Breast Cancer Survivor Portrait Gallery

A portrait gallery of breast cancer survivors titled "The Open Road" was unveiled on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at the Kitty DeGree Breast Health Center during a celebration to recognize the recent designation of the Center as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence.

The gallery serves several purposes:
  • That by seeing these photographs it will help other breast cancer patients be optimistic and to find strength in their journey.
  • To provide a life-affirming role model for all to see.
  • To put a face to breast cancer and show that these women and men are living a full and beautiful life after their diagnosis.
  • That breast cancer does not compromise these women's and men's beauty or dilute their accomplishments that precede or follow treatment.
  • To further heighten the community's awareness about breast cancer.

The gallery hopes to bring to life the stories behind the beautiful images below. The gallery name, "The Open Road", was taken from a poem entitled "Ode to an Open Road" by Walt Whitman. The inspiration came from the Susan G. Komen 3Day Walk.

Henceforth I ask not good fortune-
I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

The phenomenal women and man featured in the gallery have traveled this amazing road. We are in awe of each one of them. They are full of life, despite or perhaps even because of their experience with breast cancer. Everyone in the touching photographs below were initially diagnosed with breast cancer at the Kitty DeGree Breast Health Center, and call themselves breast cancer survivors. Please visit the Kitty DeGree Breast Health Center located at 2600 Tower Drive in Monroe to view the portrait collection.

"THE OPEN ROAD"

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Marti Anthony
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - July 2007
Research Nurse, Monroe, La.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 18, 2007 - just one day before my daughter's 16th birthday. As a single-parent, I agonized over how to tell my two children of my diagnosis. I wanted them to know that I was confident and ready to get on with my treatment. But at the same time I was frightened at the thought of leaving them alone, at ages 15 and 11 they were old enough to understand the implications of our situation. Truth and honesty are always the best approach and we, as a family, set out on our breast cancer journey. By educating ourselves and using the resources available in our community, I am proud to say that today I am cancer-free. And my two children are much stronger and more independent as a result of the whole experience.

Both have developed a sincere belief in giving back to their community through volunteer work and have empathy for others traveling our same path. Active in both Komen Race for the Cure and American Cancer Society Relay for Life, my daughter is already making plans for volunteering through her college years, even while in another state. My son has compared notes with friends whose moms were recently diagnosed and he is always eager and willing to pitch in at any community event.

I am proud to say that cancer has truly strengthened my family and given us a new appreciation for every single day, each other and the blessings we have been given.

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Donna Boyce
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - July 2007
Surgery Scrub Technician, West Monroe, La.

I am Donna Boyce. My journey with cancer began, on a busy day at work in surgery, when I answered the phone. I never expected this. I was going to take on a different role in life. Life at this time was busy, stressful and filled with what I thought were insurmountable burdens. However, my life was going to come to an abrupt halt!!!

It was July 27, 2007, that I was diagnosed with stage III invasive ductal cell carcinoma, with a receptor report that was not good. I wish every day since then that I had never answered the phone!!!

I will never forget the second grim date - nobody forgets the day they get their breast removed. I had a bilateral mastectomy on august 4, 2007 and my treatment plan called for a year of chemo... I prayed that my bone scans would stay good!!! The entire second night- insomnia. I'm not sure if it was absolute fatigue, the after-effects of surgery or the coming to terms with my diagnosis, but my intuitions failed me. I was in a crazy land, I had conversations, but I could not determine the mindset of the participants. I hated not being able to read people. I was frustrated and baffled by my insecurity, I needed to see inside their heads. I was certain no one else was attuned to the subtleties of human interaction. Otherwise, they might have noticed the distance in my eyes. They might have heard my voice coming from far away, as if I were standing in the empty room.

It was 2:30 a.m. at home; I woke my husband and asked him to take two handfuls of tear- soaked red hair to the trash. If you think hair is your crown and glory it's not!!! Our crown is truly in heaven... hair is our strength, but it's just God's perfect plan; it always comes back with a new birth of life!!! I was silent for a while because of the overwhelming effects of my chemo. Every new chemo brought mouth blisters, nausea, pain, and gastric burning... I felt like I was on autopilot most of the time, just trying to endure the pain and not think too much about the future. I worked so hard during the grueling months to regain strength, stamina, and mobility. I like to think that in the dissociated silence that settled over me, my mind sent messages to my body, ravaged from chemo that I could get through this.

Then I needed to come to terms with the loss of my beautiful breast. I could have elected to grieve forever over their death or move on and continue to live a normal life, even though it is not!!! Throughout this journey I have learned life lessons that I hope can help others. That prayer reminds us that we are alive and that life is a gift from God. A privilege, not a right!! You must stay in touch with the Holy Spirit so reality doesn't destroy you!!!

