It’s a warm and humid June day in downtown Charleston as Joann Baldwin, 68, greets her friends at the MUSC Urban Farm to learn what grows and the health benefits the plants provide.
Not only would she do this, but she’s here as part of the Survivors’ Fit Club, provided by MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and the MUSC Wellness Center. Baldwin, a Pennsylvania native who now calls South Carolina home, has found community and new purpose, thanks in part to the Survivor’s Fit Club, a 10-week program that builds community among breast cancer survivors while improving their physical health, mental health. health and nutrition.
She loves it so much that this is her second time participating. Baldwin, a retired teacher, taught special education and the deaf and hard of hearing for 36 years. Today, she teaches women about the importance of regular mammograms, something she has been getting annually since she was 32, after she lost her mother to metastatic breast cancer at age 54.
In September 2016, her routine mammogram discovered something no one can really prepare for — she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in her right breast.
“I had no symptoms and always did manual examinations of myself. In March 2016 I had a normal mammogram.”
Although it was an aggressive cancer, Baldwin said that catching it early was critical. She had a mastectomy and two months of chemotherapy at a community hospital near where she grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Throughout the process, she felt she was missing a community of survivors to help her live her best life after being diagnosed with cancer. That was, of course, until she came to visit her son in Charleston during the COVID 19 pandemic.
“I was one of those people who lived in the same state all my life. Coming to South Carolina and not having a job and not having all my friends and siblings was hard for me, and I was a very outgoing person,” she said.
During one visit, Baldwin made an appointment at MUSC to continue her routine checkups after being diagnosed with cancer. She was supposed to meet with Frank Brescia, MD, a breast cancer oncologist at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. The first visits were so positive that Baldwin turned her medical care over to Hollings’ team.
It was Brescia who told Baldwin about Survivors’ Fit Club in the fall. She said she finally felt like she had found the community she was looking for.
Joann Baldwin, a member of MUSC Hollings’ Survivors’ Fit Club, slams into a heavy bag during a recent training session. Photo by Marquel Coaxum
I had a really hard time in Pennsylvania finding a close support group. They had some options but for me it was not what I needed. I wanted more information about health, nutrition and what’s new.
June is National Cancer Survivor Month and Baldwin, like so many people, struggled after her treatment ended. She said building community, seeking help addressing mental health, and realizing that you are not alone in your struggle are the keys to surviving cancer. Hollings offers other resources, such as the Survivors’ Fit Club, to help people struggling after a cancer diagnosis.
“I’ve really bonded with the women here,” Baldwin said. “The women make it all possible. I think the exercise programs and activities are excellent.”
The retired teacher now loves learning about things she previously didn’t pay much attention to and enjoys the weekly activities that range from diet tips to yoga and ballet classes.
“I feel strong,” she said. “I just want to be with the people. That makes me feel strong.”
Survivors’ Fit Club gives her something to look forward to every week. Since moving to South Carolina, Baldwin said she found a church and also enjoys exploring the area. She said what gives her the most joy these days is spending time with her only son and her 1-year-old grandson.
“I know I need to be strong in a different way now and really connect with other women and people in South Carolina,” Baldwin said. “I really want to start a new life after teaching. I want to volunteer at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and get involved in serving meals for the homeless. I want to do more volunteer work.”
Baldwin said she was inspired by the strength of the other women in Survivors’ Fit Club. She is grateful for an outlet as the group and enjoys the little things in life even more after her diagnosis.
“I’m lucky. I really feel like I have a second chance at life.”
For more information about Survivors’ Fit Club and upcoming sessions, call 843-792-4141.