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Portraits of hope
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Jane Williams learned she had breast cancer - infiltrating ductile carcinoma - this January.

Like many others diagnosed with cancer, Williams had to postpone other planned activities to decide how to treat the peanut-sized tumor.

"At that time our youngest son was living in the Washington D.C. area and we were going to go up and help him with his new baby while his wife finished school, but he told us not to come because he wanted me to do whatever I needed to do right away," Goff said.

Williams' doctor gave her three options. She could have a lumpectomy (removing only the tumor), undergo radiation treatments everyday for eight weeks and take medication for four to five years or undergo a mastectomy.

She and her husband discussed whether she should have both breasts removed, or only one.

"We had been told by a lady who had only one removed that you feel lopsided when you do that," Williams said.

Williams came home 29 hours after her double mastectomy this April and two weeks later began attending church again.

"I'm very comfortable with the choice that I made and so is my husband," Williams said.

Fortunately, and unlike many, she had no complications such as infection after her surgery. Williams said she feels blessed to not have struggled as so many do and because she was able to have all of her procedures done in Newton County.

Williams is a survivor, and October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month - a time to celebrate, support and remember those who have beat, are struggling with or who have succumbed to the disease.

In recognition of the month, the Newton Medical Center Women's Diagnostic Center partnered with Main Street Covington to "Paint the Town Pink."

Cancer survivors and diagnostic center volunteers Wendi Martinez and Kay Goff organized the initiative to have "Portraits of Hope" placed in the windows of downtown Covington businesses.

"The response from everyone has just been great," Martinez said. "We weren't sure how everyone would take it because it does take away from the space in their windows."

The Portraits of Hope feature the 26 cancer survivors from the diagnostic center's support group. Along with their photographs, patrons of downtown businesses can read the women's personal experiences with the illness.

 "If we help one person when they see the stories, then all the work has been worth it," Martinez said. "Everybody deals with it differently - everybody's experience is different."

Freelance photographer Kimberly Brown kindly donated her time and talent to taking the portraits and Merle Norman cosmetologist Janette Facer applied the women's make up.

"Everybody just felt beautiful and Kimberly tried to really bring out everyone's personality and she did a wonderful job," Martinez said.

Williams, Martinez and Goff all have their portraits posted.

Goff said she was so proud of the women of her support group for sharing their stories to raise awareness not only about the disease, but also the emotions that stem from it.

"This disease does not just touch a patient," Goff said. "It touches everyone who loves that patient."

Williams' battle with cancer has not been just her own - her husband had prostate cancer several years ago and her mother, three aunts and two cousins died from the disease.

Goff said the initiative should also increase interest in the diagnostic center's fundraising efforts for the new digital mammography equipment purchased this summer.

"It is just amazing the difference between the old analog and this new digital equipment," Goff said. "The picture is so much clearer."

What some women would have to go back multiple times to have screened on the old analog equipment is found in the first session by the new digital equipment according to Goff.

She also wants to bring attention to the Hope Boutique - which she founded in the county to provide wigs, hats, scarves and prosthesis to those who have been treated with radiation, chemotherapy or surgery - as well as encourage more survivors to join the support group.

"We celebrate life," Goff said of the support group, "every little aspect of life, and that nothing can be taken for granted and everything is a blessing."

She said organizing the initiative has solidified her friendship with Martinez.

Cancer has taught all the women highlighted in the Portraits of Hope lessons about their own strength, family relationships and supporting others.

"What I have learned is how to do my own research on the internet, that I would walk a country mile with someone who was afraid to have a mammogram, and support anyone I could experiencing this and tell her to make sure to include her husband in everything because his attitude matters too," Williams said.

She said she is positive the early detection from her regularly scheduled mammogram saved her life and is thankful everyday for all her doctors, family and friends did for her.

"Life throws us some curves every once in a while," Williams said, "and you have to come to know there's light at the end of the tunnel and that there's more left in life for you."