It’s a fabulous thing: Paint the Town Pink ambassadors put a face to cancer
Published 7:01 am Sunday, January 31, 2016
More than 200 people jumped in East Side Lake Saturday during the annual Plunging for Pink, but the experience was extra special for one of the jumpers.
Paint the Town Pink co-ambassador Kelly Joseph got the green light from her doctor to take the plunge into the icy January waters of East Side Lake.
“The more I thought about it, I’m doing it because I can do it,” she said.
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Joseph and Darci Buchan were chosen as Paint the Town Pink’s 2016 ambassadors, a role that has them attending events like The Hormel Institute’s PTTP kickoff, dropping the puck at the Bruins Paint the Rink Pink game, going to high school sporting events, plunging into East Side Lake, and sharing about their experiences with cancer.
Buchan said it was an honor to be asked, and both women agreed to share their stories.
“If someone needs to talk about it, we can talk about it,” Joseph said. “If they want the real stuff to talk about, I can do that.”
In five years, Paint the Town Pink has raised about $554,000 to support the Hormel Institute’s cancer research during January and February. This year’s goal is $200,000.
But Buchan questioned if this was the only time people think about it, donate to it or draw attention to it. For those living with it, who have gone through it, survived it and family and friends who support their loved ones with cancer, it lasts longer than merely four weeks of events.
Buchan said cancer is on everybody’s mind every day.
“Either you know somebody, you have somebody, you have it, you lost somebody, you work with somebody, your neighbor, somebody,” she said.
Yet she said PTTP is a good way to draw the community’s eye to what those fighting cancer go through.
“This Paint the Town Pink is a fabulous thing,” Joseph said.
Buchan said it helps people put a face to cancer and say, “Hey, you know what? I can beat this. Or at least today I have beat it.”
Buchan and Joseph were friends many years before being diagnosed with the same type of cancer, but their cancers took two different paths for the women.
Though Joseph’s first mammogram in February 2013 was pushed back a few months after her father had a massive heart attack, the scan came back with nothing. But Joseph noticed changes and that something felt off.
“It was just something sitting in the back of your head: There’s something not right and you need to call and get in,” she said.
After, her doctor would perform an exam and ultrasound in July of that year, and a surgeon referred her to Mayo Clinic in Rochester a few days later. At that point, Joseph knew something was up. Later that month, she was thrust into a continuous schedule of scans and MRIs and teams of doctors before she was eventually diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.
“Once they confirm cancer, you don’t really hear anything after that, and you go, ‘God, I hope someone else is listening because I can’t absorb this,’” Joseph said.
She soon underwent a double mastectomy, an intense surgery that lasted 14 hours, and doctors declared Joseph cancer free. She still had to do chemotherapy and six weeks of Monday-through-Friday radiation because of 22 lymph nodes.
After the surgery, chemo and radiation treatments, Joseph admitted she felt alone without doctors and nurses.
“You become so dependent on them to look at you and say ‘This is what’s going on right now,’” Joseph said. “Cancer does a lot of collateral damage.”
Joseph remembers her daughter was at college and wanted to quit and come home to be with her, but Joseph told her daughter to stay. Her son also made many trips between Albert Lea and Austin, and her husband took care of her after surgery.
She now goes to the doctor every three months for checkups.
Like Joseph, Buchan’s journey with invasive lobular carcinoma started with a regularly scheduled mammogram — hers in January 2014 — that didn’t find any cancer. But Buchan found a lump shortly after, underwent a biopsy and was diagnosed on Valentine’s Day 2014.
Buchan’s reaction to the news was just like Joseph’s.
“Kelly’s right: After you hear that, you’re done,” Buchan said. “I cried on the way home and went over to my mom and dad’s and bawled.”
After tests in Rochester, Buchan was scheduled for surgery that April. But after meeting with a surgeon, she learned her body wasn’t strong enough for surgery and doctors feared it could cause her cancer to spread.
Buchan also saw a foot specialist before the surgery because of previous problems with her foot. The specialist did a full body and bone scan and found cancer in her foot bone.