Typically when sewing, we're drawn to a selection of fabric because of the color, texture, or theme. But occasionally we'll come across some fabric that simply reminds us of someone special or a pattern might jump out that reflects a certain passion of loved ones. These colors and patterns have a common thread. Common threads that are woven through the fabric of our lives. There are many threads, but the way I see it, there are two luminescence, holy threads that make the fabric that comforts me. They are the desire to hear stories of others walking in similar shoes and the desire to be heard!! The thing I know most about dealing with cancer is to have people that were highly present, absolutely right there with me. It was more than what they said; their presence was very comforting and reassuring. Knowing what I know now, I'm certain they were rushed for time and overworked. These threads have definitely woven themselves throughout my own cancer experience. My grandmother always said, "You never know who your true friends are until you go through a crisis and see who stands by your side."

This is my reflection of living with breast cancer. I am attempting to walk the fine line of faith. I am interested in telling my story which would create images of a powerful message for women, images which speak of the depth of the experience and not of the victimization of the disease. Breast cancer takes the victim's innocence in the way it is portrayed in a hospital. It seems a common thread….. the fact that cancer makes us all stronger in one way or another...graphic memories are the way to deal with the cancer…. laughter is the key and knowing that life is greater than cancer…. we have a choice, to give in and let cancer take us….or go with a fight!!! The thing is God knows who is looking in through the fabric at me!! So I have a responsibility to not let those down who are looking through at me.

I'll stop writing for now and go back to weaving my fabric one friend at a time. Singing high to the heavens so my grandmother can hear, a hymn she sang called "One day at a time!!"

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Barbara Grandon
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - October 2007
School Teacher, Monroe, La.

Strength is never losing the will to do what is right; it is carrying others through troubled times through your own challenges; it is having faith in optimism. Strength became my shining characteristic in October 2007, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer followed by a double mastectomy procedure in November.

Friends would say this Harley cruiser is daring, and they truly recognized my courage when chemo treatments led me to shave my head - it was a new beginning through the support of my family, encouragement of friends and sharing the experience with other members of the Kitty DeGree Breast Cancer Support Group.

I serve as an inspiration in my community. After finishing treatment just after my fiftieth birthday, I focused on my spirituality and took time to reflect on life. I added to my list of hobbies including painting classes, engaging in tennis lessons, and spending more time in the garden. I stay busy now as a school teacher, mother of three, devoted wife, sister, and loyal friend.

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Betty Swanson
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - August 2007
Associate Pastor, Monroe, La.

My name is Betty Swanson and my journey through breast cancer began August 2007. I remember hearing the words that no one ever thinks they'll hear, "You have breast cancer." At the moment my doctor told me my tumor was malignant the world seemed to stop spinning. When I found the lump in my breast, I kept thinking it would just go away or that it was nothing. Well, it didn't go away. I finally made an appointment with my doctor after finding out that a friend at church had been diagnosed and was preparing to have a double mastectomy. Thankfully, my loving husband Ray was with me the day I had my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, when I was told the lump was most likely cancerous.

My case has been described as complex and complicated due to the problems and setbacks I've had along the way. My body has changed so much that at times I look in the mirror and don't know who I am. And although at times I may not know who I am, I know to Whom I belong. A core needle biopsy, double mastectomy, four rounds of chemotherapy, subsequent hair loss, blood clots, numerous scans, tests and surgeries can't change my faith in God. In fact, my faith has sustained me through the most difficult times. My prayer today is for anyone facing the battle of breast cancer. Just remember that you're not alone sister. Cling to your faith, cling to God and know you're loved!

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Emily Smith
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - June 2008
Elementary Teacher - Monroe, La.

Everyone has secret fears, I guess. My biggest fear was always cancer. I never watched "cancer movies" - those sad, "people-dying" things and I wouldn't listen to stories about cancer struggles if I could avoid them. I am not unfeeling or hard hearted, I just couldn't deal with such a scary thing as cancer. It seemed impossible terrible for everyone involved. Then in June 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thus began the journey about which everyone speaks. At that point, fear turns into a strong determination to win. Cancer is no match for the determined spirit of a mom. I had a life to live and two boys to raise.

In my case, I had a tumor in my right breast and a suspicious sot on my left. I chose a bilateral mastectomy and never looked back. The oncologist patiently explained treatment options and I began chemotherapy. Guess what? After the first session I figured out chemo wasn't really scary after all. Each inconvenience, each chemo session, each medical appointment was a small victory. One more step in finishing the journey set before me. It wasn't especially fun, but I met a lot of nice people, and I proved how strong I am. I can call myself a survivor now!
I can always look to God's Word for instant and constant encouragement. My absolute favorite verse is Matthew 10:20. It says: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to ground apart from the will of your Father."

In Luke 12:6 it says: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God."

