Connie and John Williams
Neile--Connie and John thank you for being with us today. Connie you said when you first knew something was wrong you didn't tell John
Connie Williams- "I didn't'"
Neile- Tell me a little bit about discovering your breast cancer.
Connie Williams - I found the lump in one breast at his mothers as a matter of fact for the weekend and i just though what if its nothing. Lets just not jump the gun and i thought i would go and have all the test done before i needed to alarm the family. Tell John. Tell everyone. So, i'd already gone been to my Doctor the Gynecologist to have the mammogram and didn't tell him until after the mammogram and then I ah sat down had dinner" John Williams-We called it an opportunity.
Neile- Explain that for us
Connie- We always say, we don't have a problem we have a new opportunity. So, we sat down for dinner had a lovely dinner a little champaign and I said sweet heart we have a new opportunity. Neile -John, did your heart sink when you first heard that? Did you know?
John Williams--"We'll I thought maybe it was one of our Daughters who are both married i thought we'll we are gonna be grandparents but that wasn't the surprise she had to tell me. And I was just really surprised when she said it was breast cancer I never thought Connie would be a candidate for that I think she's so strong and it was quite a surprise when she told me that"
Connie Williams- Actually he said when I told him we have an opportunity and I said I have found a lump and it is malignant. And he looked at me and he said Can I see it? Actually but he was very calm through the whole thing.
John Williams - We launched into reading everything we could and The Komen Foundation does supply a lot of a lot o materiel and in fact they indicated one stat that women who do got through breast cancer there is about a 60-percent divorce rate and everyday when i'm running that vacuum sweeper I say Connie i'm still think im in the 45. I may be in the 45.
Neile - We don't have a lot of time left so I wanna back you up just for a minute I love that you always say we have an opportunity, One of the things you and I talked about was that you have been a Race Chair you've always worked with survivors and this race is different for you this year
Connie Williams - It is different it is different because I always thought I knew and you never know until you walk the walk and this year I will be a survivor and i will have my own hat.
Neile - So When you see all of that pink for both of you because your a cancer survivor too how will that feel do you think.
Connie - It will be very different I think. I even got to go to Washington DC and have the 75 hundred survivors..It will be different because i know the story of the faces for the first time i understand. I understand critically on the other side for the first time
Chad and Jenna Sullivan
Neile - If you know someone with breast cancer then you know this disease affects the entire family for Jenna and Chad Sullivan the hardest part was telling their son Noah, Jenna had breast cancer.
Neile - Jenna we first met last year you were not very far from your diagnosis. You were diagnosed at the age of 31. One of the things that is so good about talking with you guys, you are such a young survivor and a lot of people don't realize you can get breast cancer so young. I know that is something that went through your mind when you were first diagnosed tell me about that.
Jenna Sullivan - I was just surprised. I had just had a child and supposed to be in the pride of my life when i found a little spot that was nothing. And even when I found that spot even when I went for the mammogram I was never thinking they would find something. I thought I was just doing what I needed to do. Getting it checked out for my health and then when it came back that it did look like it was going to be cancer, it took us back as a couple I think
Neile- Do you remember when she called to tell you what that felt like? Did you go with her?
Chad Sullivan - No, well we found out over the phone they ya now after the biopsy she was at home it was the end of the day she was already home from work and I wasn't and she called me and she didn't even have to say it she could barely get it out she was so choked up.
Jenna Sullivan- "I just said it was positive"
Neile - That was prob all you could get out at the time whats going through your head as a new mother when you first hear that because theres other women at home dealing with this as well
Jenna Sullivan - I felt like I was drowning. It took processing it luckily Noah that day was at child care still and it took him coming home and working through it as a couple before we could even.... Noah was too young he was only 15 months old.. to know or even begin to explain anything like that but I think the thoughts of what I am gonna do now came later. I remember most the thoughts like that going through MRIs and testing and to find out how to face it. It was in the tunnel in the MRI tunnel thinking those things
Neile - I know you as a husband, for many men they feel so helpless because they don't know what to do.
Chad Sullivan- it was, well when we first found out it was more like that survival mode. We will get through this. We will fix it. It really... You know the other long term thoughts don't start creeping in until you start going to the test or when your by yourself. You know with Jenna I was always just trying to prop her up so you just have to go into that Patty Positive mode
Neile- And you did something I still tell people about to this day. Tell me about the egg timer it was a very useful tool for you guys.
