June Winters: After Breast Cancer, Finding Gratitude and Joy in Helping Others

For June Winters, breast cancer was a familiar worry. Two of her five sisters had been diagnosed with the illness before entering menopause, and June followed a rigorous screening regimen as a result. Beginning in her 20s, she underwent regular tests including mammograms, MRIs, and clinical exams. As a preventive measure, June also took a daily estrogen blocking pill for five years.

When June reached menopause without a breast cancer diagnosis, she felt relief. “I believed I had dodged a bullet,” she relates. But a few years later, in between frequent screenings, June discovered a lump in her breast. After more testing, the unthinkable diagnosis came: Stage 2 breast cancer.

June and her doctors were shocked. They’d been meticulous in their surveillance. Why hadn’t her cancer been detected sooner? Was it possible they had missed something?

As it turned out, they hadn’t. The radiologist reviewed June’s previous tests and confirmed nothing suspicious had been there before. “I felt betrayed by the system I had in place,” June remembers. Still, she felt grateful that she had discovered the lump on her own – sooner than her next scheduled screening – and could start treatment immediately.

Because June’s cancer grew quickly, treatment was aggressive. Just several days after her diagnosis, June began chemotherapy, aimed at shrinking the tumor and targeting other potential cancer cells in her body. A former oncology nurse, June notes wryly, “I now had experience on both ends of the chemo syringe!”

Following chemotherapy, June worked to regain her strength. Her doctors wanted her to be as healthy as possible for the next part of her treatment: a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Resuming exercise was a challenge at first, but June persisted. “I’d sometimes set a timer for five-minute increments throughout the day to make sure I got my walking completed,” she recalls.

During June’s surgery, doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to one lymph node, necessitating radiation as a follow-up treatment. Finally, months later, her treatment concluded.

Two years out from treatment, at a Komen Race for the Cure event, June came across a brochure for ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. The idea of becoming a Mentor intrigued her. Despite the loving support of family and friends, June had felt alone on much of her breast cancer journey. “I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz,” June explains. “Although she had friends cheering her on, she ultimately had to make the journey by herself.”

June realized how much she’d needed the support of someone who truly understood her experience. By training to become a Mentor, “I could now do this for someone else,” June says.

Today, breast cancer remains a significant concern in June’s family. Of her two sisters who were diagnosed earlier, one has passed away due to the disease. Her other sister is now cancer-free, but faces severe side effects from treatment. Two other sisters and a niece have undergone prophylactic bilateral mastectomies with reconstruction.

Amidst this reality, June strives to embrace a mindset of gratitude. Although her treatment came with some side effects and complications, June is thankful for the positive results of her treatment, and her ability to access the most up-to-date medical care.

June has served as an ABCD Mentor for close to two years. She also volunteers her time in ABCD’s office and as an Ambassador, raising awareness for the organization’s programs. Now nearly five years out from her diagnosis, June has mentored four other women, and is impressed by how customized the matches are – a testament to ABCD’s strong focus on individualized support. “My participants and I are constantly delighted to discover how many similarities we have, not only in diagnoses, but in our families, shared interests, and so much more.”