Cancer Was a Detour, Now Juanita’s On Her Way

If you were to meet Juanita Tiberend of Christopher, it’s easy to spot her celebratory spirit. She and her husband are also jet-set travelers of the world. Get to know them and you’ll see, life is meant to be lived. It’s this kind of spirit that carried Jaunita through one of life’s toughest adversaries…cancer.

The First Cancer Road Trip

2002 was the first time Juanita faced down breast cancer. Doctors in St. Louis discovered Stage I cancer in her right breast using 3D mammography, a technology that at the time was unavailable in southern Illinois.

“Her first cancer was deemed a low-risk cancer,” said Dr. George Kao, radiation oncologist at the SIH Cancer Institute. A lumpectomy in St. Louis followed by radiation treatments in Carbondale was a success.

Fast Forward Thirteen Years

The news came in September of 2015 from breast surgeon Dr. Nova Foster. Juanita’s yearly 3D mammogram at The Breast Center in Carbondale revealed cancer in her left breast; this time packing a stronger punch.

But luckily for Juanita, a new era of cancer care in southern Illinois would make the treatment journey so much easier.

A survivor since 2002, Juanita valued the idea of a free-standing, cancer treatment center before it was even built. “We started donating when they started having the SIH Foundation Gala and we supported it,” said Juanita.

Juanita’s Cancer Journey

As is standard practice behind the scenes, Juanita’s case was presented to a specialized breast cancer team of physicians and medical professionals. This group evaluated her history, diagnostics and treatment options. “We scored her cancer, which was more aggressive, meaning, she had a good chance it would come back,” said Kao. The plan was as follows: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, followed by cancer rehabilitation.

“I did my research on Dr.Foster,” said Juanita. Foster is a board certified breast surgeon with SIH Medical Group. “I saw where she came from (UCLA). We are lucky to have her.” Following surgery, Juanita’s margins came back clear. But, with the high risk nature of the cancer, it was on to the next treatment, chemo.

Dr. Bachir Farah, medical oncologist, would lead her treatment. “She tolerated the chemo very well,” said Farah. “The supportive measures we used minimized the side effects of treatment and boosted her immune system.” Other than losing her hair and having a sudden aversion to deviled eggs, Juanita came through the three rounds of treatment.

“And I just love Dr. Kao,” Juanita said, who again would serve has her radiation oncologist. Treating cancer in the left breast historically has been more tricky because of its proximity to the heart. However, a new deep breath hold technique used at the SIH Cancer Institute, would protect her heart from any radiation.

Adding up the Miles

Trips to China, Russia, France, Italy and within the United States are Juanita’s idea of a good time. With a diagnosis of cancer, Juanita faced travel of a different sort – back and forth to medical appointments. All total, Juanita’s treatments amounted to around 60 medical visits to the SIH Cancer Institute. That translates to about 2,600 miles. Should this treatment occur in St. Louis, the miles would add up to a shocking 12,312.

Additionally, Juanita acknowledges the local feel of being treated close to home. Her positive experience with SIH makes her proud. “It makes you feel like family because you connect with them,” shared Tiberend. “You couldn’t ask for better people. I sometimes didn’t want to leave.” And now that her treatment is complete, she intends to volunteer at the center.

Don’t Give Up. Life Goes On.

Through it all, Juanita claims the hardest part is not knowing what to expect. “Even when they are so good at telling you. So much goes through your mind.”

Juanita beat cancer again. She plans to continue enjoying life, whether it be traveling, dancing, or enjoying time with her family. “Cancer does have an effect on you,” she said. “But you adapt and go on…..life goes on.”