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Pilch pushes self-exams as a cancer survivor

Judy Pilch is a Walterboro resident and breast cancer survivor who advocates the importance of self-given breast exams. She discovered her cancer more than 20 years ago while doing a self-exam.

The word “celebration” means something very special to Judy Pilch: each day can be a celebration, each milestone something beautiful to be a part of. This year marks the 24th year that Judy has been a breast cancer survivor.
Pilch, now 72, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 1995, after she discovered a lump in her right breast two months prior, in August. She made that discovery while doing her breast exam.
“The biopsy was done on October 31st,” she recalls. “After the biopsy, they told me I had cancer.”
The steps of what occurred after the diagnosis began to happen quickly.
On Nov. 10th of that year, Pilch underwent a radical mastectomy of her right breast. Cancer had already spread into the right side of her lymph nodes, forcing her also to undergo chemotherapy. The chemo began one month after her mastectomy, on Dec. 10th.
“That was fun,” she said with a laugh.
The chemo caused Pilch to lose all of her hair. She began to use wigs and hats to cover her bald head, she recalled, but she said it was her family’s sense of humor that got her through it. “They would tease me about the light off of my head blinding them,” she said, with a laugh. “You have to have the humor to get through this, as a whole family.
“I didn’t feel like getting dressed every time I would go to chemo. I didn’t feel like being chipper. But your attitude changes everything. You cannot let it beat you, mentally or emotionally. If you do, it will kill you physically.”
Four months after first starting chemotherapy, Pilch successfully participated in the Walterboro Rice Run, which is held each April as part of the local community’s Rice Festival. “I was so happy that I survived, that I was alive. I just wanted to celebrate everything that I could,” she said. “I have been very blessed and good to go since then.”
Now, Judy is preparing to celebrate her 73rd birthday in December.
The Walterboro resident remains a strong advocate for women to perform their breast exams. She is also an advocate for the power of positive thinking.

Judy Pilch with her husband Jesse.

“God works in mysterious ways. He uses you for different things,” she said. Pilch believes that God is using her to spread her story and to help other women prevent cancer. She also believes she helps people cope with a cancer diagnosis.
Through the years, and since her first diagnosis, she has worked with various community-based preventative groups and in area churches. In these venues, she speaks to women about the power of positive thinking when faced with a negative situation. She also encourages every woman to examine herself.
“I think the different lives you touch are people who might need to hear that ‘hey, I’m a survivor. And, if I can do it, you can too,’” she said.
Pilch is now celebrating that she is a grandmother of four, along with 53 years of marriage to her husband, Jesse. “If it hadn’t been for him and my kids … I would have never made it. Jesse was with me every step of the way,” she said. “People forget what it’s like for caregivers, and I want to make sure caregivers know they are loved and supported, too. “I’ve seen my grandchildren grow up, and I am blessed.”
As she prepares to enter 2020, Pilch says she will continue to advocate for caregivers, along with the power of self-care. “I do my self-exams all the time, and I get a mammogram once a year. I only got one, but by God, it gets an exam once a year,” with a laugh.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Heather Walters (1670 Posts)