Joyce Wilson: On Trips of a Lifetime, Planned and Unplanned

A Wayne County woman doesn’t let cancer, its treatment or its recurrence get in the way of her plans to attend her oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation or her own 45th high school reunion.

Joyce Wilson: On Trips of a Lifetime, Planned and Unplanned
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Wilson, who lives in tiny Seven Springs, between Goldsboro and Kinston, was diagnosed with Stage III endometrial cancer in August 2011 after watching a television show about the symptoms of uterine cancer — symptoms Wilson had had since January.

Media contact: Tom Hughes, (919) 966-6047, tahughes@unch.unc.edu

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Written by Elizabeth Swaringen for UNC Health Care

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Joyce Wilson isn’t about to let anything – including treatment for a recurrence of Stage III cancer – stop her from two upcoming once-in-a-lifetime trips.

“I’ve already told them I’m not available for treatment the week of May 23 because I’ll be in Arizona to see my oldest granddaughter Chelsea graduate from high school,” said Wilson, who will be 64 on May 16.

“And I expect the treatments to be far behind me by the time I go to my 45th high school reunion in October in New Jersey with my high school sweetheart, Joe Romig.”

Wilson, who lives in tiny Seven Springs, between Goldsboro and Kinston, was diagnosed with Stage III endometrial cancer in August 2011 after watching a television show about the symptoms of uterine cancer — symptoms Wilson had had since January.

“I went to my doctor and knew he was going to tell me I had cancer,” Wilson recalls.  “Still, it was very hard to hear it. Stage III was bad enough, but I’m thankful it wasn’t Stage IV.”

By the time Wilson was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to Wilson’s cervix.  Through an outreach program that allows multidisciplinary teams at UNC Lineberger to collaborate via teleconference with local medical practices, Wilson was referred to UNC Hospitals for treatment.

She underwent nearly five hours of surgery in October, and chemotherapy followed. Next came seven weeks of external radiation that ended in March.  By early April, Wilson started brachytherapy, a type of internal radiation therapy that delivers high doses of radiation from implanted “seeds” close to or inside tumors in the body.

“Hers is a complicated situation because she had a recurrence of endometrial cancer in her vagina,” said Ellen L. Jones, MD, professor and director of the clinical residency program at the UNC School of Medicine, and a member of UNC Lineberger, who joined radiation oncologists Mahesh Varia, MD, and Nathan Sheets, MD in caring for Wilson.

“The combination of chemotherapy and radiation was tailored to cover everything broadly and then specifically her pelvis and regional node area,” Dr. Jones said. “Our focus now is on that spot of recurrence.”  

Brachy is Greek for short which translates into treatment that is short range, maximizing doses of radiation to cancerous tissues while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. Mainly it is used with prostate and gynecologic cancers.

“We are pleased to offer her brachytherapy in a suite that was developed specifically for our department as part of the North Carolina Cancer Hospital,” Dr. Jones continued. “Our state-of-the-art facilities and the interactive outreach we do across the state are real strengths.”  

Wilson prays the brachytherapy will do to the recurrence what the chemotherapy and radiation did to the original cancer.

“When they told me the scan showed the cancer was gone from the original site, I thought I was through with treatment,” Wilson said. “It was something to thank the Lord for.  I’m appreciative and grateful, but I’m also anxious to get all this over with so I can go on with my life.”

While in treatment, Wilson stayed at SECU Family House, the 40-bedroom hospital hospitality house minutes away from UNC Hospitals that provides comfortable, convenient and affordable housing for seriously ill adult patients and their family member caregivers.  

She was joined there at different times by her sister, Barbara, from Virginia, and Wilson’s daughter, Dawn, and her 12-year-old daughter, Brittney. And Joe made appearances, too.

“I needed them here for support, and they wanted to be here,” Wilson said. “It was an education for them, especially Brittney.  She really liked Family House, and the house really is a blessing.  Everything about it – the food, the entertainment, the staff and volunteers, the other patients you meet – is out of this world.  And a lot of people still don’t know it’s here.”

Wilson feels well and is doing well enough to begin making plans for the trip to celebrate Chelsea’s graduation.  

“I’ve got to go shopping for a new wardrobe,” she said. “I needed to lose weight, and I’ve lost more than 40 pounds since all this started. I’m five pounds away from being under my goal of 200. I’m confident I’ll make it.”

“Joyce is a really strong person,” Dr. Jones said. “The thing that always impresses me for so many people, including Joyce, is their inner strength.  They just rise to the occasion with amazing strength, dignity and resourcefulness.  We applaud that and try to support them beyond what we do for them medically.”

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