In 1961, when most of the country was focused on the first American helicopters landing in Vietnam, 27-year-old Joyce Faulkner was already engaged in a different type of battle: the battle against breast cancer. Fast forward 50 years, and the now 77-year-old Faulkner not only won her battle but serves as inspiration for other women who are still in the fight.
“I credit my mother for my survival; she lived to be just short of 100. She was an optimist and survivor and I inherited those attributes from her,” said Faulkner. “When I was diagnosed I realized that I had to have hope, I had to survive and I would survive.”
Now a resident of Little Rock and a patient of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Faulkner received her initial cancer treatment in Pine Bluff. “I am always asked by people if I was treated at UAMS, and it’s so funny because I have to remind people that in 1961 the UAMS Cancer Institute didn’t exist,” she said.
“There was so much I knew I had to live for. My son was only 5 years old, and I was my parents’ only child. I knew if I gave up, my son wouldn’t have his mother and my parents wouldn’t have their daughter. They really made me focus on my survival.”
Faulkner fondly remembers the doctors who cared for her at the time of her diagnosis, but due to the limitations of research and treatment in the early 1960s, her options were limited.
“I was taken care of by some really wonderful doctors who were just doing the best they knew at that time. There was little information known about chemotherapy, so I underwent radiation therapy,” said Faulkner. “Being a 50-year survivor has allowed me to see the amazing advancements that have been made in the fight against breast cancer.”
Another difference between Faulkner’s treatments in the 60s and today’s treatment options is the mastectomy procedure. “I had a wonderful surgeon who did what he thought he had to do, which was very radical. At the time the radical approach was considered to be the best treatment option,” she said. “There were no cosmetic reconstruction options available.”
Faulkner credits her active lifestyle as an important part of her 50-year survival. “I took the bull by the horns and got active,” she said. “I took up tennis 40 years ago and still enjoy it very much. I also started bowling, playing golf and got involved in church and civic activities. Being involved in those activities helped to get my mind off cancer and made my life seem normal again.”
Faulkner is now using her 50 years of survival to help empower and inspire women who are still battling the disease. “When I had my procedure there weren’t many if any support groups available for women battling breast cancer,” said Faulkner, “so it became a personal mission for me to encourage women who have breast cancer.
“When I encounter someone with cancer, whether I am at the grocery store or the bridge table, I am compelled to tell them my story and let them know they can survive just as I have,” said Faulkner. “I tell them they have to be hopeful and optimistic and they can survive more than 50 years.”
Faulkner continues to receive follow-up care at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute for lymphedema, which is swelling of the limbs caused by fluid build up in soft body tissue. Lymphedema often comes as result of cancer treatment and has no cure.
“Even though I didn’t receive my initial treatment at UAMS I have received wonderful care here and always encourage people to seek treatment at UAMS because I believe it is the best.
“I also encourage people to seek out support groups like the Lymphedema Support Group at UAMS,” said Faulkner. “There is just something so comforting about meeting and speaking to a group of people who are experiencing the same thing as you.”
The Lymphedema Support Groups meets from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the UAMS Family Home, 4300 W. Markham, across from the UAMS campus.
Reaching the 50-year milestone, Faulkner now enjoys all that life has to offer. “My husband and I travel often, I enjoy spending time with my children and grandchildren, and am still very active in tennis,” said Faulkner. “I just feel so fortunate, I really do. I have lived a good life and I can’t complain.”