When Toni Jefferson received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2003, the number one became a lucky number. "Everyone I dealt with at Abington Memorial Hospital treated me like I was the only person they had to care for," she recalls.
"The oncologist I chose, Mary Rachel Faris, MD, called me back within two hours. During my visit, she called ahead and had my surgeon waiting to see me," Toni adds.
Toni calls her husband George
her "best friend." She adds,
"The nurses set up a bed for
him while I was hospitalized.
He never left my side the
"My surgeon wanted to operate the next day. But he let me take a few days to prepare."
She didn't take time to dwell on the devastating news. Toni got busy cleaning her house from top to bottom, fixing enough meals for her beloved husband George to have while she was hospitalized, and calling the couple's two adult children and other family members.
By the time she arrived for surgery, she had also treated herself to a little "Toni" time. "The last thing I remember telling my surgeon was, ‘don't mess up my hair. I just had it done,'" she laughs.
She underwent a partial mastectomy and then rigorous chemotherapy and radiation for a year. "I cried for the first time when my hair began to fall out," Toni remembers. "But you just go on." She completed a follow-up year on the drug Herceptin, the therapy of choice for aggressive types of breast cancer like Toni's. She moved from one extreme emotional and physical challenge to the next, and never stumbled.
Toni's Breast Cancer Care Coordinator, Betty Cummings, says Toni's strength was an inspiration. "She lifted us all up, and became our messenger out in the community about the importance of getting mammograms."
Abington's Rosenfeld Cancer Center treats breast cancer more than any other type of cancer. Studies have shown that breast cancer patients who seek care at hospitals treating a high volume of cancer patients have better outcomes.
The Center, one of the busiest in the region, is led by board-certified specialists in pathology, surgery (including breast preservation and reconstruction), medical and radiation oncology, and oncologic nursing.
Now, almost a five-year survivor, Toni is paying it forward. She's making sure she touches all the people who've touched her. She hosts a luncheon every fall for friends who helped out when she was in treatment - more than 60 people at last count. Then the group takes to the streets for the national "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" Walk.
Mike Dolge, her supervisor at Thomas Properties where Toni serves as executive assistant, says, "She has such a generosity of spirit. Each year more of our employees join her team for the fundraiser. After all she's been through, she's focused on others."
Last October, Toni even strutted down the runway at a Willow Grove Park fashion show featuring breast cancer survivors as models. Betty adds, "She's just beautiful inside and out."
Toni explains, "As I've gone through this experience, I've never thought ‘Why me?' but instead, ‘Why not me?' I believe things happen for a reason. God wants me to celebrate my life by helping other women through education and support."
There's no denying: there's only one Toni Jefferson.
Thanks for sharing, Toni.