Kicking Cancer to the Curb: Dr. Joanne Stephenson

She sat in front of her specialist, a typically fun and joking man, but his face did not have the normal, welcoming smile it always had, and that’s when she knew this was serious. That’s when the three words she never imagined she would hear in her entire life came out of his mouth: “You have cancer.”

“It was a surprise, and at first, I thought it was just sinuses,”said Joanne Stephenson, a psychology professor at Union.

Dr. Stephenson was told in August of 2010 news that would completely turn her world upside down. It started with a simple bump that she felt on her neck one day that she thought was just sinuses or a simple infection. When she went to see a specialist, he comforted her by joking around and saying that it was nothing too major, but he did a bone marrow biopsy just to be on the safe side. Just as Dr, Stephenson had hoped, the results were inconclusive and there was nothing in her bones.

Some time passed and she went back for her normal check up, only to be greeted by an expression of grief on her doctor’s face.

“I knew when I saw the worry on his face, this was something serious. At that moment, God came to me and told me that it was cancer,” Stephenson said.

She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is cancer of the lymph nodes, and in her case, was attacking the entire right quadrant of her body. She was put on very strong chemo immediately, and would have to go through the exhausting process for 16 weeks.

“Chemo was strange because you had to sit there with basically poison dripping into your body all day long,” Stephenson said.

Undergoing chemo was one of the hardest parts for her, and she prayed for nothing short of a miracle.

She began to lose her hair and her strength little by little each day.

“Even though I lost my hair, like I expected, God was so good because he let me keep my eyebrows and eyelashes,” said Stephenson jokingly.

Thanks to the help and support of God, her friends, her students, and her loving husband Lloyd, she was able to keep a positive outlook on life even through the chemo.

“My husband is such an angel. He was my rock and support through all of this and he never left my side,” she said.

Throughout what would seem to be a lengthy and difficult process, Stephenson radiated confidence and had a glow about her that could not be ignored by her peers.

“Dr. Stephenson possesses godly kindness, a sharp wit, an intuitive sense of finding an ‘internal beach’ no matter the rain -which she then extends as an umbrella to her students, as well as a pure, motherly charity. She is strong, and just downright classy,” said Jacob Sipes, a former student and close friend of Stephenson.

She never failed to give thanks to God and remind everyone that she would not be here if it weren’t for His power and everlasting love. It was very important for her, especially psychologically, to have so much support to help her get through her battle.

“I always loved seeing hummingbirds and dragonflies during my chemotherapy. They were my little signs from God showing me that everything was going to be okay,” Stephenson said.

After every appointment, she would see a dragonfly sitting on her car which gave her hope that God was always with her. She also had amazing doctors that listened, helped, and worked with her to make this journey as smooth as possible.

As of today, Dr. Stephenson has been cancer-free for four years and feels better than she ever has before. With being almost 70 years old, she has learned a lot from her journey and appreciates every day how blessed she is to live the life she does.