A busy top-producing realtor in Jacksonville, Joanie Heighes had no time to be sidelined by illness.
In December 2015, she went for her annual mammogram at Baptist Medical Center South and then other advanced screening tests at the Hill Breast Center at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center. The news was not good: Heighes had Stage I breast cancer.
True to form, the 58-year-old Heighes wasted little time. In February 2016, her surgeon, Gordon Polley, MD, removed the tumor at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville. She had chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center with medical oncologist John Vu, MD, and radiation oncologist Cynthia Anderson, MD.
“I had the most wonderful help, care and support from everybody there. The entire team takes the time to answer your questions and to just sit with you,” Heighes said. “I never felt rushed, from the surgeon all the way down.
“Everybody was so pleasant, starting from the people who check you in,” she added. “The culture of the entire building is to make the experience as pleasant as they possibly can for people. And they do.”
She also praised her oncology patient navigator, LaVeda Carter, RN, who she said encouraged and helped her through every step.
“She is truly an amazing lady. She has wings and a halo,” Heighes said.
John, her husband of 35 years, was at her side for every appointment. Heighes said she would have been lost without him, along with the support of her daughters, who flew to Jacksonville when she had her lumpectomy.
She recently finished her radiation treatments and participated in focus groups to provide a patient’s perspective on the construction of the new 9-story Baptist MD Anderson building.
And she continued to sell houses and work through her treatment with help from coworkers. She said she is ranked No. 9 in Jacksonville for Watson Realty and was not going to let it slip.
“Being busy and focusing on work was a great way for me to push through it,” she said.
She continues with follow-up appointments.
“She always has a positive attitude with everything and that goes a long way,” Dr. Vu said.
Heighes stressed the importance of getting an annual mammogram after she skipped one in 2014.
“This past mammogram saved my life,” she said. “The tumor was so deep. I would have never found it in a self-exam.
“Everybody I talk to I say, ‘Go do it. Don’t miss it.’ I’m still walking and talking because of it.”