverage would make sense. Secondly, she thought it was important to own the products that she was selling to others. And finally, her manager was passionate about the plan as Colonial Life had been an innovator in cancer coverage. The company has offered cancer insurance for more than 50 years and was one of the first to do so.
She would go for an exam and mammogram and immediately call in for her wellness benefit. A few days later, a check would arrive from Colonial Life and she would go shopping. In September 2008, however, her life changed forever. When she visited the doctor for the follow-up appointment, she got the news: “Shirley, the test did not come back as well as we had hoped.”
A month later, she had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor. She then underwent more than six weeks of radiation. Six years later, Tully went for her annual mammogram. And the doctor’s words were music to her ears: “Your films are beautiful.”
Lesson No. 4: Fight like a girl
Laurie Burns of Indian Trail, N.C., was diagnosed in November 2003 with infiltrating ductal carcinoma. She has one great tip to share with others enduring the same long painful battle that she’s waging: Fight like a girl.
“Fight harder. Fight harder. Fight longer,” she said. “And never ever give up! Attitude is everything. Look at everything as a positive.”
It would be easy to think that Laurie’s positive attitude developed because her battle with breast cancer was somehow an easy one. You’d be wrong. Her first surgery in January 2004 was a radical bilateral mastectomy that showed the cancer had spread. The first attempt at a reconstructive surgery followed shortly thereafter. It was just the beginning of the fight.
Over the next 23 months, Laurie endured 18 surgical procedures. Several of the procedures were done without anesthesia. The wounds forced her to undergo skin grafts, experimental treatments and hyperbaric chamber treatments.
All of the complications forced reconstructive surgery to be taken off the table. But more than 10 years later and still healthy, she is still fighting.
Lesson No. 5: Life after breast cancer can be wonderful
Latoya Taylor learned in her battle that there is life after cancer.
At 29, Taylor was diagnosed in June 2013 with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer known as metaplastic carcinoma. She fought the cancer over two years with 16 rounds of chemo, 39 radiation treatments and seven surgeries.
And then, life. A new life. Her “miracle baby.” Little Cayden.
“He is a constant reminder that there is literally life after cancer,” Taylor said. “Giving up is not an option. What got me through treatment was the three Fs: faith, family, and friends. I took solace in knowing that there was a power greater than my own that was fighting this battle for me.”
Learn more about each of these brave women by visiting: http://worklife.coloniallife.com/tag/breast-cancer-awareness-month/