Persistence pays off for cancer survivor

Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2011

June Earnest knows the importance of early detection and treatment for cancer. This American Cancer Society volunteer and long-term breast cancer survivor also firmly believes in trusting your inner voice.

Call it female intuition or a gut instinct; something told Earnest 20 years ago to be persistent when it came to her health.

“I’d had my routine physical, the usual tests when you turn 50, including a mammogram,” she explains.

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A return visit to her doctor yielded good news regarding her test results. But he forgot one thing.

“I was walking out the door when I remembered something. I asked him about my mammogram results,” Earnest said.

She was in for the shock of her life.

“He looks at the report and says, ‘Oh, you have cancer. You’ll need to see the surgeon.’ Here I was, I’d just turned 50, I had cancer, and my first grandchild had been born. I was so scared. I did a lot of crying at first,” Earnest admits.

A lumpectomy was performed and Earnest was told by her doctor he was “99.9 percent sure” the cancer wouldn’t return in her breast.

“He gave me a clean bill of health,” she said. “But I knew somehow things just weren’t right. I decided to see Dr. (Norman) McGowin here in Greenville. He advised me he would have gone ahead and removed the breast and referred me to an oncologist.”

Further examinations determined Earnest still had cancerous tumors in her breast. She underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

In October, she will celebrate 21 years of being cancer-free, an anniversary Earnest considers “amazing.”

But it could have turned out so differently.

“If I hadn’t been persistent — if I hadn’t stopped and asked about my mammogram in the first place — I am sure I wouldn’t be here today,” Earnest said.

“But I did, and now I’ve seen that granddaughter grow up along with my other grandchildren.”

Today she puts in many hours to raise both cancer awareness and funding for research and support programs.

“I really think research is the key. Look how far we’ve come, how much better the treatments are now and how survivors are living longer and longer,” Earnest said.

Others in her family have not had the positive outcome Earnest had in battling her cancer.

“I’ve lost a sister and sister-in-law to cancer; my dad was one of the six out of seven children in his family who died from cancer. We lost 13 of 21 first cousins.”

She nods, a determined look in her blue eyes.

“And that is why I work so hard for the American Cancer Society and for Relay. I don’t want other families to have to experience what we’ve gone through,” Earnest said.

As she prepares to make that “victory lap” as part of the Survivors Walk at the Butler County Relay For Life Friday night, Earnest will give a prayer of thanks and remember the importance of listening to that inner voice.

“I am a firm believer in regular check-ups and tests to allow early detection and treatment,” she said.

“But I also believe it’s important to follow your own heart. You know your body better than anyone else does. If you know something is wrong, be persistent.”

After all, persistence can save your life.