Wayland employees forge bond over cancer experience from long distance

Release Date: October 2, 2009

PLAINVIEW – If you ask Beverly Steed or Debbie Parker who has been one of their biggest help during their ongoing struggles with breast cancer and they would likely name each other.

Ironically, though, the two have never met in person. But that didn’t keep Steed and Parker from forging a tight friendship and support system across the state of Texas as they encouraged each other on the journey.

Parker, who works as office manager for business and financial aid for Wayland’s San Antonio campus, was diagnosed in August 2008 with breast cancer, discovered in an enlarged lymph node. After a lumpectomy, she started chemotherapy and later underwent a bilateral mastectomy, finding out later there was cancer in the right breast as well.

With the tough road ahead of her, early on in the journey Parker asked for Wayland to include her on the employee newsletter prayer list circulated to all system employees across seven states. Right about that time, Steed was waiting on results of her own biopsy, with breast cancer later to be found the culprit.

“When I saw the listing for Debbie, I was compelled to write her immediately. I think it was God telling me to write her right then,” recalled Steed, who is the administrative assistant for Wayland Athletics.

Steed popped off a quick email to Parker, telling her of her own situation and offering her own prayers. That was the first of many correspondences between the pair as they have laughed, cried and encouraged each other over the past 16 months. The distance doesn’t seem to deter the friendship; cards and letters, emails and packages travel both directions as part of the sunshine the two try to shed on each other.

Steed recalled an email from Parker sent a few days before her surgery that included a prayer for God’s angels to surround the surgeons during the procedure. She said she printed the note, took it with her to the hospital and found immense encouragement from her friend’s words.

Besides just encouragement, Parker and Steed have been able to share wisdom, advice and experiences with each other as they come up. Steed’s bilateral mastectomy actually came a month before Parker’s, so she was able to share what to expect with her frightened friend.

On the flip side, Parker had already experienced some of what Steed faced, so she was able to offer her fresh perspective. Though both ladies say they have supportive friends, family and coworkers in their lives, they admit there was something special about the bond with a sister who is traveling the path at the same time.

“Throughout this, we’ve sent each other cards and notes, and it just seems like every time I needed to hear words of encouragement, I’d go to the mailbox and there would be a card or an email from Debbie,” Steed said. “It’s like we were holding each other’s hands through this whole thing.”

“Beverly sent me a book called Cancer and the Lord’s Prayer and I have ordered a few myself to give to people I know going through the same thing,” Parker said. “It was no accident that we met; God planned that. I really believe that.”

The journey is not completely over for either Steed or Parker. Steed went through chemo first and her mastectomy uncovered many lymph nodes that were cancerous. She finished up six additional months of chemo at the end of August and is waiting for radiation, though she recently got word that the cancer seems to be in remission.

After her mastectomy – done five years to the day after her mother underwent the same procedure – Parker went through radiation and is now doing chemo and hormone therapy while waiting for reconstructive surgery. Both remain optimistic, fueled in large part by their friendship and by their strong faith.

“Once you have sat in an office and someone has told you ‘you have cancer,’ you look at life totally different than you ever have before,” Parker said. “Although I was a Christian, God has really changed me in this last year.”

Steed shares that sentiment.

“I didn’t get a personality transplant, but He has changed me. I’m a lot more patient; things that were bothering me ceased to matter anymore… immediately,” Steed says. “I’m not a hero and am very uncomfortable when people say I’m strong or brave, but I just say that God did it.”

Both say that experiencing cancer changes one’s perspective on life and what is truly valuable.

“You know the things that are the most important in your life. You just have to trust in the Lord and, hopefully, you have lots of friends that are praying for you and lifting you up,” Parker said.

The pair also lauded their Wayland family, from student athletes to administrators, for being so supportive during their hardest times. Steed noted that she continued to work as much as possible during her cancer journey because of the encouragement she found on the job.

And both say the experience has made them champions for breast health and preventive measures that may lead to early detection and a higher survival rate. They stress the importance of mammograms for women they know, and Steed says she preaches regularly to the female athletes at WBU about self-exams while they are younger.

Though they’ve never met in person, Steed and Parker believe they one day will be able to meet and share a physical hug to match the emotional ones they’ve shared over the past year. And though their cancer journey will someday end, they believe their friendship will remain true.

““We probably never would have met otherwise,” Steed said. “Now we can say that we’re friends and have blessed each other on this journey we never wanted to go on.”