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A shining example of hope Gallery of Hope honoree Barbara Wagner now helps other cancer survivors

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS  Barbara Wagner of Weatherly is the Gallery of Hope honoree for Carbon County.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Barbara Wagner of Weatherly is the Gallery of Hope honoree for Carbon County.
Published April 10. 2010 09:00AM

Those who trailblazed the path she went down likely see her as a success story.

Yet, others who currently or one day will follow in her footsteps may see her as a beacon of light.

A cancer survivor of 10 years, Barbara Wagner is without question a shining example of hope.

Perhaps that best explains why Wagner is this year's Carbon County Gallery of Hope honoree.

The hospitals of the Blue Mountain Health System hosted the Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania 2010 "Gallery of Hope." The traveling display is a collection of posters that features the photographs and personal stories of area breast cancer survivors. It is meant to raise awareness of breast cancer and promote personal accountability for one's health by having recommended screenings such as mammograms, and making healthier choices by eating right, exercising and understanding health risks.

Wagner, 64, of Weatherly, greeted visitors at the display at the Blue Mountain Health System's Palmerton campus on Thursday.

Through all the trials and tribulations associated with her battle, Wagner said she was grateful to have the distinction bestowed upon her.

"I was very surprised and honored," said Wagner, who was nominated by her daughter, Kathryn Rusnock of Drums, Luzerne County.

Wagner said her cancer was detected in Aug. of 2000, when her doctor felt a lump on her left breast during a routine gynecological exam. A mammogram and biopsy confirmed a cancer diagnosis. She underwent a lumpectomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Throughout her treatment, Wagner said she received a great deal of support and strength from her husband, her three children and her five brothers and sisters.

"My whole family was very supportive," she said. "It can be very frightening, which is why it's important to open up to people, and ask questions."

Wagner also participated in the American Cancer Society's "Look Good, Feel Better" program, and has since stayed involved with her local Relay for Life.

Since then, Wagner said she's been able to return to work as a licensed practical nurse at Weatherwood, the Carbon County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Weatherly.

"I received a lot of support from people who have had cancer," she said. "I preach at work to go for mammograms and checkups."

Wagner said she also gets colonoscopies done regularly.

"The important thing is early detection and appropriate treatment," she said. "You want to make informed decisions."

Sometimes the hardest part is to come to terms with the stark reality that the disease has struck, Wagner said.

"More women need to be aware of it, and not fear it," she said. "It is a treatable disease when it's found early."

Wagner attempted to deflect some of the praise a cancer survivor such as herself generates.

"I don't feel like I'm anybody special," she said. "There are a lot of people who have had cancer and have had it a lot rougher than I have."

Also on hand were Lisa Johnson, Blue Mountain Health System Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing, Theresa Long, Blue Mountain Health System Chief Nursing Officer, and Leigh Ann Wiedlich, Blue Cross of NEPA's representative.

Long, herself a breast cancer survivor, has actually dealt with the ordeal on two separate occasions.

The first episode occurred when Long was 33 years old after a biopsy showed she had breast cancer. The second occurrence didn't happen until 13 years later, in 2007, when Long found she had breast cancer in her other breast.

Now, married with two children, Long said she continues to maintain a full schedule.

"I've gotten along well," Long said. "I have been able to raise two very happy kids and work a job that is very busy and challenging."

Headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. It offers a comprehensive portfolio of health insurance products and administrative services to about 600,000 individuals in 13 counties in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania.

The company's mission is to provide innovative solutions that support more affordable health care, promote personal accountability for health and wellness, and offer superior service and partnership to employers, members, and providers.

For more information, or to nominate someone for the 2011 "Gallery of Hope" call 1-888-245-3104, or visit /hope.

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