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These breast cancer survivors celebrated their journey by showing off ‘warrior' portraits
Northside Hospital Forsyth employee and breast cancer survivor Jennifer Tyo stands next to her "The Warrior Within" portrait, a program through Feel Beautiful Today, a nonprofit “to bring hope, love and encouragement” to women and girls with cancer. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

A portrait of Gloria Wyatt recently hung in Northside Hospital Forsyth, showing her with a glowing smile and along with her words “I am now stronger, more patient and more loved than I ever knew.”

Smiling like she was in the photo, Wyatt, a breast cancer survivor, said she had been through a mastectomy, six months of chemo, 33 radiation treatments and a reconstructive surgery before posing for the portrait done by The Warrior Within project.

“That was the most wonderful experience that I’ve ever had,” Wyatt said. “I don’t know how to say this, but once you’ve had cancer, you know, you never really feel beautiful again. You never feel yourself again. That day, I had the opportunity to dance and the flowers and I had been bald and was having a good hair day. We were dancing and playing music, and that day, I felt beautiful.”

Like Wyatt, several cancer survivors who are employees at the hospital were recently honored at an event with their portraits on display as part of an employee survivor breakfast in celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

The Warrior Within portraits were made possible through Feel Beautiful Today, a nonprofit “to bring hope, love and encouragement” to women and girls with cancer.

“After working with so many cancer patients, I really felt the need of trying to exalt that spirit of the warrior inside each patient,” said Biviana Franco, founder and director of Feel Beautiful Today. “I wanted to give them the opportunity, find the way, so they could really show that human being inside and share a little bit of that wisdom they gained through this difficult journey."

Franco said Feel Beautiful Today has nine programs and works with 15 cancer centers in the Atlanta-area.

“We work with professional photographers that volunteer their time and help us so we can combine and create these exhibits,” she said.

Gloria Wyatt was among several employees honored at a recent breast cancer survivors’ breakfast at Northside Hospital Forsyth. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Wyatt said when going through cancer, patients go through “so many things ... that you don’t feel like yourself and you don’t feel pretty,” such as weight fluctuation and hair loss.

“You feel like, ‘I just want to feel like me again,” she said. “This is me: I love to laugh and I’m always having fun and laughing. So, I think that caught a lot of my personality."

Melissa Wieleba, an ICU tech at the hospital, said had recently moved to the area from Buffalo, New York with her husband and son when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015. She said she spent her first Christmas Eve with the oncologist.

“Through 2016, I ended up having four rounds of chemo. Then I had 28-days of radiation here at Northside,” she said. “So, I would work all night long then go to radiation in the morning before I went home and went to bed, and I’ve been cancer free since October 2016.”

In her photo, Wieleba flexed her arms, with her quote “I am a warrior and I pushed through it all” above. While she said she isn’t typically a fan of getting her picture taken, she already has another shoot planned in December.

“I thought it was a good idea, and I thought it was something I’d like to get involved in and like to stay involved with,” Wieleba said. 

For Jennifer Tyo, a clinical supervisor on the hospital’s medical, surgical floor, her portrait made her feel “a little bit more special.” When a similar event was held last year, Tyo was going through chemo and vowed to come the next chance she had.

“It’s so amazing that I work for a hospital, a company that cares for their employees like this,” Tyo said. “I just don’t know of another company that does that for their employees. We’re a family here.”

Tyo said she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that spread to her spine. She said she was fortunate that the type of cancer was known for responding well to chemo but didn’t expect how well it would respond.

“Literally, that tumor was gone after one treatment. [My doctor] said, ‘I’ve never seen anybody do so well,’” she said. “He said, ‘You’ve still got to finish the course, kiddo,’ and I am cancer free and in 100 percent remission after 48 weeks of chemo. I’ve just been so blessed.”

Like Wieleba, Tyo flexed in her portrait and said she was expecting a much smaller photo shoot. When she got there, there was more music, dancing and fun than she expected, but it was something the photographer said that made it even more special.

“It was just natural, and [the photographer] said something like, ‘How did you beat cancer,’” Tyo said. “And I just remember holding up my arms, being like, you know what, ‘It’s amazing to hear those words.’ It’s really a miracle.”