Three women, three stories of survival. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and three Magic Valley women are sharing their stories to inspire, educate and encourage others.
Breast Cancer Survivor Jill De Vries Pays it Forward for Others
Jill De Vries was diagnosed with breast cancer on April’s Fools Day.
She already knew the news was coming.
“I had a lump that was coming out under my armpit,” said De Vries of Wendell. “I could see it sticking out.
“I looked it up on the internet. They said if it hurts, that is a good thing. I am sitting there trying to make it hurt. But it didn’t.”
She went to St. Luke’s Magic Valley for a mammogram and then an ultrasound. She was diagnosed with stage 2a breast cancer. Her tumor was the size of a golf ball.
She sent out a mass text message to her friends and family telling them it was not an April Fool’s Day joke, but real: She had cancer.
“I was totally at peace with it,” De Vries said. “I never once thought of it as a death sentence. I knew I was going to get through it.”
She had a lot of support from the beginning. She had two lumpectomies. Lymph nodes were removed and a port was installed for her chemotherapy treatments. Her treatment plan included four rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks.
As she began to lose her hair through treatment, she debated shaving it off. She remembered a haircut from her childhood, and some advice she received from her mother.
“I remembered when I was 10 years old and I had long hair. My mom said, ‘Why don’t we save your hair? You never know when you would need it.’ So, we did, and I kept it.
“Although I choose not to do anything with it since I never wore a wig, it was encouraging to know that I had my own hair if I wanted to use it.”
De Vries has found multiple creative ways to give back as she has moved through the stages of her cancer care, including a party she hosted to celebrate the day she shaved her head.
“I waited to shave it bald until my sisters could come from Washington in mid-June,” she said. “We decided to raise money to donate to Camp Rainbow Gold.”
During her treatment, she wore plenty of hats. She celebrated the completion of her treatment by donating more than two dozen of them to St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI).
After beating cancer in 2011, she began working in sales for Crossings Winery in Glenns Ferry. The winery will host a fund-raising event Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be a silent auction, raffle items, pink sangria and a chance for people to participate in a grape stomp.
In addition, there will be a “Pink Stomp” three-mile walk through town starting at 10 a.m.
All of the proceeds will go to St. Luke’s MSTI cancer patient emergency fund.
“I wanted to be able to pay it back,” De Vries said. “I was fortunate when I went through breast cancer six years ago.“I know a lot of people aren’t that fortunate and they need help, so that’s why I wanted to host an event at the winery.”
St. Luke’s Breast Cancer Patient Donna Kruger Dispenses Advice – and Haircuts
“One day at a time.”
It’s the advice of Donna Kruger, 60, of Twin Falls, who is undergoing treatments after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
After finding a tumor in May of 2017, Kruger “panicked.
“It was very evident that it was there and it hadn’t been before,” she said.
Kruger visited with her doctor at St. Luke’s Magic Valley who confirmed her suspicion.
“I think it is normal for everybody to think, ‘Oh my gosh. How long will I live?’”
Since July, she has been coming to St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) in Twin Falls for chemotherapy treatment. Her treatment takes place every three weeks. In total, she will have six chemo sessions.
She plans to be finished in November, and then will start radiation treatments.
“During the first week after treatment, that’s when I show signs of being tired,” she said. “Thank goodness, no nausea. I think that’s the biggest fear of everybody.”
Kruger is still working as a hairdresser in Twin Falls. It’s her passion and how she has spent the majority of her time for 42 years.
“You need to feel normal and you need to be around people,” she said. “I can’t think of many places to be around people more than in a beauty shop.
“I have had the pleasure of being able to counsel, so to speak, those that have sat in my chair with the same issues that I am going through.”
She intimately understands the worry of losing your hair while battling cancer.
“Who wouldn’t worry about losing hair, as a hairdresser might?” she said. “Once I started to lose my hair, I started cutting it off.
“When I first cut it off, I loved it. It just felt good,” Kruger said. “Even as it kept getting shorter, I thought, ‘I think I can do this.’”
Ultimately, she shaved off all of her hair, with the support of her family. Her brother also shaved off his hair in solidarity.
“It certainly helps when you have a big support system,” she said.
After finishing her treatments, Kruger thinks, she will not grow her hair long again.
In the meantime, she wears three different wigs, wigs that her grandchildren helped her to name: Bella, Camille and Summer. During treatment at MSTI, she wears a scarf, saying it is “more appropriate.”
Kruger is not shy about her struggles. She openly shares her experiences on social media. She even began her process by writing a long post called, “There is no elephant too big.” It was her way of letting others know about her breast cancer.
She likes to document so others can learn from her experiences.
“Every person is going to be different. It’s just something you have to get through.“One day at a time.”
Watch this video to learn more about Donna's story.
‘Knowledge is Power’
St. Luke's Magic Valley patient Karen Thompson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. At the time, she was 38 years old with 5 children. Karen shares her story and encourages others to take their health seriously and to get a mammogram. "Knowledge is power," she said.
St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation is raising money for two 3-D mammography machines for Twin Falls and an upgrade to existing equipment at Jerome’s hospital.For more information on how you can help bring 3-D mammography to St. Luke’s, contact the St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation at 208-814-0070 or email Ramona Crandall.
Michelle Bartlome is the public relations manager at St. Luke's Magic Valley.