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Thriving after cancer

Posted: October 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Breast cancer survivor Wendy Thrush, who is also a Circle of Hope board member, sits in the nonprofit's office in Newhall. Photo by Charlie Kaijo.

 

Editor’s note: Today The Signal offers profiles of two local breast cancer survivors in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

For Wendy Thrush, a 54-year-old Valencia resident, being diagnosed with type 2 breast cancer in December 2008 made her a better person.

The blow came just a few years after she lost her memory as a result of a routine dermatological procedure, she said.

“Life continues no matter what,” Thrush said. “Memory loss, breast cancer — life goes on.”

While struggling to regain her 42 years of memories, Thrush recalls a friend receiving a gift of a mammogram. She set out to learn about the procedure and began doing breast self-exams. While giving herself an exam in the shower, she felt a lump in one breast.

“At first they thought it was fibrocystic,” Thrush said. “Then fibrocystic turned into an aspiration, and aspiration turned into a breast cancer diagnosis. What Dr. Senofsky thought was early detection turned out to be stage three breast cancer and in my lymph nodes.”

Upon diagnosis of the aggressive disease, Thrush had a lumpectomy and was treated with chemotherapy and radiation for six months beginning January 2009.

Even with positive outcomes from her treatment, Thrush and her family struggled.

“We had already gone through financial loss because of my memory loss,” Thrush said. “So a friend of ours had mentioned Circle of Hope Inc. and who they were, and I began my journey through breast cancer.”

The memory loss robbed Thrush of her education, so she pursued her dream of owning a snack food business supplying snacks to television and film production studios.

“Interesting enough, (memory loss and breast cancer) have been a blessing to me,” Thrush said. “I’ve become a better person. I know now that I have perspective on who I might have been and who I am today.”

Thrush dedicates a lot of her time to volunteering and working with Circle of Hope to help provide support to patients and families struggling through breast cancer. She is now a board member.

Circle of Hope is a nonprofit organization that gives financial and emotional support to patients and families dealing with breast cancer. Up to $10,000 per patient is available in financial aid.

“I feel I have a stronger purpose in life, and I have a reason to be here,” Thrush said.

She was honored as a survivor alongside more than 150 women during Circle of Hope’s 10th annual Afternoon Tea & Cocktail Reception on Oct. 12.

Another survivor honored at the event was Barbara Barela.

Barela, a 44-year-old Stevenson Ranch interior designer, discovered her diagnosis after falling two stories from a ladder and worrying about breast implant silicone leakage.

In August 2011, Barela was diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer. The diagnosis came just two days shy of her 42nd birthday and a few weeks after the fall.

Stage three triple-negative breast cancer­ is a rare form of the disease that makes up about 15 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.

Doctors at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital discovered the disease during a mammogram.

“From then on, it was boom, boom, boom,” Barela said of treatment, which included 28 sessions of radiation therapy, six months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

“What is my purpose?” Barela recalled thinking. “If it really is my time, then I would have gone straight down that ladder.”

During treatment she continued to stay hopeful and became proactive, asking any woman she saw if she had been checked and had a mammogram.

A big factor in her successful recovery came through Circle of Hope, she said.

Barela sent the agency her billing statements and was selected to receive aid. She is one of 170 people aided in the Santa Clarita Valley over the last 50 years, according to Pam Ripling, chairwoman of Circle of Hope.

Barela and Thrush continue to be advocates for breast cancer awareness. Barela is even turning her home into a “Heavenly Haven,” as she calls it, a place where women can get together and connect to relieve some stress.

Barela sums up her breast cancer experiences by comparing them to Katy Perry’s latest hit single, “Rawr,” and calling herself a warrior instead of a survivor. Thrush agrees with the sentiment.

“I don’t feel like a survivor,” Barela said. “I feel like a warrior princess. I try to live one day at a time.”

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