As Joye Letourneau prepared for a sigmoidoscopy colon cancer test in 1999, she was certain the test would find nothing wrong. This was the third year in a row she’d been referred to a specialist for additional colon cancer screening. In 1997 the results were normal. In 1998, she had a colonoscopy and the results were normal. She assumed this year’s test would be the same.
Her doctor used a tiny camera on a thin tube to examine the lower portion of her colon. Letourneau was awake and alert. Then, she saw it.
“My doctor was looking at smooth, healthy colon. Then he moved the scope a little and there was something black and fuzzy. I was devastated. I did not want to talk about treatment, I just wanted it out of me,” says Letourneau.
The tumor was stage 3 colon cancer. During surgery, her doctor removed the tumor, but could not get all of the cancerous nodes around it. Letourneau would need chemotherapy and radiation treatments to kill the remaining cancer cells.
“I had no intention of taking treatments. My mother died of breast cancer when I was 9 years old, and most of my memories were of her being very sick,” says Letourneau. Her doctor told her that with treatment, she had a 50 percent chance of surviving. But without treatment, she had zero chance. Her adult son, Michael, convinced her to keep fighting.
“Michael said ‘Mom, don’t be selfish. I want you to be here. I want to keep you around,’” says Letourneau.
She simultaneously began six weeks of daily radiation treatments and 11 months of chemotherapy at Memorial University Medical Center and Summit Cancer Care. It was a grueling time for Letourneau, but she found courage in her faith.
”The chemotherapy took hours, so I used that time to listen to recorded healing scriptures. Words are inadequate to describe the tremendous strength and comfort I gained from God’s word,” says Letourneau.
She also wrote her thoughts in a journal. As the days wore on, Letourneau realized that she could, in fact, get through this.
A year later, scans showed that the colon cancer was gone. For the last 11 years, Joye Letourneau has been cancer free.
She wrote a book about her experiences called, Walking Through the “C” Word. Today, Letourneau works as a data analyst and executive assistant at MUMC. Nurses often ask her to speak with patients who are newly diagnosed. She gives them comfort when they need it most. Letourneau says:
“It is such a privilege to give back and share with others. I try to encourage them and show them that if there is no valley, there is no mountain. The valley is only a sign that with a few more steps you will reach the mountain. So, just hold on.”