‘I consider it a blessing’; Breast cancer survivor remembers going through hard times

Published 11:38 am Monday, October 30, 2023

NATCHEZ — Joyce Hargrave Wilson has had a lot of challenges in her lifetime, from having a teen pregnancy and being a high school dropout to becoming a business owner and entrepreneur.

One of her biggest challenges was breast cancer.

“Look where God brought me from,” Wilson said. “He saw it all. … Things just happened the way they needed to in order to land me where I needed to be.”

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Wilson was 35 years old and in her first year of nursing school at Alcorn State University when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It’s recommended that women begin getting an annual mammogram at age 40. However, Wilson said God told her to get checked out when she noticed a lump in her breast.

“Sometimes bad things happen to good people but I don’t consider getting cancer to be a bad thing,” she said. “I consider it a blessing. It has humbled me and I think I’m a better person since then.”

Wilson uses her degree and experience to serve people, not just those who’ve had breast cancer but people who’ve had any type of cancer, she said.

“Every year, the event we host saves a life,” she said. “I host ‘All Cancer Matters’ and I invite other people who’ve had cancer of all different types. … I have them speak and share their story to help others. … It teaches you early detection is the best protection. It teaches you that if you notice something’s off — if your urine is a different color — go get it checked. We don’t take donations. We feel that teaching and bringing the knowledge to people is better than any amount of money.”

Wilson said her mother died from pancreatic cancer. When she was diagnosed, she recalls meeting friends at a Mexican restaurant to go over what her wishes were if she were to die.

But she would’ve gone, she would’ve gone fighting.

“I have four kids I had to fight for,” she said.

Her children Derrick Sewell, 33, and daughter-in-law Garonisha; Jammesha Johnson, 27, and son-in-law Kevin Johnson; Cordesia Sewell, 29; JaMya Hargrave, 23, and son-in-law Quan; step-daughter Brittany and her 12 grandchildren.

Wilson remembers going through chemotherapy treatment throughout the duration of the nursing program at Alcorn. She has since gone through 12 surgeries to remove new knots that all turned out benign. Her anesthesiologist took a look at her chart and said, “Do me a favor. Promise me you won’t give up,” Wilson said. “I took her an invite to my graduation. My entire time of nursing school, two years at Alcorn, I was having treatments to the end.”

When asked if she had any fears of a recurrence, Wilson said, “Every day. That’s the biggest fear. Of having to go through that again.”

Wilson said her support system helps her power through her fear.

Her oncologist Dr. Jack Rodriguez and surgeon Dr. Jeffery Flattmann gave her the medical support and treatment she needed, but also her peers in nursing school Ashley Wilson and Cashy Hammet and her children gave her emotional support.

“I suck it up because if I had to go through it again, I would walk the same walk. I truly believe that how you perceive it is how you heal. Your love and support team you have while going through something like that matters. My kids were a huge support to me.”