Chad Sullivan - John Carson Junior who cuts my hair, is an amputee. He lost his leg when he was 18 about 18 in a motorcycle accident. And his dad would come in with an egg timer whenever he would get upset and he would set it to you know five minutes ten minutes. Whatever and he would say okay you have got five minutes to get this out of your system and ill be back. And he would just leave the room and he would throw things, scream just do whatever he needed to do. And then when it would ding he just, it was over and he was like okay, now its time to move forward and get on with the rest of our lives.
Neile- And that really worked for you guys.
Jenna Sullivan - I had to use it a couple of times. Once in the closet. I don't know why the closet made meltdowns occur. And he would set the timer and I'd melt down in the closet and I picked my head up and went on...
Neile - When the beep goes off life goes on
Chad Sullivan...I had Noah and I walked in and she was having a moment and I was like okay let me tell me what my barber said....
Neile - Whats something you would like maybe a young woman getting ready to go down the road you've been down..what do you want them to know about what it is like to be on this side.
Jenna Sullivan - I have already had the chance to talk to other people. And I find myself telling them the same thing my mother always told me. Just take one day at a time. When it comes to a diagnosis like this, I took one doctors appointment at a time. And you have to trust your Doctors and the surgeon to make the best decision thats right for you and just take a breath.
Neile- We first sat down with Dwight and Juliane Pfeffer several years ago. They join us today just past their four year mark of being diagnosed with breast cancer. How does that feel?
Juliane Pfeffer - It just feels like wow its almost five years
Neile- And that 5 year mark is pretty important.
Juliane Pfeffer - Yeah you stop seeing the Oncologist and ya just take a sigh of relief maybe. I don't know i'm not sure.
Neile - it Is hard to believe how far you've come..Dwight in four years isn't it
Dwight Pfeffer - its been a real ride but the 5 year is a cornerstone and we are almost there.
Neile - One of the things I want to talk about with you today ... you were so open with me and this is hard for a lot of women in making the choices mastectomy lumpectomy. What to do and you said you second guessed a lot of the choices.
Juliane Pfeffer - I Did second guess it. I thought ya know even doing the mastectomy, ya know theres stuff you don't realize it doesn't ever feel normal like it used to. So maybe I should have done the chemo and radiation and tried to save the breast. But ya know if my stomach hurts or somethings going wrong with my health somewhere else im sure its cancer somewhere else. So im finely at peace with the decision I made because I would have constantly been waiting to hear I had it again I would have just been waiting to hear okay you've got cancer now in your other breast
Neile - Because you decided to have a double mastectomy when the cancer was only in one breast.
Juliane Pfeffer - It was in the right breast. And T choose to just take both and then I questioned weather I should have tried to save the right breast and just do the chemo and radiation. But my girls were only four and five and then I had the business and I just had to make the decision to what I thought was best to get me back to work and take care of my kids I made that decision and then I thought well maybe it wasn't the right decision.
Dwight Pfeffer - It was pretty courageous.
Neile - It was there is no better word. Talk to me about your girls and how life is different with them.
Juliane Pfeffer - Ya know my main thing is...now Dwights two daughters are living with us now. Also and their grandmother died of breast cancer like five months before I was diagnosed. So it was really rough for them. They were little I just want.. for none of my girls to ever have to fight that battle that is how I look at them. I look at them like please we need to find a cure so my daughters don't have to go through this.
Dwight Pfeffer - on the other side of that is that they are aware of it. All four of them as they grow up its gonna be a cause for them to be involved with. For them to disseminate the word to friends of theirs and basically pick up the banner an run with it.
Neile - You guys are one of those couples you are so tight nit. Dwight tell me how proud you are her. What do you think after knowing you might have lost her and you didn't.
Dwight - Honestly she's so strong its hard to believe she actually went through it and ya know and I forget from day to day as she's running a catering business running the girls to school and soccer and all over and works 14 hours a day puts food on the table for me when I come home from my little job I look at her and just go its hard to believe she went through it and I forget sometimes and i gotta catch myself when she is a little tired and what is wrong and oh yeah put up a huge battle and you kicked cancer in the back side.
