HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – A local mother and daughter, both diagnosed with breast cancer at nearly the same time, are now helping other people fighting the disease.
How they got to the point of giving back starts with the story of their diagnoses about a year ago.
“I knew the minute they kept taking images – you know, images after images – that something was wrong,” Jolene Wilson recalls.
Jolene turned 40 and went for her mammogram through Windsong last November. That very first mammogram revealed several cancerous spots. Genetic testing revealed she also had a higher gene mutation risk. Jolene, alongside her doctors, decided it was best to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
“I never felt anything. I never felt sick. Like, had no reason to think I had cancer,” Jolene said.
Two months prior, her mother, Lynn Hansen, had gone for her regular mammogram and was told she had a benign lump. But suddenly, Jolene’s diagnosis, coupled her daughter’s genetic test, had Lynn thinking she should get a second opinion, so she did.
“The radiologist came in, and he said ‘No.’ He goes, ‘No, I can’t call this stable. You have to have a biopsy, and we have a cancellation, like, right now,’” Lynn said of her experience.
It turned out to be invasive stage 1 cancer. Lynn had a lumpectomy and radiation.
The women got through it together, bringing their already close relationship to a new level. Now they consider themselves breast cancer warriors.
“She’d always call up and say, ‘Hey mom, you want to do this?’ Sure, fine, get in the car and let’s go. So, it was just kind strange to also have cancer together and have surgery within a month and a half apart,” Lynn said.
Strange in a bittersweet way. Both women still have some aches and pains, but they have one another to share the up days and the down days.
“So you could listen to her and understand where she’s coming from, and then when I had problems, I could call her and say ‘Oh my gosh, this is bothering me.’ So, I guess if you had to go through something like that, it’s good to go with a close family member that, you know, understands what you’re talking about,” Lynn said.
As they recovered, they knew they wanted to give back. They say what they did next just made sense: They started helping get special TLC totes that the Breast Cancer Network of WNY offers for free into the hands of patients who could benefit from having them.
“A lot of things are in the Northtowns, and we started talking about the tote bags. I received mine, but Jolene did not go to get hers because it was too far, it was snowy, so she lost out on all the information that was in here,” Lynn said. “And I said, wouldn’t it be nice if we could distribute them out here in the Southtowns?”
Now, the Breast Cancer Network and the Windsong Cares Foundation help equip Lynn and Jolene to have the totes at their homes to help people south of the Buffalo metro area. They’ll personally arrange a meetup.
“It’s bittersweet because they’re going to come because they have cancer, but they will call, and we’ll meet with them, and they spend maybe about an hour, hour and a half just chatting,” Lynn said.
On top of acting as a Southtowns extension, Jolene and Lynn have also made their own recovery care baskets to go along with the totes. It’s filled with things like balms, lotion, word games, and more.
“There were things that we found we needed, like you’re always drinking water, so we have the infused water,” Lynn explained.
And if that wasn’t enough, the women bought Alexas for several Windsong waiting rooms so that waiting for a biopsy doesn’t have to be so quiet. They say this gives people who may be waiting with anxiety the option to play music.
Incredibly, the two have funded all of this simply by returning bottles and cans. They’ve raised more than $4,000 so far.
“I put the word out; it was like a firestorm. People either didn’t want to take them back, or they thought it was a great idea, they just wanted to donate,” said Jolene. “I’ve picked them up…as far as Colden and all the way to Lewiston, so we’ve gotten them from everywhere.”
Jolene and Lynn haven’t handed out a ton of recovery baskets yet. They believe the height pandemic has something to do with that. But they’re ready.
“You also have a backlog of women, of people who didn’t go for their mammogram, and now they are. So that’s the other thing. We’re trying to get the word out that any breast cancer patient, survivor can come and get this. You don’t have to be at a certain facility or a certain doctor,” Jolene said.
On top of all of this work they are doing on their own time, they are also fundraising for the Windsong Cares Foundation with a grassroots campaign that they call “More Than Strong,” a slogan you can buy on a shirt to help the cause. In mid-October, they held a chicken barbeque and basket raffle to raise money.
They have no plans on slowing down.
“Because Windsong did such a phenomenal job with our treatment, we wanted to give back,” Jolene said.
To get a TLC tote or recovery basket, or to buy a shirt or donate to the cause, Jolene and Lynn invite anyone to get in touch with them.
CALL: (716) 997-9752
Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.
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