50th Space Wing Public Affairs
For some, it was dancing to their favorite music. For others, it was a dinner at a special restaurant. For Janice Webb and her father, their bonding moment was fishing at a lake in Missouri. It was unconventional; however, it has always been their father-and-daughter tradition.
Whenever she goes home to Missouri, Webb and her father would drive more than four hours to the lake just to fish, stay overnight, fish more and then head home. Her father loves to fish for crappie, a popular game fish.
In 2008, the peaceful lake served as the background to Webb’s internal conflict. She wanted to tell her father something very important — she had breast cancer. But she couldn’t. How do you tell bad news to someone you love?
“I kept trying to find … the right time,” Webb said. Is there ever a right time? In the end, she kept it to herself.
In March 2008, Webb, 50th Space Communications Squadron Mission Systems Maintenance chief, was performing a breast self-examination; she did this regularly. On that one fateful day, she felt a lump. She immediately thought of the worst case scenario.
“Damn, I know this is not what I think it is,” Webb thought.
She was scared. Breast cancer doesn’t run in her family. However, it reminded her of two friends who died of the disease; one was gone within six months and the other died in about a year.
“It was terrifying to the point where my biggest concern was, how do I tell my father and my three sisters?” Webb said. “That was my biggest fear. Jesus Christ is in our lives and I know he would comfort and keep my family however, thinking along the human realm.”
Webb is the oldest of the girls and the staple for the family. Whatever her family needed, she was always there.
If she is not around, who is going to take care of them? What will they do without her? Will they manage?
“That’s why it was hard for me to tell them,” Webb said.
Eventually, her family learned of her situation; it was her family’s turn to be there for her.
In May 2008, Webb’s doctor conducted a biopsy and confirmed she had the rare squamous cell carcinoma of the breast. Her doctors sat down with a team of oncologists to identify the best course of action and treatment.
A surgeon then gave her two options — lumpectomy or mastectomy. Lumpectomy removes the tumor and some surrounding tissue to ensure the cancer cells won’t spread. Mastectomy, on the other hand, removes the entire breast.
“I decided on a lumpectomy,” Webb said.
After the surgery, she had to go through four sessions of chemotherapy to help weaken and destroy the cancer cells in her body. Some of the most common side effects of the treatment are fatigue, nausea and hair changes.
Webb noticed the hair changes on a Sunday as she was combing her hair; she saw a massive amount of hair falling out.
For a few seconds, a tear fell from her eye.
Then she said nonchalantly, “Oh well.”
She took her clippers and cut her hair off. She knew it was going to happen eventually and didn’t want anyone to see patches of hair on her head.
“It was liberating,” she said.
After her third chemo session, Webb fell victim to more bad side effects.
“It gave me side effects that were more than I wanted to live with,” she said. “My oncologist and I decided to stop the chemo and begin my radiation therapy.”
Webb completed 33 radiation therapy treatments, which uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
Visiting the hospital regularly opened Webb’s eyes. She saw various patients with various cancers.
“I saw these young girls with skin cancer, and I thought to myself, ‘they are so young, they have their whole lives ahead of them,’” Webb said.
She also learned of another patient who had been going through chemotherapy for six months straight because his cancer was already affecting multiple organs.
“What am I complaining about?” she said. “Look at him. Look at his condition. He was willing to sit there every day and get chemo to save his life.”
This made her see everything differently.
“Look at me with my little breast cancer,” Webb joked.
Throughout her ordeal, her family and friends’ support helped her survive.
“My friends rallied around me,” she said. “One of my friends went with me for my surgery. She stayed with me all day at the hospital.”
One of Webb’s friends who provided support was Jacqueline Lacy, 4th Space Operations Squadron.
“I was part of her support system,” said Lacy. “I escorted Janice to some of her physician appointments and I also made it a point to visit with her and bring her food.”
During that time, Lacy witnessed Webb’s character and strength as she went through her treatment.
“I can only say that Janice is a very strong lady,” Lacy said. “Sometimes, I would look at her with awe because she was going through chemo and not one time did she complain. Yes, she would mention how tiring the chemo treatment would make her, but not one time did I hear her speak about being in pain.”
But she decided to tackle the chemo and radiation therapy by herself whenever she could. Her friends wanted to accompany her during her treatments but she said “no” because she didn’t want them to be there.
“I noticed when I went to get my radiation therapy, some patients have their family members with them,” she said. “I would like to have my family around me but this was my ordeal. I didn’t want to subject them to it. To me this was very devastating, and I didn’t want anyone to see it.”
Her coworkers also showed their support whenever she needed help. They knew her situation. If she needed medication or somebody to drive her to an appointment, somebody always stepped up right there and then.
“One time, we went in the conference room for a meeting and one of the guys wanted to turn the lights out,” she recounted. “I asked why and they said they wanted to see if I was glowing in the dark because of all the radiation. We laughed so hard.”
And they did a lot for her.
“I can only remember Janice being strong and hopeful,” Lacy said. “I know the initial cancer diagnose knocked her off her feet for a second but she got back up and fought the battle and is continuing to fight every day of her life.”
So, how is she doing now?
“I am well; I am five years out now,” Webb said.
However, she remains skeptical; she doesn’t want to say she is cancer free. People say if the cancer has been gone for five years, it won’t come back.
“That’s not really true,” she said. “It can come back anytime.”
It is this skepticism that enables her to be ever vigilant. She conducts self-exams every week. Every six months, she goes through mammograms and every four months, she gets her blood drawn and chest x-rays.
Every time she does these tests, the fear comes back again because of the uncertainty. What if the cancer comes back?
“I have to come to grips with myself and my life. I also have to accept that if I die from this, I’ll die from this. I have to accept that,” she said.
But she remains positive.
“I feel blessed because I have God, my friends and family in my life and with me,” Webb said.
(October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month)