Being a nurse saved her life, because Sidney Wojcik discovered her own breast cancer five years ago.
It didn’t make telling her family any easier.
“There was a dimple, a shading. I kind of knew it, but when they said they needed a biopsy, it was surreal,” the 72-year-old said. “I called my son’s mother-in-law to practice telling people. She was shocked but helpful.”
A former Auburn school nurse, Wojcik then told her husband and, in their birth order, each of their four children.
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Wojcik is healthy now, and for the fourth time since it began its annual run in 2009, she will attend the Pierce County Survivorship Conference on Aug. 12 at the University of Puget Sound.
There, she’ll see survivors she has met and gotten to know over the years, and keep up with details on new procedures, diets and ways to help both the patient and the cancer caregiver.
The conference is free, and those who register get a free breakfast and lunch. They can listen to guest speakers and attend several of more than a dozen classes offered that day.
More than 40 exhibitors will be on hand, offering massage to henna tattoos — and, always, plenty of information.
“What makes it worth going back are new presenters, new ideas each year,” said Pam McGee. “I had breast cancer, and am hopefully beyond treatment. But there are presentations that are helpful for those going through treatment and those beyond it.”
A retired Tacoma health instructor who now lives in Lakewood, McGee is 71 and has grown to appreciate the approach of this event as much as information offered.
“It’s a loving, caring environment, a gift to those attending,” she said. “They treat you like royalty, like someone deserving of love and respect and honor. The conference is about feeding the soul.
“They create a world of awareness of living with cancer, living with treatment and with life choices.”
Often, her husband, Dale Leggett, attends with her.
“Dale was the epitome of a caregiver. I never went to an appointment alone,” McGee said. “This conference recognizes caregivers and the anxiety they face. Cancer impacts the whole family.”
The woman with the best attendance record is Frieda Nation, a 77-year-old who has gone to every event.
A one-time clerk for the Burlington-Northern Railroad, Nation is a hoot.
“Even as a kid, I had a strong sense of who I am and what I can do,” Nation said. “I’m a fighter.”
The first time she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease — a form of cancer — was in 1984, when she was 46.
“My first treatment was experimental, and I was diagnosed with stage 4, and no one really expected me to survive,” Nation said. “I got down to 80 pounds. In those days, there weren’t support groups. There wasn’t much information available to us.
“I underwent surgery and then 35 weeks of chemotherapy. I was married twice, had seven children, and it was a tough time.”
Nation survived, but the cancer returned in 2001.
“The second time they used three kinds of chemotherapy and a new medication — it was a clinical trial,” Nation said. “My whole life, I’ve been a guinea pig!
“The difference between treatments in 1984 and 2001 was unbelievable, and since my second treatment they now have a pill form of chemo if the cancer comes back.”
Those kinds of changes, Nation said, is why she enjoys the Survivorship Conference.
“I always want to know more, learn more, so I went to the first conference,” she said. “They get the info out, so you’re not kept in the dark. We have the right to know what’s going on, and the more we know, the better it is for our dealing with it.”
Nation said the conference also is a reminder of how blessed she and all the other survivors are.
“I’ve got 14 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren,” she said. “Life goes on, and it gets fuller. People who have known me a long time sometimes shake their heads that I’m still here — but I keep moving.
“I want to know what happens next.”