STEUBENVILLE — Sharon Miles of Steubenville celebrated being cancer free and credited God for the victory.
The Steubenville woman shared a brief but celebratory survivor’s story Wednesday as part of the 23rd-annual breast cancer awareness wreath ceremony held Wednesday at the Prime Time Center.
The ceremony is a staple of the Women in Action Against Cancer Coalition of Jefferson County during Breast Cancer Awareness Month observed in October.
Before a roomful of other breast cancer survivors, the former Sharon Mieczkowski said it was five days before her wedding on Dec. 23, 2017, to Reginald Miles, when she discovered a lump.
“I was scheduled for a routine physical, and I knew she was going to ask me, ‘Sharon, have you been doing breast self-exams?'” Miles anticipated her doctor’s question.
Miles said she didn’t want to lie, so she did so before the appointment. And that’s when she found it.
“We went through a bunch of tests and went on with the wedding and two days after the wedding, we got the official diagnosis, so chemo and radiation, the whole nine yards,” she said of her diagnosis on Jan. 2, 2018, as stage 3 metastatic breast cancer.
“To make a long story short, I have to give the glory to the Lord. I know he works through the doctors,” she said to a room erupting with applause. She also acknowledged the support of WIAACC and friends.
“I’ve just been blessed,” Miles said. “And I cannot say enough about the Teramana Cancer Center and my girls over at the mammography place,” she said, acknowledging representatives of Trinity Breast Imaging on hand, including RoseAnn Piofer, breast patient navigator, and Kristy Retton, mammography supervisor. “They were a godsend, but I know the Lord has blessed me.
“I am claiming a healing today. I am cancer free,” Miles told the audience.
Janet Sharpe, coalition co-chair, extended the welcome, noting this year’s observance was especially poignant, given the coalition lost two of its members in Jean John and Kelli Knight, whose husband, Ralph, and son, Zachary, were in attendance. An in memorium table bearing their photos was on display.
Sharpe also explained the significance of the beaded bracelet at each chair, each bead representative of an average size lump found by getting regular mammograms, by the first mammogram, by women practicing regular breast self-exams and occasional breast self-exams.
“Breast cancer is treatable if detected early enough through breast self-exams and regular mammograms, starting at age 40 and above,” Sharpe noted. “Do it for your loved ones, if not for yourself.”
Dr. Aaron Provenzano of the Tony Teramana Cancer Center told the gathering that “What we tend to realize is breast cancer isn’t one exact type of cancer. It’s several different types of cancer, and this depends on the status of the cancer in regards to how it’s fed.”
Drugs such as Tamoxifen have brought success in preventing cancer from recurring, according to Provenzano.
“The most important thing is just to remember that mammography is vital and crucial as well as self breast exams. With yearly mammography and early detection, the majority of breast cancers are curable. In addition to that, once a breast cancer is found and removed, if it is estrogen-sensitive, we are able to use the pills that I talked about to decrease the occurrence up to 50 percent, which is quite meaningful,” Provenzano said.
“Many would ask me what can I do to try to figure out what is my chance of breast cancer?” he said, explaining that there is a calculator many women may not know about. He encouraged women to check out the National Cancer Institute’s Gail Risk Model Calculator, a tool that can estimate a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer.
“As far as advances now in breast cancer treatments, what we’re learning is that in cases even where we’re unable to cure, we’re extending life much longer by staggering treatments and switching from one treatment to another as we’re able to find out which is more effective for each patient,” he said.
“Breast cancer is very common,” noted Dr. Grace Y. Rathfon, leading interpreting physician director of breast imaging, Trinity Health System, who explained services offered, including routine and diagnostic mammography and 3D breast imaging.
“Approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and one man in a thousand will develop breast cancer. This year alone, approximately 268,000 women will have been diagnosed with breast cancer and about 2,700 men. About 41,000 women will die from breast cancer,” Rathfon said, noting screening is “very important.”
“We have shown that screening mammography does save lives,” she said.
Cindy Misogiane, a coalition member, provided an overview of the coalition, which was founded in July 1994. It is a community-based, nonprofit organization that started as a result of the high incidence and mortality rates of certain cancers in the Jefferson County area.
WIAACC focuses on increasing awareness, providing education and promoting early detection and prevention of cancer in Jefferson County with its mission being to encourage and motivate individuals to take charge of their health.
Its grassroots efforts, according to Misogiane, help residents become more aware of when and where to seek early detection for cancer, how to proceed when cancer is diagnosed, how to navigate through an increasingly complex health care system and where to turn for community resources and support for survivors. “Key to the process of WIAACC is the talent and commitment of our members,” she said.
The coalition helps women who need financial assistance to get breast and cervical screenings, with services provided at the Women’s Health Center and Trinity. Funding for that is generated through the coalition’s Bikers Against Breast Cancer poker run; a bake, book and soup sale in partnership with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Steubenville; and donations from businesses, including Mountainer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, Steel Valley Credit Union, Softite Credit Union and Riesbeck’s brown bag lunch program.
The coalition assembles and provides gift bags for new clients at the Tony Teramana Cancer Center in addition to financial assistance for prostate screenings during Minority Health Month.
In June, WIAACC helped sponsor a special exhibit of a giant inflatable colon as part of a colon cancer awareness display, a collaborative effort involving Ohio State University Medical Center and Trinity Health System. The display provided a close-up look at healthy tissue, tissue with nonmalignant colorectal diseases and tissue with various stages of colorectal cancer. It will return in March.
“One of our long-standing and cherished events is our breast cancer wreath ceremony honoring survivors and remembering those who lost the fight,” Misogiane said. “Each year we provide the program on the third Wednesday in October.”
The coalition welcomes volunteers to come on board. “Our numbers includes breast cancer survivors as well as well as those who have been fortunate not to have battled this terrible disease ut admire the spirit of those who have,” she said.
The ceremony included the introduction of survivors by Leslie Aftanas, coalition co-chair, and a presentation of a special gift in addition to inspirational cards made by the Pugliese Elementary School pupils involved in its Acts of Kindness club.
The observance included the opening prayer by coalition member and breast cancer survivor Joyce Summers; the singing of the national anthem and “How Great Thou Art” by Tom Graham, who also, as a Jefferson County commissioner, presented a proclamation in honor of Ohio Mammography Day; followed by a resolution from Steubenville City Council representatives Eric Timmons, Kimberly Hahn, Robert Villamagna and Willie Paul, who noted his mother was 48 when she died of breast cancer in 1985.
For information on the coalition or its services, contact Sharpe at (740) 632-1144.
Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month at the Prime Time Center. The next one is Nov. 6.