“Well, now I can honestly say I have cancer from my head to my foot,” Buchan said.
After the bone cancer was found, doctors told Buchan they didn’t have a cure — all they could do was treat her symptoms and keep her comfortable.
Neither women’s journey has effected the friendship they have in each other.
“We can be what we were before, because we’re at where we are now,” Joseph said. “We don’t have to worry about saying something that will hurt the other’s feelings.”
The women admitted that some friendships cannot survive a cancer diagnosis, but then others do many things like bringing meals, mow the yard and shovel snow to help, Buchan described.
“Then you get all kinds of wonderful people that come into your life too, ones that you don’t expect and that just do wonderful things for you,” Joseph said.
Joseph said even a text message is meaningful.
A friend who was also diagnosed with cancer would text her every morning to ask, “Are you up?” “How are you doing?” and ”Did you eat anything today?” along with playing the app “Words with Friends.”
“That was our thing,” Joseph said. “You develop those kind of things that you can’t even explain to people what that’s like.”
Though people outside the situation may not understand why the small things are important, Joseph said they were life-lines when she was stuck at home.
Buchan said she thought about Joseph a lot when she was first diagnosed, because she knew what Joseph had gone through.
“I said, ‘Okay she did this, I can do this.’ And then all of a sudden to be told that my cancer took a turn and went down a different path, I’ll always wonder why,” Buchan said.
Now, she says she wished she could have gone through a similar experience to Joseph’s: one tough year that ends with her being declared cancer free.
“I never know how far I’m going to be able to walk or breathe or anything like that and that’s just how it’s going to be,” she added.
Joseph said getting her current job at Austin High School was the best thing that could have happened to her, as its given her another set of friends, even though there are things they won’t understand unless they’ve been through it.
“It’s such a raw emotion,” Joseph said.
Paint the Town Pink
Paint the Town Pink is already special to Buchan and Joseph. After her cancer treatments and the fear of catching other illnesses had waned, some of the first events Joseph attended in the community were the Austin Bruins Paint the Rink Pink game and the Austin Packers Dance Show. Buchan attended the Packer girls Paint the Gym Pink basketball game last Thursday night.
The women will both continue to attend many events in the coming weeks to share the PTTP experience and to share their stories.
“The pink is pretty but cancer’s not. The truth of cancer is not pretty,” Joseph said. “We need to have people to talk about this without being ashamed or afraid.”
2016 PTTP events
•Jan. 31: Uniquely Yours Canvas, Hope Floats at The Eagles, 1:30 p.m.
•Feb. 1-5: Ellis Middle School’s cancer education week.
•Feb. 3: Uncork & Create PTTP Edition at the ArtWorks Center, 5:30 p.m.
•Feb. 4: Austin High wrestling’s pink match, 6:30 p.m.
•Feb. 4: Southland boys basketball pink game, 6:30 p.m.
•Feb. 5: PTTP Business Expo at Home Federal Bank, 9 a.m.
•Feb. 5: First Farmers & Merchants Bank serving pink cookies
•Feb. 5-7: Matchbox Children’s Theatre presents “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” at Paramount Theatre.
•Feb. 6: Austin Bruins’Paint the Rink Pink hockey game at Riverside Arena, 7:05 p.m.
•Feb. 7: Dad’s Belgian Waffle Breakfast at the Austin Eagles Club, 9 a.m.
•Feb. 10: Caregiver Appreciation Day
•Feb. 11: Adams Taco Feed at the Adams Legion, 5 p.m.
•Feb. 13: Fishing for a Cure ice fishing contest at East Side Lake, noon
•Feb. 14: Austin YMCA’s ALL Cancer Colors 5K walk/run at the Mower County Fairgrounds, 11 a.m.
•Feb. 14: Smashing Cancer Demolition Derby at the Mower County Fairgrounds, 2 p.m.
•Feb. 18: St. Mark’s Bake Sale at St. Mark’s, 11:30 a.m.
•Feb. 20: Adams Pink Party at the Adams Legion, 11:30 a.m.
•Feb. 27: Brownsdale Paint the Town Pink