Cancer's no match for this family

Many people have heard the phrase — it takes a village to raise a baby. For Joanne Donovan, it takes a community to fight cancer. At the age of 42, Donovan noticed a lump in her breast. She immediately made an appointment with her primary care physician. That led to a mammogram and further testing, which confirmed Donovan had breast cancer. She’s been working with Kathrina Chua, MD, of Bayhealth Hematology/Oncology Associates ever since.

Donovan and her tight-knit family didn’t look at the diagnosis as something to dread, but rather something to fight, head-on. By her side for every chemotherapy appointment was her mom, Marlyn, her husband, Terry, and her two beautiful daughters, Brittney and Lauren. Beyond family, Donovan also had an extensive support network of friends and community members by her side through her entire journey. All wore matching shirts that said, “Keep calm. My God is greater than cancer.” The support was unwavering, and that made all the difference.

“The support is overwhelming in the best way. It’s so encouraging and such a blessing,” said Donovan. “Between my family and our church family, to have so many people rallying behind you, it’s just amazing.”

“It has been so incredible to see our community rally behind Joanne,” said Terry. “We have always loved helping other people. But this time we were the ones who needed help. And we are so appreciative of all everyone has done.”

Donovan’s family has been instrumental throughout her treatment. Her daughters — Brittney, 20, and Lauren, 18 — have been by her side through it all. They have taken on a bigger role in the home, especially with cooking and cleaning.

“You really don’t appreciate all that your mom does until the responsibilities are yours,” noted Brittney. “Even loading the dishwasher is an art!” And her sister couldn’t agree more. “You don’t even realize how many dishes you dirty until you have to clean them. But we made it work. That’s always been our thought process. We will get through this together,” said Lauren.

Brittney and Lauren are well-known around the Bayhealth Cancer Center now, thanks in part to their generosity. The girls brought baked goods to every appointment to share with the nursing staff and other patients. They said it’s “just a little something to brighten everyone’s day.”

Donovan grew especially close to the nursing staff at Bayhealth. “They become your family. It’s so amazing when they come to check on you and give you a big hug, even when you aren’t their patient that day. It just means the world to me. The patients could be like numbers, but they never let anyone feel that way,” said Donovan.

“Joanne never let anything get her down. She is always smiling and always thinking of others. If you ask her how she is doing she rarely has any complaints. I consider myself very fortunate to have cared for such an extraordinary lady and her wonderful family,” said Angela Gooden, RN, one of Joanne’s nurses during her treatment.

Donovan says the diagnosis has been something of a blessing in disguise, prompting the family to reevaluate. “We were such a busy family. My diagnosis really shifted that. We have always been a close family, but this has taken us to new levels. A cancer diagnosis really gives you a sense of what’s important,” said Donovan.

Donovan credits her faith and her faithful community for getting her through some of the tough days. But she always knows there is a brighter day to come.

“My advice to others is to stay strong and stay encouraged. The beginning is hard, especially when there is so much uncertainty,” said Donovan. “It’s so important to be encouraged by those around you. Some days you may feel bad, but most days you will feel better. That’s what I focus on, the days when I feel good. I was given a good prognosis and I came into this ready to fight.”

To find a Bayhealth physician to fit your needs, call 1-866-Bay-Docs to learn about providers in your area. Visit to learn about Bayhealth’s Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

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