COLUMBIA — Imagine finding out you have breast cancer seven days after your twin sister was diagnosed.
This is reality for Robin and Rebecca Viley, sisters from Moberly. For Rebecca, the diagnosis came as a shock, according to her sister.
"To me, it was not a big surprise," Robin said. "Cancer runs rampant in our family."
Rebecca, the "younger-by-25-minutes" twin, was the first to be diagnosed. She always went to her yearly mammogram appointments, and a week before Halloween in 2008 she felt a lump on her right side. Rebecca called the doctor, went in for an exam and was diagnosed on Nov. 4.
Her first of five chemotherapy sessions was on Dec. 9.
"They told me I'd be bald by Christmas, and I was," Rebecca said.
After being diagnosed, Rebecca took a genetic test to find out if she carries the gene for breast cancer.
Following her chemotherapy, Rebecca underwent radiation treatment. She is now a four-year survivor and is cancer free.
When Rebecca told her twin sister, Robin, about her diagnosis, she encouraged her to also get an exam.
"I always like to tell everybody I saved her life," Rebecca said.
Robin was very busy and never had time to get a routine exam.
"I knew she was going to harass me to the grave if I didn't go get checked," Robin said.
Robin was diagnosed with breast cancer Nov. 11, one week after her sister. She had her first surgery on Dec. 23, was out of the hospital by Christmas Eve, and was back to work by Jan. 2. She then participated in a chemotherapy trial and went through the therapy for almost a year and a half.
"Ellis (Fischel Cancer Center) had good omelets and chocolate ice cream," Robin said.
Robin then went through 25 sessions of radiation and has also been cancer-free for four years.
"When something comes up and bites you like that, you can fight it," Robin said.
The twins were the two survivors who spoke at the Mid-Missouri Susan G. Komen Pink Promise Tea on Saturday morning. The tea is held to celebrate local breast cancer survivors. Ellis Fischel Cancer Center donated 50 free tickets to survivors.
The tea included health and wellness checks, an education table, a raffle and a silent auction. Among the auctioned items were MU paraphernalia, restaurant and spa gift certificates and sports ticket packages. The keynote speaker was Dorit Tidhar, a physical therapist from Israel, who specializes in aqua lymphatic therapy for cancer patients who suffer from lymphedema.
The Mid-Missouri affiliate of the Susan G. Komen foundation raises and donates money to local cancer treatment and the national foundation. Of the money raised by the affiliate each year, 75 percent is distributed among 16 local counties and 25 percent goes to national research. MU has received more than $1 million from the national organization, said Kathryn Adams, the local affiliate's executive director.
"Together we are turning millions of breast cancer patients into cancer survivors," said Lauren Whitney-Karr, the opening speaker at the event. "We join in the promise to save lives and we're one day closer to finding a cure."
The importance of exams and support
Shirley Sapp, also a four-year survivor, was joined by her daughter, Deanna Powers, at the event. This year is Sapp's third year in attendance.
Sapp, an active participant in breast cancer awareness events, almost did not go to get a mammogram the year she was diagnosed. After her diagnosis, Sapp made the difficult decision to get a mastectomy instead of choosing chemotherapy or radiation.
"It's all in what you make it, and I would do it again," Sapp said.
Sapp's experience showed her daughter the importance of exams as well.
"The importance of mammograms is to get them done," Powers said.
To Sapp, a good support system is important.
"Since I've had this done, I've met a significant other," Sapp said. "And we're getting married next month."
Sapp said she thinks every woman should know that you should not fear what comes with fighting cancer, whether it is surgery or chemotherapy.
"Life is not over," Sapp said.
Joyce Milhollin and Barb McCall, two survivors from the Monroe County Cancer Supporters, were also on hand for the event. This year was Milhollin's first year of attendance and McCall's second.
The Monroe County Cancer Supporters raise money for patients with all types of cancer.
"It is important to partner with Komen," McCall said. "We have the ability to help."
McCall sees the importance of the resources and services that the Susan G. Komen foundation offers, such as free mammograms. Resources are available by county within the affiliate region.
In addition to the involvement with the Komen foundation, the group provides support to cancer patients in Monroe County. One form of help is offering gas cards to assist patients who sometime have to travel more than 60 miles for daily treatment. The group also provides $900 financial assistance checks for patients.
"Monroe County is very close-knit," McCall said.
Just this past week, Milhollin took meals to a cancer patient undergoing treatment.
The Monroe County Cancer Supporters also partners with the American Cancer Society and its Relay for Life event.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.