Editor’s note: In honor of October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Banner-Press is publishing a four-week series, “Think pink,” sharing the stories of community members who battled or are currently battling breast cancer. This is the final story in the series; read previously published ones on our website. The Banner-Press masthead is also pink this week instead of its normal black to commemorate the month.
After Bea Wilson learned that she beat breast cancer around summer 2016, she was genuinely curious about how long she needed to wait to consider herself a survivor.
She didn’t realize that she already fully fit into that classification.
“I asked my cancer doctor, ‘when exactly do you start becoming a survivor?’" Wilson recalled. “And he told me, ‘the day it comes out, the day they take that cancer out of you is when you become a survivor.’ And you know, it does make sense, because it’s out of your body then.”
Wilson, a David City resident and the longtime owner of Busy Bea’s Day Care, is a walking testimony of the importance of early detection. Her mother, Christine Kozisek, passed away about 10 years ago after battling the same disease. In the wake of that death, Wilson said that she made it a priority to get a mammogram annually.
That consistency likely saved her life, she noted.
“My mom passed away about 10 years ago from cancer that she didn’t even know she had, because, you know, she just didn’t ever really go to the doctor,” Wilson said earlier this week while sitting in her downtown-area home. “She had eight kids and just never went to the doctor. And by the time we found out that something was wrong, it was too late. It was in everything – her bones and her lungs."
Had Wilson taken a similar approach to her own health, she said she believes history would likely have repeated. There wasn’t a lump or any indication that she was sick. She received the life-saving mammogram at the Butler County Clinic one morning in October 2015, and by the afternoon, she was alerted that there were five, tiny white dots in her breast that may be a cause for concern.
A biopsy was completed on Oct. 29, and four days later Wilson received the call that she had early-stage breast cancer. Around the time of her biopsy, she said she was told by a surgeon that in all likelihood what they were resecting wasn’t malignant.
So the Nov. 2 news shook her up, badly.
“It was a complete shock, because here they had said, ‘it isn’t going to be cancer,’” Wilson said.
The first thing she did was call her daughters, Donna and Amy. Donna, who lives in David City, helped her mom finish out the day of work at her at-home daycare.
Because the initial resection didn’t yield fully clear margins, Wilson underwent the knife once more on Nov. 15 before completing 12 weeks of chemotherapy at the Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center in Lincoln. Following her final chemo session in March 2016, she underwent eight weeks of radiation at Columbus Cancer Care in Columbus.
During the entire process, Wilson noted that she was able to pretty much stick to her regular routine, albeit with a little extra help.
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“I never got sick, I just got tired, but I never missed a day of work,” said Wilson, who has served the area with her day care services for the better part of 27 years. “I had one of my day care kids – who was in my day care way early and works nights, every Tuesday she would come and watch my kids, and she, herself, had been a member of my day care.”
That person she referred to is Taylor Meysenburg, who started coming to Busy Bea’s Day Care when she was an infant and continued at the facility until she was about 10.
She said she knew that Wilson was sick and wanted to do something nice for somebody who played an important role with her upbringing.
"Bea is, and was, most definitely a mother figure – beside my own mother, obviously,” Meysenburg said. “She had a big hand in raising me and taking me down the right direction in life. When I heard about her getting sick it hit me really hard and I knew that I wanted to help anyway that I could …
“I figured that if she had to close for some time or downsize the amount of kids she watched it would break her heart, so I told her that if there was anything I could do to help out that I would. She always treated her day care kids like her own..."
The kind gesture is certainly something that hasn’t been forgotten by Wilson.
“She was my life saver, you know?” Wilson said. “She would come every Tuesday, and then also when I had my radiation, if I needed her she would be here … She had gone through my daycare and that must have taught her good … I knew I could trust her and I didn’t have to worry about who was watching my kids, she knew my rules and regulations and she’s from David City, so she knew a lot of the parents.
"It was something that just was common; it’s something that you just wouldn’t be able to find in a big city. This is my life, these kids, so I just can’t let anybody watch them.”
She also received a ton of help from Donna, who Wilson said made the difficult process a lot easier for her.
As the years of being in remission are starting to add up, Wilson said she still receives a checkup every six months, and of course, the yearly mammogram is a must. Now, she said that she receives a 3-D mammogram to ensure that her chest is hit from every angle while looking for abnormalities.
She’s still thankful, in a way, for that initial mammogram that turned her life upside down. Without it, she might not be alive and able to look after her little kiddos.
Her message? Be frequent and consistent with getting mammograms and don’t wait for something to appear wrong to take action.
“If I didn’t do it (a mammogram), if I did it, say, every two years, just think, then it would have probably been big-stage cancer,” Wilson said. ‘So like I said, even with no lump you are still not safe.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.