Neile - You did mommies gonna be here to see those girls graduate from college to see those girls get married. Is there anything you want to say to other women who are going through something similar.
Juliane Pfeffer - ya know I didn't take proper time to heal take the time for yourself because its not easy its a long something its not something you should just ..ya know thats my biggest regret ya know i didn't take the time to heal properly and to take care of myself but thats my nature anyway. My big advice is please take time for yourself and know that what you went though is big deal.
Neile - Jenna Im gonna pick on you for just a minute. One of the things you mentioned was overtime you got sick you thought cancer had returned talk about that and explain that feeling.
Jenna Sullivan - I was just saying that it seems like for me it was easier dealing with the actual diagnosis and the Doctors appointments and everything that was coming with ya know. On Tuesday I need to see this Doctor and on Wed I need to see this Doctor. And now ya know that my surgery is complete and i've been given the green light from my Oncologist and my breast surgeon and my plastic surgeon and now I don't know what do to.
Juliane Pfeffer - I know I felt exactly the same way ya know. I need this. I need this to know im okay.
Connie Williams - Thats the hardest part for me because they took over my life. And I tried to schedule them. And I would say we'll I can't be there. Finally my little Doctor bless his heart, took me by the shoulders and said excuse me your schedule is not my schedule and you have breast cancer. And that was the first time I went oh....Cause my schedule would never do because I wanted it over..Do you feel like it ever doesn't consume everything
Juliane Pfeffer - I don't know if it consumes it like it did, but its still there. You get stomach ache or a headache i've got brain cancer or colon cancer or whatever. I don't know its like okay I beat that I can't possibly beat another cancer.
Dwight Pfeffer"waiting for that other shoe to drop julie got a bad blood test just recently and immediately we are thinking what are we dealing with is it cancer you know you immediately go its my shoulder ive got shoulder whatever
John Williams - One thing that helped us, we decided early on that we wanted to be as honest as we could. And every time we would talk to them we would always give them the diagnosis the opinion. We always told them the truth. We didn't want to necessarily talk about it all the time, but if anyone asked we were always prepared to explain what was going on ..and that helped us deal with it a little bit better
Connie Williams - Well you have to decide how your gonna do it. Are you gonna be a positive ....approach it head on. And you all were positive
Juliane Pfeffer - Oh yea well at first because I have a catering business. So at first Im like oh my gosh no body can find out about this because my customers are going to feel like I can't call her. And its like oh yes you have to call me thats my bread and butter. So I was quiet for a day and then I literally got out there when I had my lumpectomy
Dwight went to all the businesses down Walnut. And the day I came home every sign said get well soon Juliane Pfeffer
Connie Williams - See when I found out I was gonna loose my hair i'd already done my chemo 18 weeks in. So I decided i'd have a get naked with Connie day and I invited 55 of my friends. And we shaved my hair off in front of all my friends and family at my house. It was the only way I could do it the worst part of me was I would look at my daughters and young friends and they were all crying and im laughing. Having a good time. It affected all of them. It was harder on them than it was on me.
Neile - You(Connie) were diagnosed either a year or two years after you(John) were diagnosed with cancer. Did that help in a way because you had already had those discussions.. okay if im not here..?
John Williams - I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and then refereed to The Cancer Research Center down in Little Rock Watchful Waiting where I continue to make my little visits. And I actually didn't know quite how to address that subject. Do you tell people? Do you not tell people? Are you private? I don't think I did a very good job of telling some of my close friends and thats why when Connie's situation arose we decided it would be best if we discussed it. And if anyone wanted to know something we told them
Connie Williams - I was at school. I start school..Im a high school counselor and my first day at school they called and said we need you to come with John so John was diagnosed and exactly two years later to the day. They called me on the phone and said you have breast cancer two years to the day. So when we got the breast cancer it was okay..lets just go with it"
Neile - You(Connie) were another great example of you don't have to have this disease to care about someone who does you were a race chair in 2001 now your a survivor
Jenna Sullivan - Thats something you and I talked about when I first met you. You thought I can't have this. Im too young. Share a little bit about that because I think everyone deals with that..
