Lois Wilkinson encourages women with breast cancer to live life to fullest.
Four years ago, Lois Wilkinson’s close friend was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer: it was in her brains, lungs and all throughout her body. Her doctor said she did not have much longer to live.
Even though the prognosis was not positive, she decided to live with a positive attitude. And four years later, she was still alive.
“She was defeating all the odds,” Townsend resident Wilkinson said. “She had four years doctors didn’t think she had.”
Wilkinson said living her life positively and fully — along with talking about her cancer — gave her those extra years. She did everything with her children, who were babies when she was diagnosed. She got the chance to go to Disneyworld and watch her kids go to school.
And Wilkinson encourages others with breast cancer to live the way her friend did.
Wilkinson, an 18-year survivor, runs a Middletown support group called “A Breast Cancer Conversation.” It was created three years ago as part of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. She has been working with the coalition for 15 years, but didn’t create the group until she saw the growing Middletown-area population. She saw the need for a group.
Wilkinson calls it a self-support group. Even though she founded it, she is not there to be a counselor. She is a survivor like them. She wants to share her experiences with chemotherapy and surgery with those who are going through the same thing.
The monthly meeting consists of discussions. But Wilkinson — who is also the coalition’s Kent and New Castle County program director — likes to have a fun, such as making scented body scrubs or vision boards.
Having a group where women can talk about the disease and spread awareness is important to her because she believes it can be the key to saving lives.
“I want more women to know they need to get their mammograms,” Wilkinson said. “I couldn’t feel it, my doctor couldn’t feel it. It was only found on my mammogram.”
Beyond making sure women get their checkups, it’s about living proudly because people always haven’t.
Eighteen years ago, she said people didn’t want to talk about it, and she still did.
“It was hush hush,” Wilkinson said. “When you had cancer, you didn’t talk about it. I would go places and tell people that I had cancer, and my husband was like ‘Why are you telling people?’ And I said ‘Because I want them to know.’”
After the coalition was founded in 1991, it became more of an “everyday word” around Delaware, she said. People would wear wigs or hats to hide the loss or thinning of hair that occurs during chemotherapy. But now women of all ages are not trying to hide it, she said.
“We went from not talking about it to people going bald,” she said. “Before people wore wigs. They didn’t want people to know. Now they are like ‘Hey, I am not afraid of this. I’m fighting a battle.’”
Although some women are not afraid to speak up about their cancer, some women still try to cover it up. But those women are still willing to talk about it.
“You get through it better when you embrace it,” Wilkinson said. “I just think if you have that positive attitude, it makes a big difference.”
Though doctors are catching it earlier, and new treatments and clinical trials are emerging, women still hear “cancer” and think it’s a death sentence. She wants to show them it can be beaten.
“Some still think it’s a death sentence, but when they come to the group and see how well everyone is doing, they are like ‘Wow, I can do this too,’” Wilkinson said. “It gives them hope to see the rest of us and that we look normal, and we beat it.”
As of Sept. 19, Wilkinson’s friend entered the hospital, unsure if she would leave.
“Unfortunately, women still die,” Wilkinson said. “But she got those years with her kids.”
She hopes people talking about it more will lead to fewer women finding a malignancy too late. Not every cancer can be cured, so she hopes living positively and proudly will give women the longest life possible.
Middletown’s next meeting is at 6 p.m. Oct. 9 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Cleaver Farm Road. Call 302-672-6435 for more.