Whenever I had to be admitted to the hospital, I always took my small ceramic bird. To me, he was the visual symbol of God's eyes never leaving me. I only had to glance at a tiny, unremarkable bird and remember that we are worth more than many sparrows.

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Barbara & LaWanda Johnson
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - May 2007
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - June 2008


Barbara's story:

My name is Barbara Johnson. I was diagnosed with cancer in May 2007 and on June 2007 I had a left breast mastectomy. I have been around a lot of people who had and have cancer. I never thought It would happen to me even with a strong history of cancer in my family, but it did. To learn about my cancer was very devastating and it was hard for me to accept the fact that I now had cancer. I prayed and prayed for the Lord to help me to get through this. God answered my prayer. I have accepted my new condition and I am learning to live with it. Because of my cancer, I have a stronger faith in God and I am a better person. My family took very good care of me until I was able to help myself. By the time I had finally accepted having cancer exactly one year later in the same month of June my daughter, LaWanda, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 36 on her right breast. I was more devastated about her condition than I was about myself. I thought I was never going to stop crying.

To keep my sanity, I start praying again. This was very stressful to me. LaWanda has always been my most sickly child. I didn't have to take any chemotherapy or radiation but she had to take both. She lost all her hair and she made me very proud of her when she shaved what was left of her hair off and went bald all the way. Sometimes she wore scarfs and wigs, but mostly bald. She looked cute with her bald head and cute big earrings. LaWanda and I are on our journey together living one day at a time. We thank God for each day. I love LaWanda very much and I hope we will have a very long, painless journey together.

 

LaWanda's story:

My name is LaWanda Johnson and at the age of 36 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. On June 18, 2008 I was told by the doctor I had breast cancer. Previously, I had a mammogram done in February and received a letter stating that it was normal. However, that same month I found a lump on my right breast. This was very strange to me when I just had a mammogram two weeks earlier. I waited a few weeks before going back to the doctor about it because I thought it could have been another reason why it was there. My doctor scheduled for me to have another mammogram and following that again I received a letter stating that everything was normal once again. A few days later I received a phone call and was advised that it was abnormal and was urgently scheduled for an ultrasound and later a biopsy. At this point I was confused and scared because 4 months had passed since I has the first mammogram that I was told to have been normal. I kind of figured out what the out come would be but I continued to pray that everything would be okay.

After knowing that I had breast cancer I now knew that there was a history of cancer in my family since my mother was diagnosed the previous year. What bothered me the most about my diagnosis was my than 9 year old son. Since I am a single parent I couldn't imagine me no longer being in his life since he was so young. I really didn't want to let him know what was going on but he needed to know. Once I told him he did get very emotional but he was also very helpful and understanding. He actually made my journey a lot more easier to handle along with the rest of my family.

A journey through cancer is not one to take alone. It took a month for me to be able to get the tubes out from the mastectomy followed by 5 months of chemotherapy and 6 ½ weeks of radiation. I was so happy when that part was over with. Now I just make sure that I keep all my appointments, take better care of myself and be more blessed for every day that I am still here.

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Lenard Banks 

My road to recovery was asking God to help me have faith enough to believe that he would answer my prayer for healing and enough patience to wait for his answer. Even in the midst of loss, disappointment, sickness, or failure, I lift up praise to God because I know every time I do, He will work powerfully in my situation and I will be glorified in the process.

 
  
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Susan Krapf
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - January 2008
Mother and Wife, Columbia, La

"I found out that I had breast cancer January 09,2008, after finding out that I was pregnant. I couldn't do any normal testing to find out if the cancer was anywhere else, I only had one choice at that time and that was to have a mastectomy. My cancer was only in the right breast, but I decided to have both my breast removed.

At the same time, all that was on my mind was my family. At that time I had a 7 year-old son, Gus and a baby trying to grow and come into this world. The not knowing what would be the out come of my life at that time was enough to drive me pass anything that I ever knew or thought that I knew.

I had a double mastectomy after my 13th week of my pregnancy and started chemo treatment about two weeks later.

My mind stayed turned upside down, and wild thoughts, thoughts you would never think of in a million years. I would have crazy things run through my mind that I would have to shake myself sometimes to stop thinking these thoughts. I'm sure others have had some of the same thoughts that have been told they have cancer.

It seemed like anything that could go wrong for me, it did. If it said "Uncommon Side Effect" it had my photo and social security number by it.

Losing my breasts was very hard, but I could hide that, but when my hair started coming out, that was what I think was the hardest for me and the end. I had let my hair grow, that was the longest that my hair had been since I was a little girl. That was something I was proud of and in two weeks it was gone. I did have it cut before I started chemo and donated it to the "Locks of Love". Then I'm sad to say I quit washing my hair. I really thought that I could save my hair if I didn't wash it, crazy right? Then I had to wash it, and it was pretty much gone. My husband, Gary works offshore and he is gone 14 days at a time, so when he left for work I had all my hair and when he returned home it was pretty much gone. What little was left, Gary finished shaving it off for me.

