Cancer survivor shares her story
Iola woman finds strength in family, friends
By Holly Neumann
Judy Driebel has always been diligent about having regular mammograms.
“I work at F&W Media and an imaging truck comes right to work, so I had no excuses not to,” the Iola woman said.
Angie Lund, Benefit and wellness manager for the company, said the Marshfield Clinic Mobile Mammography unit has been coming to F&W Media twice a year for the past eight years.
“I wanted to make it as convenient as I could for employees to get their screenings,” Lund said. “It is very important to have this done annually and now they don’t have to use their vacation time to do it.”
During one of those screenings a lump was found on Driebel’s right breast.
“Everyone has always told me that breast cancer does not hurt,” she said. “But I had this burning sensation and I just knew something was wrong.”
Driebel traveled to Marshfield for further testing.
“None of the doctors could feel it, so they did another mammogram and an ultra sound,” she said. “When they did the ultra sound, they found it.”
Diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), Driebel was scheduled for a lumpectomy, to be followed by chemotherapy and radiation, per the recommendation of her doctor.
According to breastcancer.org, IDC is the most common type of breast cancer. More than 180,000 women in the United States find out they have invasive breast cancer each year, most of them diagnosed with IDC.
With her lumpectomy performed in January, Driebel began chemotherapy that February.
“Some people tried to warn me about the dangers of chemotherapy, but I decided to trust my team of doctors,” she said. “In total I had six treatments. One every three weeks, through the month of June.”
She found comfort from one of her co-workers, Susie Melum.
“Judy told me she was going through some tests,” Melum said. “I told her about my own sister who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
And when Melum happened to be at the hospital on the day chemo treatments were to begin, without hesitation she sat with Driebel while she was there.
“I didn’t really think about how it affected me, more that I needed to make it less scary for her,” Melum said. “We all need a circle of support. I became part of her circle. It was quite the reality check.”
Melum also put Driebel in touch with her sister.
“She had told me that two weeks after starting chemo my hair would fall out and that it did,” Driebel said.
She appears to have taken it all in stride.
“I had my daughter Heather shave my head and I had a wig ready to put on when she was done,” she said. “It thought it would bother me, but it did not. I figured it was only hair, it will grow back.”
Through it all, Driebel considered herself to be lucky.
“I didn’t have terrible side affect from the chemo,” she said. “After each treatment, I felt pretty good for a day and a half and then I would feel tired and weak for two or three days. I only had to miss a few days of work and I was thankful for that.”
It wasn’t until her fifth treatment that she started to struggle.
“I didn’t bounce back like I usually did,” she said. “They finally admitted me to the hospital for seven days. I had pneumonia and a blood clot in my lung. My teams of doctors said it was a good idea to take off work until I got stronger and could receive my last dose of chemo.”
While in the hospital Driebel learned that her sister Cathy also had breast cancer.
“My mom and I just about dropped at the news,” Driebel said. “We were all so shocked.”
At the encouragement of Driebel, her sister and children, a third sister was tested as well.
“All three of us were diagnosed within six months of each other,” Driebel said. “We went through it together.”
Driebel was forced to take a month off of work until her white blood cell count returned to a healthy level.
“I was determined to get back to work before the Iola Old Car Show,” she said. “F&W’s Old Car magazine and the Car Show sponsor a Wine and Cheese event each year. I do the planning for that. This is my event and I was going to be there for it.”
She returned to work in early July and began radiation treatments soon after.
“I now know why they call cancer a journey,” she said. “It seems like all you are doing is traveling from appointment to appointment. You feel like a weary traveler at times.”
Driebel believes that faith, family, friends and good food got her through it all.
“My co-workers coordinated meals for my husband and me,” she said. “I think we had meals at least three times a week of more, for six months while I went through treatments.”
Driebel also proudly shows off a gift she received from those same co-workers.
“It reads, ‘Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything,” Driebel said.
And that is exactly what she did.
“There is nothing that I could do about it, so when I was not feeling good, I did a lot of praying,” she said. “Whatever happens, happens. You hope for the best and take things day by day.”
A mammogram in December of 2013 gave Driebel a clean bill of health.
“It feels wonderful,” she said. “Every time you have a little twinge, you think back. But I am enjoying my life, my family and my friends.”
She will continue to get blood work every three months and mammograms every six months.
“Right now they tell me my numbers are excellent,” she said. “So I will just continue to pray.”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend annual screening mammograms for women age 40 and older.