Two things are crucial for Dr. Neysa Heyward as she faces down her aggressive HER-2 breast cancer: One is the drug Herceptin; the other is her family and friends.
The 1969 South High School graduate will talk about the importance of the medical and emotional support she’s received when she speaks to the invariably well dressed crowd at the annual day-before-Mother’s Day cancer awareness event and style show hosted by Sisters United for Prevention.
Events will begin at 11:30 a.m. May 11 at the Quality Inn on Leffel Lane. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at Young Hair, 1928 E. High St.
“I’d been having issues on the opposite side, and during a mammogram to evaluate those … the cancer showed up,” said Heyward, now of Durham, N.C.
Her diseased breast had shown no hint of problem in a 2011 mammogram, “but I had evidence of cancer by the time I was finished with my workup” in 2012, she said. “It’s really pretty aggressive.”
If the knowledge she picked up in medical school at Wright State University and in 28 years as a practicing pediatrician gave her a “different perspective” on her diagnosis, Heyward said she has faced the same issues as others challenged by cancer.
Absorbing the shock and studying new terms that go with the disease was part of it. Then came “learning to trust the people who are taking over your care and having someone navigate and support you,” she said.
Finally, she discovered the importance of being able to lean on others.
“For the most part, going to my therapies, I could do that myself,” Heyward said. “But there are times when you need someone to understand.”
“I discovered how blessed I was to have a support system of family and friends. You don’t want to go through it alone.”
One of those moments came when her brother, Wayne, dedicated and sang a special song for her at her family’s Christmas gathering last year in Springfield. Her nephew, John Legend, will support this year’s event.
Since being diagnosed, Heyward has had chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, and she will always be treated with Herceptin.
“It’s a fairly new drug,” she said, and one that has improved her prognosis dramatically over what it would have been 10 years ago, she said.
Although, potential side effects include heart problems, she said, “so far I’ve tolerated it well.”
The drug represents “that beacon of light” that wasn’t there in the past, Heyward said, and is a reminder of the importance of “the new discoveries and ongoing research” involving cancers.
Now 62, Heyward said the lesions associated with her cancer have been resolved but the cancer exacted a price: She had to give up her practice to focus on her health, family and managing her energy.
Heyward said she misses her relationships with her patients and their families and the sense of satisfaction of being there to help them with important health events in their lives.
Even without a practice, “I’ve still got tons of obligations,” she said, “but they’re new ones.”
She was glad to add to them the obligation of speaking for the Sisters United event her high school friend Patty Young was instrumental in organizing.
“She’s just a wonderful person,” said Heyward, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor and has been a model at the event.
“For (Young) to take this on and to support people and to educate them, it’s really a wonderful thing. Because being educated about your disease (and) knowing what to expect helps you deal with it much more easily.”