On Friday, Oct. 20, Unity Health hosted the 24th annual Barbara Montgomery Memorial Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon, where cancer survivor Kathy LaFerney, a math teacher at Harding Academy, shared her story.
LaFerney was diagnosed with breast cancer in early November of 2015. She spoke about how she immediately felt overwhelmed by her diagnosis.
“(I thought) there is no way I’m going to be able to handle the physical or emotional aspects of this disease by myself,” LaFerney said. “I immediately turned to God. I knew that I needed him, and I needed him to be with me. I needed him to surround me with people who would love me through whatever I was going through and to bless me with doctors and medical staff who could help me and who knew things about cancer that I did not.”
According to Unity Health marketing coordinator Hannah Robison, the annual luncheon seeks to provide a place where stories like LaFerney’s can be used to uplift others in a similar situation.
“When a survivor shares their story of triumph, it provides encouragement for those who hear it and serves a beautiful reminder of hope and healing to those who need it most,” Robison said.
Along with bringing together cancer survivors and doctors, the luncheon was held to promote breast cancer awareness. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of people living beyond a cancer prognosis reached 14.5 million in 2014 and is projected to rise to 19 million by 2024.
According to Unity Health oncologist Dr. Ryan Koch, the survival rate is increasing due to early detection and advances in medicine. Many of these new practices, which originated in MAYO clinics, are now available in Searcy.
After learning that Unity Health has a MAYO clinic consultant for cases such as hers, LaFerney decided to have her treatments here in Searcy.
“The difference to me was that I was not just a number. I was not just a diagnosis, I was a friend, a person,” LaFerney said. “It was very real and personal. I knew that they cared about me and that helped me emotionally, not just physically.”
Robison said Unity Health focuses on providing this emotional support through various programs and events throughout the year.
“Particularly for cancer patients, in collaboration with the Look Good Feel Better Foundation, we provide patients with a course to learn beauty techniques to help them better manage side effects from cancer treatment,” Robison said. “These classes cultivate friendships among patients undergoing similar circumstances in need of encouragement and support.”
Throughout the Searcy community, organizations are working to raise awareness for cancers. 501 Rocks, an organization that paints rocks and places them around Searcy, has teamed up with Unity Health to spread rocks that say “move mountains” in reference to the theme of this year’s luncheon.
Additional support has come from the Searcy Police Department who added pink cancer ribbons to their uniforms for the month of October. According to Searcy public information officer Terri Lee, the idea came from Sergeant Steve Hernandez.
“He thought it would be a good way to show support as well as remind women to have regular breast exams,” Lee said. “We want people to get regular checkups to ensure early detection for cancer of any kind.”
According to LaFerney, support from the community is an important aspect of defeating cancer.
“God placed awesome people around me (like) my family,” LaFerney said. “I was also blessed to have coworkers and students, church members, neighbors and on and on and on. It was just a constant flood of blessings. A text from someone, a phone call, meals, notes, cards and just steadfast day -to- day encouragement from my husband, parents, children, that is what sustained me.”