At one point during all of this I had five doctors. All the best I could get. They were and still the best to me. I have learned that a good relationship with your doctors and nurses makes your journey easier.

I think I was at a doctor's office or a hospital once or twice a week for months. I had six blood transfusions while taking chemo and being pregnant.

The doctors finally stopped chemo around the end of June to let my body rest and get ready for the delivery of my baby. We were going to have the baby a month early. All I could think about was what I had done to this baby. I was so scared after taking all this chemo and everything else that I went through. Well, our little girl came into this world very healthy and with no problems at this point in our lives. I will say that she only weighed 4.5 pounds. I do believe the chemo did show through her in a few ways. She had no hair on top of her head, no eye brows and no eyelashes. They are growing back now, and her daddy will have to keep a close eye on her with eyelashes that just about touch her eyebrows now. She is beautiful and full of life. She is a survivor also. God knew what he was doing when he gave me Helen Olevia.

I requested after Helen was born, to have a PET Scan. I had my scan, restarted my chemo the first part of August. I was on the downhill side of my cancer. I had my baby and finishing my treatments in the next couple of months. Then the bomb drops, my cancer had spread to my liver, and we all know what that is "suppose" to mean, but that is not for me. The Lord is taking one piece at a time and putting it in His pocket. I'm happy to report, that I'm very blessed and my cancer is in remission.

I believe that we all have a journey in life, some have an easy journey and some are chosen for some reason to take this journey. For me, I believe the Lord has me here to tell about a miracle that I have and that if we believe, life can be full of wonderful things from Him. I have learned how to pray, something that I didn't know a lot about. I believe the Lord can make a difference in your journey. I also found that life, family, and friends are things that can't be replaced and are what is important.

I don't think that I could have come this far if it wasn't for my husband, Gary, son Gus, and daughter Helen. I'm blessed to still have both my parents, and a brother with me. But I want to say that I was very blessed with a wonderful husband. He has been through it all with me and has never turned away from me once. My son, Gus, he has had to grow up quick and face things that I wish he could have been spared from. Helen, I hope that she has had all the chemo that she will ever need and never has to go through it again.

I will shake myself and stop here with my story. One more thing, I'm blessed."

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Brandi Thomisee
Breast Cancer Diagnosis - May 2009
Mother and Girl Scout Leader

Ironically I was filmed by some newscasters at the 2009 Relay for Life talking about my previous bout with cervical cancer in the past and how I was waiting to have a breast biopsy in one week. Which I quoted "will be fine". Well, to my surprise, it was not fine. The day after Mother's Day in 2009 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember curling up in each of my kids' beds that night and crying next to them scared to death I would have to leave them. I tried not to worry them so I didn't want them to know about me having cancer. Well that plan didn't work because I had to have a double mastectomy and chemo every week for three months and every three weeks for the rest of the year and this caused me to lose my hair. This was very hard to prepare the children for for me. I am a Mom first and a Girl Scout leader second. Those two things bring me the most joy. I was so scared that my girl scouts parents were going to take their daughters out of my girl scout troop because of them being scared I might die during the year. This would have crushed me, but I would have understood. And then I tried to figure out how to prepare the girls for all of the changes that were happening to me with hair loss and many, many surgeries. The girls did great. They acted like nothing was wrong with me and loved me everyday even more. I remember having chemo on a Friday for six hours and taking my girl scout troop to a Mall Lock-in all night long.

Throughout the whole year I would get chemo and then hold a girl scout meeting or event at my house for my troop several times a month. The girls were very understanding and helpful. They even cooked and brought me dinner while I was too sick to cook. My girl scouts and my own children have learned way more about community service throughout this experience. They help every year with the Relay for Life and the Race for the Cure. I also know they will always be more aware of breast cancer and I know that will save one of their lives in the future or someone they love. I love my Girl Scouts and their parents. They have helped me through the most scariest time in my life and I know it would have been harder without them."

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Joli Livaudais Grisham 

Joli Livaudais Grisham is a commercial, portrait and fine art photographer. The Kitty DeGree Breast Health Center "The Open Road" is a project with which she feels a deep connection. As with so many others, Joli has a personal story to tell about a loved one who bravely fought and eventually succumbed to breast cancer-her mother, Dorothy Kelleher, died in 1995 from the disease.

"I feel that this is a way to not only celebrate the strength and spirit of these brave women, but to give hope to every person diagnosed with breast cancer who sees these photographs. When they see how many people have not only survived, but triumphed… people just like themselves… maybe it will help them in their own lives."