Brentwood woman Janice Huether was one of many survivors attending the St. Louis Archdiocese’s annual Mass on June 9 at St. Mary Magdalen, Brentwood, for those coping with breast cancer, along with their family and friends.
But Huether’s struggle to beat the disease is all her own, full of ups and downs, pain and fear, humor and pathos. In the end, the long-time Brentwood resident said she mostly feels gratitude after all she’s suffered.
“I’m a walking miracle,” she said. “Thank God I’m alive.” She credits her husband, Patrick Huether, family, friends, co-workers, fellow St. MM members, neighbors, hospital staff and many others for helping her fight the fight.
“The best thing about having cancer is witnessing the goodness of people,” she said. “I would title my autobiography, ‘I’ve Seen a Bit of Heaven on Earth.'”
Her battle against breast cancer began in April 2014, right before she turned 50. Huether had just had a mammogram a month before diagnosis. Due to the density of her breasts, an upper-area tumor lay undetected until pain forced her to take action.
“I felt like someone hit me under the left arm with a baseball bat,” she said. “I believe that’s when the cancer spread to the one lymph node affected.”
Doctors started chemotherapy right away, before mastectomy, since she had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, triple-negative. In Huether’s case, that course of initial chemo met with disaster.
Shots she gave herself, aimed at boosting white blood cells, failed, leading to colon shutdown. A sub-colectomy and appendectomy followed, along with quarantine status in the ICU, due to the low white blood cell count. Bags of water kept her alive, leading to drainage tubes drawing excessive retention.
“My husband sat by my side the whole time, working remotely when necessary. Having undergone numerous surgeries when young, he is quite understanding,” Huether said. The Huethers were married nine years before Janice was diagnosed with cancer.
After the sub-colectomy, doctors wanted to get back to cancer treatment, given the aggressive nature of Huether’s diagnosis, Huether said. Thus, after a several-week wait, a total mastectomy and lymph node removal followed.
Huether received a few more rounds of chemo and then had another surgery when cancer appeared at the mastectomy suture line. A final round of chemo ensued, capped by radiation therapy.
“The hardest part was watching others die right beside me during treatment,” she said. “I also live with a lot of side effects, such as being allergic to most every medication.”
Before the cancer diagnosis, Huether used to work on a computer all day long. Now, she teaches and works directly with others.
“I want to find my angels every day and be one. I’ve been blessed and so want to share the blessings,” she said.