Jenna Sullivan - I thought i was too young. I mean i was 31 and was defiantly not prepared for breast cancer. Wasn't prepared for a diagnosis like that, but my husband and i we approached it the same way. Especially at 31. Komen does a great job of early detection and awareness, but i still look at people in their late 20's and early 30's, they are not thinking about this. They are thinking about getting married and having babies. And um chad and i have been very out there and open. I talk about my reconstruction prob in more ways that people don't want to hear about, but it helps prob in more ways. It takes the mystery out of when you tell people your a breast cancer survivor. They immediately look to see if you have breast. And i think it helps take the mystery out if you talk about it
Alison Levin - I think if you look statistically it still is an older womans disease, but unfortunately particularly in NWA younger women are diagnosed. And we are tying our darndest to make sure we can educate those young women on taking care of themselves and taking care of their bodies. Just because it says at 40 get a mammogram it doesn't mean that you should not be doing your self breast exams going to your Gynecologist and having a clinical breast exams.
Jenna Sullivan - The Doctor said that it was a miracle that I caught it so early. And that it was prob five years away from ever making a lump. Which is when most people notice they need to go in.
Chad Sullivan - I remember going in sitting in the surgeons room and he put them up there and he turned and said you've gotten your diagnosis to make sure he wasn't breaking the news to us... and we said yeah. He said why did you get a mammogram. What made you catch this and it was pure luck.
Neile -Guys one of the reasons I picked you all --- your kids were/are different ages when you were diagnosed. Kind of explain how difficult that was as a family, but at the same time how resilient your kids were
Jenna Sullivan - Well he was just so young. I couldn't even begin to explain to him what was going on so I wrote him a note.... and just explained that mommies being very brave right now. And she's doing it for you.. And your gonna go and he stayed with Chads family in El Dorado and that way Chad was able to focus on me. And I did that before all the prep stuff.. And I think the combination of sending him five hours away. He was going to be gone two weeks. Just barely a year old. And even when he came back two weeks later I
Still couldn't pick him up or do anything with him. He still he doesn't get it. He doesn't know that hes nationally known as a breast cancer advocate. My friends from other cities call me oh i just saw Noah on a billboard. And Im like thats great, but one day I think that he will be very proud. And I think that he will be a great advocate as well
Neile -Juliane how was that with your kids.
Juliane Pfeffer - They were older at least cause they were three and four. And I didn't want to hide anything from them. And I didn't want to scare them. We were honest with them too. And we explained what they could deal with and what they could understand. My four year old ya know I couldn't pick her up I lost all that and ya know she still remembers that, but we were just as honest as we could be with them.
Connie Williams - but see we had to make a phone call to my daughters that lived far away and they had just married. We had two weddings last year. And I made sure they were together and i just said sweetheart I just need you to know I' ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. And it was horrible for them. They couldn't see me and they know i'm always okay. So their dad promised he would tell them the truth cause I might not ya know. I might not tell them the truth. And then they flew here and surprised me. One Saturday im at home soon after the diagnosis and they just walked into the door. They had to see me for sure to know I was okay.
Neile - (Connie)You call your husband your rock. One of my interviews said "we" have breast cancer not I have breast cancer but "we "have breast cancer. What would you say to your husbands if they were not sitting right behind you. I'm sure there were moments you couldn't have gotten off the floor if you had not had your spouse with you. What would you say about that to other women to get them to know its okay to ask for help and to your husbands?
Juliane Pfeffer - Well I do think its harder on them. I mean because they have to be so strong and if they show us that the are afraid whats it gonna do to us. I know Dwight had his moments where he just cried by himself because he couldn't do it with me ya know. I think its harder on... it was harder on my parents because we moved in and lived with my parents while I got through it. I just think its harder on your daughters ya know my parents they have to be so strong
Connie Williams - But ya know its a blessing. We got so busy with our lives every weekend going here going there and there. We pulled back in together and the blessing of breast cancer is brining this love thats always been there and that solidarity back together it was a blessing.
Juliane Pfeffer - Well thats what I mean. Like how many adults like myself could say I had dinner with my parents every night for weeks. And I sat down as an adult ...my girls we all sat down so it brought us as a family back to what ya know ...
Dwight Pfeffer - We moved in with her parents so every night we had dinner. The grandkids had dinner with their grandparents
Connie Williams - There is more good out of whats happened to me with breast cancer than there is bad. There is bad the physicals bad. The going through it was bad the being up all the chemo but there are more positives a hundred fold then there were negatives.