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WC coworkers become “breast friends” during cancer treatment

WC coworkers become “breast friends” during cancer treatment.

Over the past year, Kathy Williams and Dana Orban have gone from Weatherford College coworkers to self-proclaimed “breast friends”

Williams was the first to find a lump in her breast during a self-check as she showered. It was just before Thanksgiving, and her last mammogram had only been four months earlier which showed no signs of cancer.

But on Dec. 2, 2014, she was officially diagnosed with Stage IIA breast cancer.

“Everything just spiraled from there,” she said. “The doctor was surprised it was as large as it was considering I had a mammogram so recently.”

Williams began chemotherapy on Dec. 30, and, after six rounds, she had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction on May 5. She will continue treatment through the end of December even though she has been declared cancer free.

Orban’s story is similar. Like Williams, she found a suspicious lump while taking a shower. She went in for a mammogram the following week, but no cancer was detected. Her doctor followed up with a sonogram and located the Stage IIB growth on Jan. 15, 2015.

Orban’s treatment began with two lumpectomies and was followed with four rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation sessions. She is now on maintenance medication.

Being diagnosed just a few months apart, the ladies were drawn to each other for support during treatment.

“Work is my family,” Orban said. “It the people around here who got me through.”

Orban is the academic secretary for the math and social sciences departments as well as Phi Theta Kappa. And Williams is a learning lab specialist in Instructional Support and the Success Connection where she works with students daily to help them succeed in their studies.

Both ladies said the biggest fear going into treatment was fear of the unknown.

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“My first day of treatment, [my husband] Chris went with me and we cried together,” Williams said. “I sat in that chair before anything was hooked up to me, and I just cried.”

From there the small concerns start to come up: Will I lose my hair? Will I lose my breast?

“My sister was more worried about my hair than I was,” Orban said.

“I accepted that I would be losing my breasts, they did this to me,” Williams said. “But my hair didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Treatment for both ladies was a whirlwind that kept them busy and fighting.

“My resolve was, ‘This is not going to kill me, let’s get going,’” Williams said. “Then, after surgery, when I was told I was cancer free, that scared me. That was scarier than being told I had cancer because now I have more of a feeling of my mortality. I feel as if my life expectancy has been shortened.”

Treatment provided no downtime for Orban who said she didn’t have time to even think about what she was going through.

“More people probably have a stress breakdown afterwards because you are so focused on getting through it,” Orban said.

Orban was also determined not to let cancer derail her routine. Throughout all of her treatment she only missed three days of work — two days for surgery and one day after chemo made her sick and her caring coworkers politely told her to go home.

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“I’m glad I don’t have to run to appointments every day now,” she said. “I was going to radiation appointments during lunch. It’s my own work ethic; I felt guilty missing work.”

Among the faculty and staff at WC who supported Orban and Williams throughout their treatment was Executive Dean of Academics Michael Endy. He said Orban didn’t let her cancer “define her, defeat her, or change her incredible heart. Fear is instinctual; courage is a choice.”

“Kathy loves to laugh,” he continued. “Like Dana, she conveyed the sense that this was a terrible inconvenience rather than a threat to her life. On the day Dana finished radiation, Kathy filled Dana’s office with balloons. Two came from the package joined. Kathy inflated them and hung them on the computer monitor for her ‘Breast Friend.’ They shared a great laugh when Dana saw them. Kathy bore her pain and shared her joy.”

Facilities Specialist Loretta Huddleston was also an important part of their workplace support system. She said the pair were an inspiration to all those around them as they dealt with their situations with “amazing grace.”

“Each of these ladies truly persevered with a smile throughout their surgeries and treatments,” Huddleston said. “I know that there were moments of stress and anxiety for both of them; however, neither of them exhibited these times, as often as one might under the circumstances… Both of these ladies are a testament to incredible grace in the midst of the fire.”

Orban and Williams are currently adapting to life after breast cancer and finding their new normal.

“I try to take life slower,” Williams said. “I want to enjoy people and events and not just endure them and experience them. I look for the enjoyment. I’m already having trouble with that and getting back in my go-go-go routine. I need to have a harsh talk with myself to slow down. I am still tired, and it is hard for me to do the things I used to do.”

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