Four women, four friends, four breast cancer patients helping each other heal

October 23, 2018

Anita Layman, Betty Echlin, Pat Gruener and Jeanette Hildreth never knew each other until they shared a strong, lifelong common bond – breast cancer. These four brave women met at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute and all wanted to tell their story – a story overflowing with emotion and hope.

Anita Layman (Davison)

“When I found out I had breast cancer, Marcia Schmidt (breast health navigator for Hurley Medical Center) provided me with a wealth of information and resources. She invited me and my entire family to meet with her to talk about what was going to happen to me – all in terms we could understand easily.

“I was still in shock when I heard the diagnosis. My husband had passed away 11 months earlier and I was still grieving over his loss. I didn’t get my mammogram when I was supposed to, and when I did, after a biopsy, it showed I was positive for invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancer had gone into my lymph nodes. I had 28 radiation treatments and four chemotherapy treatments. I was so afraid. Randy (Anita’s husband) would have been my support person. We had been together since high school.”

Instead, she found support, love and encouragement from other women who were undergoing treatment at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute. She immediately befriended Betty and Jeanette, and they have been close friends ever since.

Linsey Gold, DO, FACS, FACOS, breast surgeon, conducted Anita’s surgery. “I love her!” Anita exclaims. “My daughter had a lymph node removed a couple of years ago and Dr. Gold was her surgeon. She was fantastic. I asked my family doctor about her, and he said she was very good and very informative. When I met her, I felt like there was no time limit with her. I trusted her completely.”

In hindsight, Anita admits there were clues leading up to her diagnosis of breast cancer. The size of her breast suddenly began growing larger, but she ignored it.

When she talks about Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute, Anita describes the staff as “my family. They provided so much comfort and reassurance.”

Anita is cancer-free.

Betty Echlin (Mt. Morris)

Betty found what she calls a small pimple under her arm but wasn’t too worried about it until she saw a swollen lymph node. She received the news in May 2016: Betty had triple negative breast cancer, and so the journey began for her … five months of chemotherapy at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute, 30 radiation treatments and another six months of chemotherapy.

“I knew a lot about cancer because all of my family members had been stricken with this disease,” Betty explains. “I was in total surrender; I was so worn out because of what I had gone through with family members, but I continued to plow through my days one day at a time. On my good days I participated in life, even when I didn’t want to.”

Betty was referred to Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute by Marcia Schmidt, the breast health navigator for Hurley. She recommended Betty get involved in the many programs and classes the institute offers free for cancer patients.

“I had to leave my job and so I had plenty of time on my hands,” Betty finds. I’m very glad Marcia recommended the programs at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute. They filled a void in my life, provided me with so much useful information and helped me transition into my new life as a breast cancer survivor.

“I use my faith and Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute for my strength. I have met so many wonderful people through my treatment and classes. We pray for each other and if someone has a scare, we are there for each other.”

Betty chose Raouf Mikhail. MD, a surgical oncologist, to perform her double mastectomy. “I was told he is the best surgeon in Genesee County; he came highly recommended. I was happy with him. He is a gentle and compassionate man.

“Doctors can tell you what to expect, and they can put your body back together, but they cannot heal your soul. The staff at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute, along with the wonderful new friends I have met at the institute, have helped me with the healing process.”

After her treatments were over, Betty was left with anxiety and worry. What if the cancer returned?

“I was able to talk about it with the staff and my new friends, and they understood what I was feeling. Families get tired of listening to us; they need a break, and I didn’t want to worry them more,” Betty explains. That’s when her friends at Genesys Hurley Institute could fill that gap.

“It truly is a journey, a very long journey,” Betty reflects. “I expected to be in hospice, but, instead, I was back on the golf course. I’ve got a whole new pair of glasses and I see a lot of gratitude through them. The hardest part is the anxiety … wondering if the cancer will come back.

“Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute is such a compassionate place; someone always was there to help me … on good days and bad ones. It was OK to cry; they knew I needed it. They understood.”

When Betty was asked to serve as a volunteer at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute, she said “yes” without hesitation. “It’s my turn to help others and provide hugs and a shoulder to cry on.

“I felt so at home at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute. I come here to cry, laugh, complain, and cry again. I can just be myself.”

Today, Betty is proud to carry her message – get your mammogram. “I delayed mine. When in doubt, check it out. Spread the message. Save someone’s life.”

Jeanette Hildreth (Burton)

In 2012, Jeanette went in for her annual mammogram. Some calcifications were found. A few months later, she felt a lump.

“I was taking care of my 85 year-old mother and didn’t follow up with my doctor as soon as I should have,” she notes. “Those little dots that were calcifications turned into cancer. My family doctor thought Dr. Gold (Linsey Gold, DO, FACS, FACOS) would be a good fit for me because I ask a lot of questions, and Dr. Gold takes a lot of time with each of her patients.”

Dr. Gold moved quickly. “She came in early – at 7:30 am – so she could see me. She had a surgery scheduled at 9:30 am and she almost was late for it. That’s how much time she spent with my husband and me,” Jeanette was happy to say.

“She called me on a Saturday morning at 9 am to tell me the results of my pathology report. She was on vacation in Florida with her family. She said she knew I didn’t want to wait until Monday for the results.

“If I had to have cancer, I’m glad I had such a great medical team. Everyone I needed was there for me. I met so many new friends at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute,” she adds. “We understand each other, we finish each other’s sentences; we think alike. We are in this together.”

Jeanette is happy to report that she is cancerr-free.

Pat Gruener (Clio)

Pat Gruener is the new kid on the block. She received her diagnosis of breast cancer in May and is now undergoing her treatments at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute where she met Anita, Betty and Jeanette who quickly embraced her.

“I felt at home immediately,” Pat says of Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute. I feel so well taken care of.”

Pat discovered a lump but ignored it. “I was getting over the shingles and figured it was part of that. When I saw my family doctor, he sent me for a mammogram right away. I had two types of cancer in my right breast.”

 The first time she walked into Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute for treatment, a stranger came up to Pat and greeted her with a hug. “And then I met all of my wonderful new friends who have given me so much support,” she reports. “I am very new to this – I haven’t had my surgery yet, but I feel good so far, thanks to all of the support and encouragement I’ve gotten.

 “As we get older, we often dismiss symptoms of something serious as part of the aging process,” Pat points out. “Don’t let what happened to me happen to you. Don’t wait.”

Pat started a bucket list of all the things she wants to do after her surgery. “It gives me hope. It is something I look forward to, something to be positive about. I plan to go to Disney World in February, and fly fishing is on my list. I’ve never done it before.”

Pat acknowledges that she learns something new everyday when she is with her new found friends.

“I’m a member of a club I don’t want to belong to, but I am so glad there is one.”

Anita, Betty, Jeanette and Pat all volunteer at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute.

Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute

302 Kensington Avenue (Print a Map)
Flint, MI 48503

810-762-8226 | 888-762-8675

Ascension Genesys Hospital
Hurley Medical Center
Michigan Cancer Consortium


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