When Georgia Wilkerson reflects on why she has survived breast cancer for 15 years, she comes back to one explanation rooted in her religious faith.
It’s that God wanted her to share her experience with others and give them hope, Wilkerson said.
Her breast cancer was discovered through a routine checkup. A doctor in Hope advised that she should get a mammogram in Columbus. That test gave an indication of problems, although the doctor stopped short of saying she had breast cancer.
Painful memories for Wilkerson, now 86, resurfaced.
“I thought about my sister who had breast cancer,” she said.
Irene Kuntz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1967. She lived 11 more years before cancer spread to her liver and claimed her life.
“My sister and I were very close,” Wilkerson said.
Cancer has had a big impact on Wilkerson’s life.
Her husband, Lawrence, died of lung cancer three years before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her son’s first wife, Mary, died of colon cancer.
Wilkerson wanted to be checked further, so she went to a breast clinic in Indianapolis. A doctor there performed another mammogram and an ultrasound.
“They did the ultrasound and hit some spot, and it raised me off the table. I was in pain,” Wilkerson said.
A biopsy was ordered. It revealed a cancerous lump in one breast.
The doctor laid out her options: chemotherapy, radiation, lumpectomy, mastectomy.
Wilkerson chose a
“I wanted to get rid of that cancer once and for all,” she said.
She didn’t have a breast reconstruction, though, and doesn’t wear a prosthesis as her sister did.
“I might have felt different if my husband was alive,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson had surgery on a Monday and returned home three days later. She felt minimal pain and discomfort.
She had the help of her son, Butch, when she needed him, but largely Wilkerson recovered by herself.
“I’ve always been an independent person,” she said.
During recovery, Butch recalled his mother having days when she felt better than ever but also other days that were difficult.
“I said, ‘No matter what, the good Lord will take care of you,’” Butch said.
Wilkerson believes that has happened.
“I know I am here for a reason. I could be here to tell the people about breast cancer,” she said.
She repays that good fortune by willingly sharing her story. Wilkerson likes to chat with people anyway, for the social interaction, so the occasion sometimes arises.
“If they want to know anything, I tell them. ... If I hear of somebody now with breast cancer, I like to share my experience. I say I’ve been 15 years cancer free, and you can, too.”
Wilkerson got the chance to share that message within her family during a Thanksgiving gathering a few years ago. Her son, his second wife, Judy, and Judy’s son and daughter-in-law were in town.
Judy’s daughter-in-law, Sally, was fighting breast cancer. She had a breast removed and reconstructed but was having problems with the reconstructed breast.
“She was pretty uptight about it. I tried to tell her you can’t dwell on this all the time. You can talk about it, but don’t dwell on it,” Wilkerson said.
She believes Sally was struggling because she was younger and married.
“It perked her up,” Butch said of his mother’s talk with Sally. “I know Judy has mentioned that a lot.
“(Sally) was hearing things from somebody who was 30 to 35 years older than her, and hearing ... how easy it was to get through it.”
Wilkerson tries to make every day a happy and fulfilling one, because she’s thankful for the extra 15 years she’s had.
“There has to be a reason why I’m still here,” she said. “I’m going to live each day to the fullest.”
And, she’s going to continue to share her story.