Let’s celebrate: A cancer survivor’s tale

Heidi Floyd’s journey will inspire others at Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure May 13

click to enlarge Ronda Guyton with Heidi Floyd, right, who will speak about her cancer journey in Springfield Friday. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN G. KOMEN
PHOTO Courtesy of Susan G. Komen
Ronda Guyton with Heidi Floyd, right, who will speak about her cancer journey in Springfield Friday.
Ronda Guyton with Heidi Floyd, right, who will speak about her cancer journey in Springfield Friday.
PHOTO Courtesy of Susan G. Komen

Heidi Floyd still remembers her mother, alone in her bedroom, whispering to her over the phone that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“She said it as if she had done something wrong,” Floyd said.

Floyd’s journey with this often terrifying disease started when her mother died from breast cancer at the age of 42, eight years earlier than the recommended age to start receiving mammograms. Her mother never smoked or drank and maintained a healthy diet.

An author and breast cancer survivor from Glen Ellyn in the Chicago suburbs, Floyd aims to inspire people living through their journey with cancer.

“I like to say there is a beginning to a cancer journey and a grand end when the doctor tells a patient they are now cancer-free,” Floyd said.

Floyd shares the story of her journey from beginning to present, looking to fill others with hope and inspiration to continue their own journeys. On May 13, Floyd will join the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit which advocates for education and support of people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, for the third annual Race for the Cure fundraiser in Springfield. The event raises money for research and treatment programs for patients.

According to the American Cancer Society, May is Cancer Research month.

Initiatives to inform younger women about breast health were rare until 2014, when President Barack Obama signed the EARLY Act into law. The law establishes public education through the Department of Health and Human Services, geared toward teaching young women about breast cancer care and preventive services.

Breast cancer runs through Floyd’s family, so for her, it wasn’t a question of if she would contract the disease; it was a question of when. In her book, In a Word: Quiet Little Thoughts about God, the author describes her mother as the finest Christian witness she’s ever known. “She was a kind, gentle spirit and her influence was a guiding force for my life,” said Floyd.

Throughout her book, Floyd emphasizes that she uses God as her symbol of strength – not wanting to force others to believe as she does, but instead to motivate herself and others around her.

Floyd’s mother died prior to any of her grandchildren being born and she never got to see her daughter, Floyd’s sister, be married. Floyd says that there has been a void caused by her passing too soon, but Floyd realized that she was blessed with people who show her little glimpses of her mom.

At the age of 36, about 11 years ago, Floyd herself was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her son. As a result, her initial doctor gave Floyd only one option: terminate her pregnancy or risk both her life and her child’s life.

Discussions about a woman’s choices during cancer sometimes cause tension between pregnant patients and medical professionals, due to conflicting values. Typically, going through radiation and chemotherapy treatment while pregnant is not recommended by doctors, but Floyd was determined to find an alternative to terminating her pregnancy. And she did.

She met Dr. George Sledge, chief scientific advisor of Komen’s scientific advisory board. He is also a professor at Stanford University with a focus on cancer medicine. Sledge ultimately accepted Floyd’s choice to move forward with the pregnancy while going through treatment.

“Dr. Sledge became my oncologist, battle commander, mentor and hero,” Floyd said. “Sledge not only used research to help me, but to help my daughters as well.”

Her son, Noah, is now 11 years old and living a normal, healthy life.

Floyd says that as a result of her journey, her children have become very aware and compassionate to others when joining their mom in establishing supportive networks.

“They understand that when I say I can’t watch a movie with them, Mommy is working to help others who may travel down a path similar to mine,” Floyd said.

Floyd recalls a time when a woman reached out to her in need of immediate help; the woman’s husband left her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with twins. By the end of the day, Floyd had connected the woman to people who were able to help her find shelter, pay her bills and provide assistance with meals.

“None of this helps me or my kids, but it helps them realize how we are blessed to stay in the house we live in, so we have to step out and help as much as we can,” Floyd said.

In April, Floyd spoke at the Circle of Promise in Peoria, an event designed to engage African-American women to help end breast cancer by fostering increased awareness, support, empowerment and action.

“Any time you can get survivors to come together in our community, extraordinary things happen,” Floyd said prior to speaking at the event. “We uplift each other.”

The Circle of Promise is one of many ways that the Komen foundation raises awareness about breast cancer. The Play for the Cure golf outing is another event that is planned to occur in June in Springfield.

 “This event also has a huge impact on breast cancer,” said Meg Newell, development director for the Susan G. Komen Memorial affiliate office in Peoria.

The Race for the Cure, hosted by Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, is an annual fundraiser that offers a series of 5K run and fitness walk events to raise public awareness of breast cancer. The first was in Dallas, Texas, in 1983. Since then, the race has expanded to more than 50 locations, including international races in places like Germany, Puerto Rico, Greece and the Bahamas.

Floyd is excited to be a part of the Komen Race for the Cure.

“Not only would I want people to be able to use the advice God gives me to say, but it is also an opportunity to hear their stories,” Floyd said. “What I’ve learned is that I can help connect people when I hear their stories.”

Floyd remembers speaking to a group of all male doctors and feeling as if her story had not connected with anybody in that room. Six months later a woman contacted Floyd, asking for help reaching out to the woman’s own daughter who was pregnant and had been diagnosed with cancer. The woman said she was a server at the doctors’ convention and that she had hidden behind a pillar during the conference, listening to Floyd’s message.

“Isn’t that amazing?” Floyd said. “The whole point is helping other people. The more people we encourage to give to research or reach out and support people who are going through breast cancer. You never know if someone out there is listening, being uplifted and being filled.”

Newell, the development director in Komen’s Peoria office, says her role with Komen allows her to interact with donors, advocates and supporters at all levels. Since 1986, the Memorial Affiliate of Susan G. Komen in Peoria, which covers Springfield, Jacksonville, Chatham, Rochester, Decatur and Champaign, has raised well over $13 million, which has helped to fund national research and local education, screening and treatment of breast cancer.

Floyd and Newell say employers can support Komen’s cause and spread awareness about breast cancer through matching donation options for employees, providing in-kind donations and having people come into the workplace to talk about cancer.

“You never know if an employee is battling cancer for themselves or with a family member; any bit helps,” said Newell.

Floyd also encourages corporations to give hotel miles and airline points or sponsor women to attend Komen conferences.

“You can do so much that takes so little with the help of all employees,” said Floyd.

“When you can give something that only you can give,” Newell added, “that matters.”

Currently, Floyd is working with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, and Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-North Carolina, on legislation to protect the coverage for screening mammograms for women between the ages of 40-49. An independent advisory arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had proposed changes to the national breast screening guidelines that would no longer require health plans to cover screenings without a cost-sharing for women within this age group.

Floyd serves as a motivational speaker for women with cancer and will be walking in Komen Memorial Race for the Cure, now in its third year, in Springfield on May 13. Prior to the race team activities will kick off at 5 p.m. and the race will start at the Capitol at 7 p.m.

“It’s not just a big party” said Floyd. “It’s a learning symposium, it’s a caring symposium. It’s really our community binding ourselves to one another, reminding each why we’re here and what we do.”  

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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