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Breast cancer survivor receives comfort by helping others

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Lisa McNeill asked herself a simple, but tough question.

“Am I going to die?” after being diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer at the age of 48. She survived, though the road was long, emotional and painful.

She’ll never forget the day she found out that she had breast cancer. Lisa and her husband, Paige, own and operate a cow/calf operation, and have two hired hands full time. Their ranch has been in Paige’s family since 1895.

“We were … working cattle that day,” Lisa said. “I cook for the guys when we work cattle, … and I had just put the food out, and my surgeon called me and told me over phone. I was blown away … the whole time I just thought I had a cyst or something minor … I felt fine.”

Lisa discovered a small lump in her right breast in a dressing room. Having no family history of cancer on either side of her family, Lisa didn’t think much of it, but made a doctor’s appointment anyway. Lisa emphasized several times the need to perform a self-breast examination each month, along with getting mammograms.

“The self-exam is very important,” she said.

Early detection of breast cancer is crucial for creating the best scenario for treatment and survival. Nationalbreastcancer.org provides instructions on how to conduct an at-home self-exam.

Since 2018, Lisa has found great purpose in starting and participating in Fresh Hope, an outreach ministry through the Crosswinds Community Church, which helps individuals with cancer.

“God has been weighing on my heart to help,” Lisa said. “I felt this weight on me, like I need to go and help somebody when they first start. When you first get this news, you hear the “C” word … and forever it was a death sentence … and it’s a scary thing. You don’t know where to start. What do you do? Where do you go? Who do you call?”

Fresh Hope is a great place to start. The ministry provides backpacks to those who have been newly diagnosed with cancer. The backpacks contain extra-thick socks for cold feet, a journal to write down questions for the doctors, and other thoughts. A large jar of CeraVe lotion is included, along with pens, highlighters, and a binder for organizing paperwork and information. An envelope with laminated cards, containing words of encouragement and scriptures, Doublemint gum for nausea, a water bottle, a large bottle of hand sanitizer for home, and two small ones, are also in the backpacks. Masks are included, which is helpful when one’s immune system is weak. The costs of the embroidering on the backpacks are donated by Awesome Graphics.

Fresh Hope has teamed up with Light of Lea County in providing help to cancer patients. Kate Durrett, who volunteers for Light of Lea County, said there was a local need for a service for cancer patients and their families. The foundation began in February of 2011 and has grown over the years.

“Every person is a volunteer,” said Durrett. Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer can apply. Every six months, a patient’s utility bill is paid, the foundation provides help with lodging, groceries, and gas money. Light of Lea County has partnered with Nor-Lea Hospital in Lovington, and with the American Cancer Society, and started the Cancer Resource Center at Nor-Lea Hospital.

Nor-Lea Hospital provides many free supplies for cancer patients. Two free bras and one wig are given every six months to each person. Yearly, a prosthesis is given to women who have underwent removal of one or both breasts. Hats, headcovers, and support are also given, complimentary. It is Lisa’s desire to let the community know what’s available locally. Lisa said she didn’t know of anywhere she could go to receive comfort, or any assistance or supplies when she was first diagnosed. Lisa did, however, receive support from Paige, her daughters, Kenna Hayes and Kynzie Rae, her church, and other loved ones.

Lisa grew up in Yankton, S.D., with her two brothers Mark and Tim. Lisa met Paige in Great Falls, Mont. After dancing together, Lisa gave Paige her last name, rather than a phone number. He was told to remember it and look her up later. Paige wrote, “Loecker,” pronounced “Lecker,” on a napkin, found Lisa, and the two were wed July 22, 1994. The McNeills had an opportunity to move to Hobbs, when Paige’s family ranch needed a new foreman.

When Lisa received that phone call, her daughter Kenna Hayes was a senior in high school, while daughter Kynzie Rae was a senior in college. Kenna’s high school was in Tatum, where Lisa and Paige would usually alternate staying with her in a small home they owned. Since Lisa was sick, Kenna had to stay alone. Though responsible, Kenna received help from Teresa Parks and Lisa Medlin, two teachers and friends who became surrogate mothers to Kenna. Lisa felt a lot of guilt for not being able to be there. She was happy when she got to see Kenna at her cowboy prom, and Kynzie at her college graduation — all the while trying to keep the focus on her beloved daughters on their special days.

Paige was “amazing,” Lisa said. He already worked hard at their ranch but worked even harder taking care of Lisa. Lisa was used to working all day, doing whatever needed to be done. She fed the cattle and horses, did paperwork, picked up parts and cooked dinner. Paige took over, while Lisa was feeling very ill in bed. She often showered with a stool and found herself exhausted just from walking. Lisa’s mother Mary came to help for about a month. Friends and family brought food over, which she appreciated even when she couldn’t eat herself. Phone calls and text messages gave Lisa comfort. The greatest comfort Lisa received was her personal relationship with God. She said she thought of death, “You can’t not think of it. I prayed a lot, (and) asked God for peace … It was the only way I got through it.”

Lisa had three surgeries and flew every three weeks for a year to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She received 16 weeks of chemotherapy, 33 treatments of radiation, and took a specific medicine every three weeks for a year.

Lisa said the second-most important thing to do, next to performing self-exams, is after being diagnosed with cancer, to get a second opinion outside of the city one resides.

“A good doctor should be OK with a second opinion,” Lisa said. “If they’re not, that’s a red flag.”

She said it’s important to make sure that first diagnosis is correct, before doing anything further. Lisa lost her hair on her head, her lashes and eyebrows.

“It’s hard for a woman,” Lisa said, because many women take pride in their longer hair. Lisa coordinated head covers with her outfits and wore baseball caps and beanies. She even slept in beanies because she was always so cold.

Lisa and her family now live life to the fullest. They no longer worry about the little annoyances in life, and they find themselves to be much more patient. She works harder than ever and puts a lot of effort into giving back to the cancer community.

The Light of Lea County is hosting a free concert, where 100% of beer and wine sales will go toward cancer patients and their families in Lea County. The Cancer Awareness Concert, Hope Aid Live, featuring the Justin Kemp Band, Tim Cummins, and the Hobbs high school band, will be on Nov. 9, from 2-8 p.m. in the Lea County Event Center parking lot.

Guests are encouraged to bring their own chairs. T-shirts are available for purchase for $20 by contacting the Facebook page, “Light of Lea County,” and by calling the Nor-Lea Hospital in Lovington, and the Lea Regional Hospital in Hobbs.

Lisa still has periodic visits to check on her cancer, and after two years she’ll only need to return yearly. She remains busy spending quality time with her family, praying for those who are suffering, and for her own cancer to never return.

Burkett Shaw
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