Joni Belk's Story
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1
When you’re a 40-year-old wife and mother of two, life must go on after breast cancer. And yet that proved difficult for Joni Belk of Sioux Falls. “It is not easy to be totally healthy one day, face the possibility that you could die of cancer, and then go back and live your life,” she said.
“A Time to Heal,” a 12-week holistic rehabilitation program for breast cancer survivors offered at the Avera Cancer Institute, proved to be what Belk needed to move past her disease and get on with living.
Joni’s cancer was found soon after she turned 40, at her first screening mammogram. Working with oncologist Dr. Amy Krie, Belk opted for a double mastectomy as her treatment plan. Because the cancer was found early on, and had not spread to the lymph nodes, Belk did not need chemotherapy. She had reconstructive surgery, which was complete in July of 2007.
“I went through a lot of questioning of ‘why me.’ I was so healthy. I had very little history of cancer in my family,” Belk said. “Yet I knew I just had to move on, and began to search for something that could help me.”
When Belk received a letter about the “A Time to Heal” program, she called immediately. “A Time to Heal” was first offered free of charge to breast cancer survivors in 2007 at the Avera Cancer Institute, thanks to funding through the annual Avera Race Against Breast Cancer. Women who have completed surgery and chemotherapy and/or radiation for a first diagnosis of breast cancer are eligible.
“A Time to Heal” was created by Dr. Stephanie Koraleski and Kay Ryan. The 12-week holistic program is designed to help women regain physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological and spiritual strength after undergoing breast cancer treatment.
“Just like someone who is undergoing cardiac rehab after a heart attack, a woman deserves help in her recovery from breast cancer, too,” said Carole Chell, CNP, breast health navigator at the Avera Cancer Institute.
Women receive helpful information about healing, training in coping skills such as relaxation, and opportunities to ask questions and share insights. Weekly instruction covers topics such as nutrition, exercise, regaining strength, coping, relationships, relaxation, spirituality, femininity, happiness and intention.
Women who have completed the program say they have greater satisfaction with life and stronger feelings of well-being. “I realized that other people were dealing
with many of the same issues,” Belk said.
She appreciated the fact that “A Time to Heal” gave her new options to try in coping with being a cancer survivor. “One thing I learned is to ‘do things that inspire you, not tire you.’ That should be everyone’s goal. Not just people with cancer,” Belk said.
Also helpful to Belk was the support of family and friends. Her husband, John “Bud” Belk, is an Emergency Department physician at Avera McKennan. “He was my rock, and really helped me get through all of this.” He and their children, Lexi and Zach, helped her realize she had a lot to live for. Avera McKennan physicians and staff – from her surgeons, to her oncologist, to her nurses and therapists – became like family.
Little things mean a lot, and the fact that she couldn’t lift her own children after surgery was discouraging to Belk. Recently, when her daughter fell asleep in the car, Belk picked her up and carried her into the house. She realized she had reached a milestone when Lexi woke up long enough to say, “Mom, you’re better! You’re carrying me.”