Staffers bond in fight against breast cancer
Survivor offers guidance for colleague; new Tang program fosters similar one-on-one connections

By D. Lyn Hunter. Public Affairs


Staff members Jan Kieling, left, and Mary Byrnes met at a cancer treatment center, and have since become good friends, supporting each other in their recovery.
Dan Krauss photo

03 October 2001 | To see Jan Kieling and Mary Byrnes joke and banter with each other, it’s easy to forget that it was serious business — breast cancer — that first brought the two women together.

“You have to maintain a sense of humor through this,” said Byrnes, supervisor of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences graduate program. “It was a very important part of my recovery.”

For Kieling, too, levity has been good medicine. When her hair first reappeared after chemotherapy, she e-mailed Byrnes, “The eagle has landed,” quoting the astronauts who first reached the moon.

“Everyone is so serious when you have breast cancer,” said Kieling, assistant director of the Study Abroad program. “It was a joy to meet someone like Mary who wasn’t so gloomy about it.”

The two alumnae and longtime staffers, both 50, met at a cancer treatment center, where they were introduced by a mutual friend. Byrnes was at the tail end of her radiation and chemotherapy treatment, while Kieling was just beginning her post-surgery journey.

“I was so taken aback when I saw Mary. Here was a woman full of smiles and radiating health and confidence,” recalled Kieling. “To see her look that good after 10 months of treatment gave me hope.“

After that initial meeting, Byrnes reached out to Kieling with a special gift, “I brought her a shopping bag full of scarves and hats,” said Byrnes, knowing that Kieling would soon be bald. “I also threw in a blue wig, just for fun.”
She was also able to provide valuable support — offering Keiling advice about medical procedures and how to juggle recovery and work.

As her chemotherapy and radiation treatments progressed, Kieling had many questions.

“I had to inject myself in the stomach with blood boosters, and I am very needle phobic,” said Kieling. “Mary had gone through this as well, so provided much-needed encouragement.”

Byrnes also warned of the toll that radiation can take on one’s skin.

“I received severe burns on my back and neck after my treatment,” Byrnes recalled. “I told Jan to use lots of lotion beforehand to prevent this from happening to her.”

The treatments also sent Byrnes into premature menopause — which has its own side effects, including hot flashes and lack of concentration — and was able to offer pointers when the same thing happened to her friend.

Taking a cue from Byrnes, Kieling chose to work during her treatment, taking a week off here and there instead of one large chunk of time — a better choice, they both found, than staying at home focusing on their disease.

Both women have now completed their treatments. They credit early detection for saving their lives — Byrnes discovered her cancer with a self exam, Kieling during an annual mammogram and ultra sound — and encourage other woman to take the same preventative steps.

Kieling said she is now eager to do what Byrnes did for her: provide support for a woman living with breast cancer.

“I have a friend who was recently diagnosed. Initially she didn’t want to disclose her disease, but I told her it makes life easier to be open about it,” said Kieling. “There is this fear of the unknown. But I got through this in a lot better shape because of Mary. I want to provide the same kind of assistance for others.”


Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail