September 23, 2019
Belva Leer thought breast cancer was in her past.
She was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 1998 at 39 years old. She had noticed a change in her breast and a mammogram showed a lump deep inside.
At the time, she had two teenagers and a 10-year-old at home in Williston, N.D. Leer underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation before receiving the all-clear.
“My biggest concern was just to get through the treatment and to take care of myself,” Leer said.
Previously, Leer worked as a nurse in labor and delivery, but her experience inspired her to become an oncology nurse.
For the next nine years, Leer helped patients navigate their cancer journeys. With her husband, Wade, she moved to Bismarck in 2012 to be closer to her children – then grown and having kids of their own.
In 2015, Leer was planning to have surgery on her wrist when a routine chest X-ray showed a pocket of fluid in her lung.
After 17 years of being cancer-free, Leer was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. She had no other symptoms, and without that chest X-ray, may never have found the cancer. Since the disease had already spread, surgery wasn’t an option.
“It was quite the shock, and pretty rough knowing what I know about breast cancer,” Leer said.
She underwent five months of chemotherapy treatments at the Edith Sanford Breast Center in Bismarck.
“I’m not a believer in bigger is better. I feel blessed to be here and have the treatment I need close to home,” Leer said. “I have the best oncologist, Dr. Peter Kurniali.”
She continues to take oral chemotherapy and estrogen treatments with checkups every four months to make sure the cancer isn’t spreading.
“It’s been four and a half years, and here I am just kicking along,” Leer said. “When I was diagnosed, I felt like it was the beginning of the end. Now I feel that it’s a different way of life.”
During her chemotherapy treatment, Leer’s husband survived a heart attack. With the help of her nurses at Edith Sanford, she found an exercise program for cancer survivors that would also help with his rehabilitation.
The program helped the couple get back on their feet, and they continue to work out five days a week in addition to their busy schedule as grandparents.
“God bless the nurses and nurse navigators at Edith Sanford,” Leer said. “They are awesome.”
Throughout her journey, Leer has stayed hopeful, taking good and bad news with a positive and caring attitude. She is always smiling and willing to lift up others, even when she may be down.
“I like to think that my grandchildren won’t hear the word ‘chemotherapy,’” Leer said. “We’re going to learn how to treat it and give people the quality of life they deserve.”
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To make a donation or find other ways to get involved, visit sanfordhealthfoundation.org/edith.