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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Two survivors tell their stories

Susan Brooks

One of the speakers described yesterday’s groundbreaking for the new cancer center at Mary Washington Hospital as a celebration of the future of cancer care in the area. But it was also important, he added, to recall the hundreds of local residents who are dealing with cancer now.

More than 1,400 Fredericksburg-area residents were diagnosed with cancer in 2009, reports Dr. Anne Geyer, chairman of the cancer committee at the hospital. This is an 8 percent increase from 2008.

About 20 percent of these patients were diagnosed with breast cancer, including Susan Brooks, one of yesterday’s speakers. Brooks works as a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital. She has worked at the hospital for 24 years.

Brooks said she was diagnosed with cancer late last year after a routine mammogram. “I was shocked and angry. I just couldn’t believe that had happened to me,” she said.

Brooks  said she studied her pathology report, consulted with her providers, as well as her  family and friends, and did lots of reading on the Internet , “like everybody does.” She said her husband asked her, “Do you feel comfortable getting your care here? Do you want to go to Northern Virginia or Richmond? Maybe we could get another opinion.”

“I had no qualms to say to him, ‘Absolutely not.’ I knew I was getting the right care here,” she said. Brooks said she is going through radiation now. 

Jim and Patty Toler, with their son Andy.

Jim Toler also was diagnosed with breast cancer, a rare cancer in men. In 2007, the year he received his diagnosis, 269 Fredericksburg-area women discovered they had breast cancer. He was one of only four men affected.

Toler is a friend and colleague. He and I have worked together for many years at the Free Lance-Star, where he is now a local news editor. He told the audience yesterday that he had just turned 50 when he got his diagnosis. He had surgery to remove the tumor and some of his lymph nodes.

Early the next year he went through three months of chemotherapy. Things were going well, he said, until blood clots were discovered in his right leg, apparently caused by the medicine he was taking to fight recurrence of the cancer. He took Coumadin, a blood thinner, for six months, then “I was ready to run again and reclaim my health,” he said.

He and his wife, Patty, completed the Marine Corps Historic Half marathon in May. “The toughest part of the 13.1 mile course is right over there,” he said, pointing to the hill beside the new cancer center. “I’m happy to report I did not walk that part of the course, although it would have been hard to call my pace anything like running.”

Still, finishing the race was a celebration for both him and Patty, he said. “At times like this we see God’s blessings,” he said.