Breast cancer survivors have message of hope for others

Sue Keller
Special to the Sun Times

Lisa Meurgue and Joyce McFarland first met when Joyce and her husband, Bob, were regulars at Island Café, a French restaurant on the island owned by Lisa and her husband, Denis.

In 2003 and 2005 Joyce and Bob traveled to France with the Meurgues on their Gastronomic Wine and Dine Tour.

"That's when our friendship really started to jell," said Meurgue.

Now these long-time friends share one more thing in common. Both are breast cancer survivors with a message of hope.

"There is life after breast cancer," said Meurgue "Breast cancer does not define who you are."

Meurgue was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. Joyce McFarland was diagnosed with breast cancer in October. Knowing how important it is to have a friend at a time like this, Lisa made it clear she was there for Joyce night and day.

Any time you have cancer, you don't know what to expect until all the tests are done, they said.

"The unknown is what makes it scary," said Meurgue.

Joyce discovered a lump in her breast last summer, but said she had a lot going on at the time in her business and put getting it checked out on the back burner. She and Bob are the owners of the Marco Island Clothing Company.

In October at her annual physical, her blood pressure was off the chart and her doctor was concerned.

"I didn't mention the lump," said McFarland.

Watching her write the prescription for blood pressure meds and scheduling a stress test, Joyce said, "I know why my blood pressure is high, I have a lump."

A mammogram immediately confirmed what McFarland feared. That was just a few days before her good friend, Lisa, happened to drop by the store to look for a new dress.

Lisa mentioned to Joyce that since May, eight women on the island received news they had breast cancer and had phoned, asking for advice. The next morning, Joyce made that same call.

"Lisa, I have something to tell you. I am No. 9. I've just been diagnosed," Joyce said.

Fighting breast cancer

Lisa was always vigilant getting a Pap smear and annual mammogram. In 2008, while on vacation, her hand brushed across her breast and something didn't feel right.

"I made a mental note to get it checked as soon as we got home," she said.

The radiologist told her it was nothing to worry about and that it would be gone in three months.

"It wasn't gone in three months," said Lisa. She went back to her doctor. A biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer. "But my prognosis was good," said Lisa, who began sharing what she was going through with friends, including Joyce.

Joyce suggested a fundraiser fashion show be put on by Marco Island Clothing Company.

"This was Joyce's brainchild," said Lisa. It was held at Bistro Soleil and more than 200 women attended. Patrick Nowlan from Fox-4 TV was the emcee and the show was a big success.

Lisa received her first chemo on Dec. 10, 2008, opening day at their new restaurant Bistro Soleil in the Olde Marco Inn. The first year after her diagnosis, Lisa was back working at Bistro Soleil with husband Denis.

After 15 minutes, someone was asking why the food was not served.

"I just wanted to pull off my wig and say, 'I have cancer and you're worried about your food?'"

Two sessions

In December, Joyce went through a mastectomy and two sessions of chemo. At first she was concerned about radiation and the controversy of having too much. Her advice is whatever they say, do it. "Down the road you don't want to have doubts that you didn't do everything they told you to do. They are the experts. If they want to find out about buying a dress, they can come to me," Joyce said.

Her surgeon told her women diagnosed with breast cancer have two things to deal with. First, you deal with the emotional and second, the physical. "They put me with a team that helped get me started on the right path, like having a navigator," said Joyce. "Hearing I had breast cancer was scary, but knowing that I had a team already in place lifted the whole burden. It was treatable."

"Don't put off getting checked like I did," she added. "I thought work was more important. I realize now that I am more important than work."

Both Lisa and Joyce feel lucky to have family and friends who support them all the way. Their breast cancer is 100 percent treatable.

"For me having had breast cancer was just a bump in the road," said Lisa, now cancer free. "This came along my path and I was going to get through it."

Joyce is now on the road to recovery and has full confidence she is going to be fine.

Since 2008, Joyce has continued to have an annual fashion show to raise money for the Marco Island Cancer Society. The next show will be held March 10 at Bistro Soleil – with Patrick Nowlan as emcee.