Canton minister tells story of cancer survival

When the Rev. Beverly Brock of Canton was diagnosed with cancer, doctors immediately offered her a high percentage cure. Most people would leap at such an option, but to Brock, the cure seemed much worse than the disease.

Brock’s cancer journey began four years ago when she told her doctor that her menstrual cycle was irregular. She was just 37, but because her family history was rife with cancer, her doctor ordered tests. A biopsy found precancerous cells. Chemo and radiation were not treatment options, and the recommendation was for Brock to get a hysterectomy. But it was a difficult choice.

“I had no husband and no plans to have children, but I always thought I’d have children,” said Brock, who pastors Canton Presbyterian Church. “It was hard on me emotionally, because I knew having a hysterectomy would mean that I definitely wouldn’t have children. It was actually harder than having the cancer.”

Brock received two more opinions before opting for the hysterectomy. The procedures seems to have worked, with no sign of cancer since.

Ovarian cancer is said to affect 1 in 57 women and is the eighth most common cancer among women. The American Cancer Society predicts more than 20,000 women will be diagnosed this year, and about about 15,310 women will die. One reason that ovarian cancer is so deadly is that it’s very difficult to diagnose, often being mistaken for other abdominal problems.

Brock was careful to be tested often, knowing that her mother had survived two types of cancer and that uncles and grandparents also had forms of the disease. “I’ve been getting mammograms since I was 30 years old,” Brock said. “I was raised up by my mother to believe that when it comes to your health, other people’s passivity shouldn’t determine your future.”

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Though it was tempting to postpone tests, Brock was taught to be aggressive. “My mother taught me to be assertive with doctors — a lot of people aren’t taught to do that.” She noted that people often go into denial about their symptoms and pretend that nothing is wrong, potentially allowing their disease to grow.

“Early detection is a huge key to surviving. My advice would be to do what the doctors say and follow the advice of one of the members of our congregation, a 90-year old woman who has survived cancer. She says, ‘Make your decision and don’t look back.’ That has helped me out a lot.”

Brock pastors a small church, but of the 70 people in the congregation, 12 have survived cancer. Her congregation has been a marvelous support group and inspiration for Brock, and testifies to the strength that faith can bring.

“Those with faith sometimes don’t survive,” Brock said. “But I don’t know how I would have made it without my faith.”

Her experience has also changed the way she ministers to people.

“When I was a hospital Chaplain, I wanted to tell people that everything was going to be okay. But that’s not the way things work out all of the time. The real truth is that it’s going to be OK no matter what the outcome.” In other words, said Brock: “On a spiritual level, you know everything is going to be fine. On a physical level, you pray for healing.”

Brock and her congregation have supported the annual Relay For Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society by forming a team and raising money. “It keeps an awareness of cancer in the public’s mind, it celebrates survivors, remembers those who died and raises money for research. Cancer has been around a long time. We haven’t created a vaccine yet, but we’re getting closer to prevention and early detection.” The team is planning to carry a banner with the survivors’ hand prints at the Relay For Life overnight event in Canton on May 19-20.

Brock tries to live in the moment, a strategy she has been told aids in prevention. “I’ll put off cleaning my house to go to the movies with a friend. I’ll go out to have a spontaneous meal with someone who calls at the last minute. It’s like the email that was passed around a few times says: People on their death bed don’t often wish they’d spent more hours working or cleaning the house more. They wish they’d spent more time with people they loved.”

And, though she had a difficult choice to make initially, Brock said she’s going to continue to take the advice of that 90 year-old cancer survivor in her church.

Said Brock: “I’m not looking back.”

(By Angi Bates Orton, special to The Smoky Mountain News.)

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