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Sue Lynn Whitehurst, a veteran schoolteacher, has been working as a guidance counselor at Onslow County Schools for five years. She calls her job rewarding but difficult, especially when it comes to emotionally separating herself from her students’ predicaments.
“Your ‘momma’s heart’ wants to come out, but that’s not always what they need from you,” Whitehurst said. “You have to encourage them to explore their own feelings.”
When Whitehurst was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in December 2012, her feelings were very understandable: She was devastated.
“It just seemed to come out of nowhere,” said Whitehurst, whose family has no history of breast cancer. “You think about death first when you get the diagnosis. You remember friends and family that didn’t make it.”
Her doctors at Onslow Memorial Hospital assured her it wasn’t a death sentence, and her fight against cancer began. Chemotherapy with Dr. Nagesh Jayaram was followed by radiation treatments with Dr. Randy Blackburn at Onslow Radiation Oncology.
Whitehurst said that the doctors and staff treated her like family. “Sometimes people feel like they have to go outside of Onslow to receive that type of treatment, but I was able to do it right here,” she said. As a native of Jacksonville, that meant a lot to her. She said she also drew strength from her family and friends, some of whom are cancer survivors.
Whitehurst said she was blessed with a relatively positive reaction to chemotherapy. Now she’s her experiences with cancer to reach out to those that are beginning their fight.
“Let me be a resource. I had cancer; now I want to help others and share my story,” she said.
New patients hear a lot of medical terms when they’re “still numb and overwhelmed by the diagnosis,” Whitehurst said. “I want to help people through those steps, and let them know they have someone to talk to about what they’re going through. I might not have all the answers, but I try to hook them up with the right resources, like support groups or even good wig shops.”
Whitehurst said that, like in her profession, it’s important for her not to overstep certain boundaries when she talks to someone fighting cancer.
“What someone is feeling might not be what I’m feeling,” she said. “Everyone’s different … different cancers, different feelings towards the cancer. I just hope God can use me to help someone.”
She said her best advice for those living with cancer is to continue enjoying the things they love – an example she hopes she has displayed for her students at Jacksonville High School.
“Don’t stop doing the things you like to do. … (Don’t) let the cancer dictate your life.”