By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
When it came time to support a 32-year-old friend recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Janet Ware didn’t have to think twice.
“I’m helping her through her journey,” said Ware, who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in January 2009. “A lot of people sometimes don’t have as much support from family and friends, and I see women come [for chemotherapy treatments] alone. Just to have somebody you know there supporting you means a lot.”
Ware, 66, is a nine-year breast cancer survivor, and her mission is simply to help others who are newly diagnosed.
“If I find out, I will send them a card or give them a call. If they need me to go with them to a treatment, I’ll go because I know how it felt for me. … I talked to other women who had helped me through my battle, and it made me more comfortable,” she said.
Even before her own diagnosis, Ware said she had compassion for women with breast cancer.
“I don’t know why, but I felt a connection with them,” she said. “I would [join] in breast cancer walks. I just did what I could to show some support. But when it happened to me, it was devastating.”
Ware went regularly for mammograms because she has fibrocystic breasts, meaning breast tissue feels lumpy or is rope-like in texture and it was difficult to tell if she had cancer or not. One day when she was at work, she got a call from her doctor.
“I’m thinking this time was like all the other times, [when no breast cancer was found], but it was different this time. It was actually breast cancer,” she said. “I just broke down and started crying. I was very upset.”
Ware called her husband, Joseph, and told him she would meet him at home. When she arrived, she shared the news with her entire family.
“My sister said, ‘I would rather have it than you.’ That was very touching for me,” she said.
Ware was happy to have the support but worried what would happen to the family if she were gone.
“At first, when I was diagnosed, all I thought about was death and dying. [I thought about] my husband, my children, my grandchildren, and how I wouldn’t be here with them.”
Ware said she never went to a doctor’s appointment or treatment session without her husband or children. She remembers six weeks of radiation and about four months of chemotherapy. She lost weight. She lost her appetite. She lost her hair.
“I always cared about my hair and would go to the hairdresser,” she said. “Once it was gone. I had to adjust to wearing wigs, I would wear a scarf all the time because I didn’t want my husband to see me. He said I could take my scarf off because he loved me whether I had hair or not.”
At that point, Ware said she knew she would make it.
“[My husband and I] had been married for almost 40 years,” she said. “My daughter, my son, my sisters, everybody, … no one treated me any differently. That meant a lot.”
Ware has been a cancer survivor since August 2009, and she continues to support women battling breast cancer. She speaks about the disease and her journey at her church or on social media, and she has a card ministry through which she sends notes to women who need encouragement.
“It helps me, and it makes me feel good because I know what they’re going through,” Ware said. “I try to help them work their way through the situation the best way that I can.
“I’ve met a lot of new friends doing this. … We’ve become connected sisters because of our journey.”