Joyce Williams “Together We Weather the Storm”
Joyce Williams is a breast cancer survivor whose passion is helping others who are going through what she experienced. She is the founder of the Keepers of the Flame: Breast Cancer Resource Center where “Together We Weather the Storm;” and the mission is “to shine light into the darkness, empowering women, and our communities, to weather breast cancer.”
Joyce says that the idea of a lighthouse initially came to her after her mastectomy when … “I saw my scars in the mirror for the first time and I didn’t recognize myself. I looked down and saw a lighthouse charm on my bracelet, and it clicked that I wasn’t the only one. Afterwards I spoke with other women who had survived and made it to the other side of their own storms, and they became my lighthouses. “Together, we wanted to shine that light for others, so we participated in a 60 mile walk to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer. Because the original lighthouse had flames, the idea became Keepers of the Flame, and Together We Weather.” After the event, Joyce wanted to take the support and outreach even further, and thus founded Keepers of the Flame.
“Six Pillars of Resilience”
“I am really excited to be in Effingham Magazine right now because my YouTube channel just went live, and I want women to know about this free support.” says Joyce, “On the channel I present The Six Pillars of Resilience, which is a research-based curriculum consisting of ten short classes (YouTube videos). In it I talk about support, resources, resilience, and simple strategies that people can do each day to strengthen their own resilience and to help the breast cancer survivor weather their own storm.” She stresses that the classes are totally free and available to anyone. Joyce says each class is only 10 to 15 minutes long because “people dealing with breast cancer have too much on their plate to sit for an hour class.”
The classes range from the first “Finding Resilience After Breast Cancer” to the last two ‘practical classes’: “Emotional Resilience”, with information from Building Blocks Family Counseling in Pooler, and “Physical Resilience”, which includes practical information on yoga and mindfulness from Mary at The Barre and Yoga Room in Rincon.
Before the YouTube channel, Joyce created a podcast series of educational and support episodes for those fighting breast cancer. Joyce, “Every Wednesday I interviewed an expert, usually medical experts, on breast cancer topics.” In May 2020 she celebrated the one-year mark for episodes. The podcast topics include:
Working with Grief & Traumatic Loss; Breast Cancer Basics with Breast Surgeon, Dr. William Burak; Radiation Oncology with Dr. Michael Hasselle; 3D nipple and areola tattooing with professional medical tattoo artist, Renee Maschinot; Chemotherapy with Vanessa Brink (NP in medical oncology); Lymphedema with Expert Corie Turley and other medical topics. The podcast is available on iTunes and Google Podcasts, and through the Keepers of the Flame website.
“I grew up a Navy brat and my husband Bryan grew up an Army brat. We went to high school together in Virginia but were just friends back then. We met up after college and ended up in Colorado together and then to Georgia. He is an aerospace engineer at Gulfstream. My college degree is in Biology and I was a biology teacher at South Effingham High School.” Joyce remembers, “I was teaching biology and one day I was talking about ‘chromosomal inheritance”, ‘and thought hmm, maybe I should look into that for colon cancer, because it ran in my family.”
Forward a few years later to 2017 and Joyce was now a stay at home mother to their two little girls, Leona and Sage, ages 4 and 5. She was at her OBGYN for a routine checkup and decided to finally get that colon cancer genetic screening. She says she filled out the questionnaire for colon cancer and the BRCA2 test was simply an ‘add on’.
What Is BRCA?
The name “BRCA” is an abbreviation for “BReast CAncer gene.” BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two different genes that have been found to impact a person’s chances of developing breast cancer.
Every human has both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Despite what their names might suggest, BRCA genes do not cause breast cancer. In fact, these genes normally play a big role in preventing breast cancer. They help repair DNA breaks that can lead to cancer and the uncontrolled growth of tumors. Because of this, the BRCA genes are known as tumor suppressor genes.
However, in some people these tumor suppression genes do not work properly. When a gene becomes altered or broken, it doesn’t function correctly. This is called a gene mutation. A small percentage of people (about one in 400, or 0.25% of the population) carry mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. A BRCA mutation occurs when the DNA that makes up the gene becomes damaged in some way. www.nationalbreastcancer.org/what-is-brca
The test results came back negative for the colon cancer mutation but positive for BRCA2. Joyce, “It was a complete shock to me and my doctor because there was absolutely no history of breast cancer in my family. But this meant the risk of me developing breast cancer was 84% chance in my lifetime.”
Joyce had a mammogram, and it was negative. Six months later she had an MRI and they found three masses in same breast “Within ten months I had a bi-lateral mastectomy, reconstruction breast surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and a complete hysterectomy, because BRCA2 means an elevated risk for ovarian cancer.” She was 36 years old.
Joyce says “Biology is, by definition, the study of life; and my study of biology actually ended up saving my life. I am not grateful for cancer, but I now have a mission to help anyone else by exposing my hurt and my healing to other women in order to provide information and support.” In addition to her many activities through Keepers of the Flame, Joyce is a Survivor Ambassador volunteer at Susan G Komen Coastal Georgia, part of the Survivorship Committee at Memorial, recently participated in the virtual Race for the Cure, and organized an annual Swim-A-Thon fundraiser in her neighborhood with her daughters.
Close to her heart is the Snowflake Project, which came about in a very personal way. As Joyce tells it, “On a chilly December day back in 2017, when I was overcome with turmoil, I put my hands together to pray. Within seconds, I heard Randy Travis’s song, Three Wooden Crosses, play on the radio. I was afraid of dying, of not being there for my children, of being ripped away from this world sooner than I wanted. I didn’t have much control over when my time would come, none of us do. As I listened to the song, the lines, “I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go” sunk in. I was terrified of dying, and it bugged me immensely that I didn’t have control over that. But then it hit me, I could control HOW I lived while I was here; and I started to wonder: what do I want to leave behind?”
“That’s when a quote that I love so much, first came to my mind. ‘If acts of kindness were like snowflakes, unique in their own beauty, then when we’d increase these acts, we’d see snow.’ That’s it! I wanted to leave behind metaphorical ‘snow.’ I might not be able to control when my time comes, but each day that I am here, I can work on making another snowflake. I can be kind. I can show up for people.”
This is the second year Joyce and her girls are creating a Snowflake Project. Last year Leona and Sage did chores around the house to help pay for purchasing eight new stuffed animals to donate to their local police department to be given to children experiencing a traumatic event.
This year they will use the funds they raise through baking to fund a scholarship for the Building Blocks Family Counseling class “Making Lemonade: How to Make Lemonade When Cancer Keeps Giving You Lemons” online course. Joyce urges everyone to make their own “snowflakes” of compassion and love and “let’s let it snow!”
The Williams enjoys spending time together, with family bike rides and family game nights. Today Joyce is doing well and says that “we must live our lives. We are changed from our experiences, but these experiences don’t have to define us.”
She plans on continuing her work with those fighting breast cancer and says, “I may not have control over my cancer, my BRCA2 mutation, or even whether or not I passed that gene onto my children; but I do have control (in part) over the kind of world that I want to leave for my children.” Joyce, “I know from personal experience just how rough a cancer diagnosis and treatments can be, and I promise you that you don't have to do this alone. I am happy to tell anybody my story because I don’t want anyone to feel they are the only one. We may have to be the ones to walk the walk, but we don’t have to do it alone.”
For more information, check out:
YouTube Channel: Keepers of the Flame: Breast Cancer Support Website: https://togetherweweather.org Podcasts available via website, iTunes, and Goggle Podcast Facebook Page: togetherweweather Instagram: #togetherweweatherthisstorm