Cancer survivor ‘pays it forward’ to help others diagnosed with breast cancer

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By Leigh Ann Rutledge

Accent Editor –

 

Wendy Ledger is a changed woman: not by choice, by breast cancer.

Diagnosed in 2008 with Stage 3 Breast Cancer, she is now focused on bringing awareness and prevention education to the public. Ledger, who resides off SR 151 between Jewett and Scio, is also “paying it forward” in an effort to help women in her area who have been diagnosed with the disease.

DIAGNOSIS

Ledger, a registered nurse in the emergency room at Union Hospital, was 30 years old when she felt a lump in her breast. She went to the doctor, had a mammogram and was told she had fibrocystic breasts. (Fibrocystic breasts are composed of tissue that feels lumpy or rope-like in texture.)

AWARENESS ADVOCATE. Wendy Ledger is shown above with items she placed in her yard to bring awareness to breast cancer during October. (FPS/Leigh Ann Rutledge)
AWARENESS ADVOCATE. Wendy Ledger is shown above with items she placed in her yard to bring awareness to breast cancer during October. (FPS/Leigh Ann Rutledge)

Ledger said she felt something wasn’t right. She was diagnosed at age 32 with breast cancer. The cancer was not a lump, but a mass.

“I had 36 lymph nodes removed from my left side,” she explained. “Seventeen of those tested positive.”

After removing the lymph nodes, she had a partial mastectomy on her left side. When an MRI showed three more spots, Ledger decided on a complete bilateral mastectomy. After the mastectomy, she was told the margins of the cancerous cells were going toward her chest wall. Her cancer was estrogen positive and due to that, she had a complete hysterectomy and now takes daily medication to block estrogen.

“The doctor said the aromatase inhibitors are my lifeline,” Ledger stated of the chemo drug. “The downside is it causes osteoporosis.”

In total, she had four surgeries, six months of chemotherapy, 33 radiation treatments and was off work 11 months. (She was not allowed to return to work during treatment due to working in the emergency room.)

After going through this, Ledger said, “I just wanted to get my life back. I wanted to go back to work. God answered my prayers.”

 

FRIENDS, FAMILY AND FAITH

Ledger and her husband, Bob, a Harrison County Highway employee, built their log home on a hill among the trees with a large lawn and long driveway. They were raising their two children, Robbie, then 7, and Kaylin, 4, when she was diagnosed. Bob was with her during every chemo treatment.

When she was not able to work for almost a year, friends held a benefit for the family. “I couldn’t have gotten through without the support of my family and friends,” she said.

Wendy also feels her faith helped in her recovery, explaining, “You have to have faith. Faith is a big thing in getting through something like this.”

She had hope and faith.

“I had a lot to live for,” she said solemnly. “I had kids to raise. I had to find my faith with God. I prayed everyday. Prayer is amazing. It really works. Part of fighting the battle is how you look at it.”

Knowing the stress of going through treatment and keeping a family and household running, Ledger decided she wanted to pay her friends kindness forward. She went to the pastor of Jewett United Methodist Church and explained her idea. She wanted to have a fundraiser to help women in the area with their financial burdens while they are going through treatment. She also wanted to bring awareness to women, especially young women, of preventative measures to possibly keep them from being diagnosed.

She started “Wendy’s Walk/Run for Hope” for Breast Cancer, a 5K event held in October. This year was the fifth year for the event that is under the auspices of Jewett UMC.

“It’s a stressful time,” she said. “Not only are you fighting the battle of life, you are fighting financial burdens and the stress of possibly losing your home.”

The walk/run begins at the Jewett Wildcat Community Center with Ledger giving participants statistics about breast cancer and asks survivors and recipients to stand to be recognized. The group heads toward the firehouse and to Conotton Creek Trail where a friend of Ledger’s, who participated in 5ks, sets the course they use each year.

Ledger chooses the recipients the fundraiser supports. “I have known everyone who has received assistance,” she said. “I want to keep it focused on those in our area.” Just since the last walk/run Oct. 8, she has had two more women reach out to her, one has received a diagnosis and the other is scheduled for a biopsy.

“It feels rewarding to help but it takes a lot of work to put the event on,” Ledger stated. “We utilize sponsors and accept donations. Every year it grows bigger. We had around 200 people at this year’s event, including those helping and vendors.”

After the walk/run, a quarter auction is held. This year nine vendors participated. While she encourages those who she has helped to attend the fundraiser, it is not required. However, this year, a former recipient baked 200 cupcakes for participants and was an event sponsor.

“I don’t publicly acknowledge the recipients,” she explained. “I have a picture taken with them that I keep. They are very grateful.”

“If we help someone else even a little bit,” she continued, “with money for gas to get to treatments or for whatever they need…”

Awareness is another big issue for Ledger. She has already began talking to her daughter, now 11, about breast cancer. “We can’t forget men,” she noted. “It’s rare but they can still get breast cancer.”

Ledger feels she was put on this earth to talk and do something good. “I can be a support person. You know you look at life differently after diagnosis. I want people to be aware. I hope we can prevent this disease or find a preventative test to make the risk less.”

She reiterated, “You can’t do this by yourself. A special thank you goes out to all the people who help, all the sponsors who return every year. It takes the support of the community.”

Ledger admits cancer has changed her. “I’m physically weaker and chemo affected my hearing,” she said. “But I didn’t let it get me down. It knocked me down but it didn’t get me down. I got back up.”

For more information or to donate visit Wendy’s Walk on Facebook.