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Cancer patients often find hope and inspiration from the personal stories of others who have faced cancer.

Jane Howell’s Story
Jane Howell
Jane Howell

In the spring of 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute announced encouraging findings for cancer survivors. The study indicated the number of survivors increased by 20 percent in just six years. Today, almost 12 million Americans have survived the disease since 2007. The implications suggest that cancer is treatable on an ongoing basis for many.

Jane Howell of Billings views cancer as an unwelcome companion she will entertain the rest of her days. “You don’t want to see yourself as a life long patient, but I do see myself as living with cancer as a chronic disease. There is no quick fix for cancer. I think of someone who has Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis… they can treat the disease, but it doesn’t just go away.”

Diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in 2005, she underwent a mastectomy and lymph node removal. Jane’s treatment included chemotherapy and radiation. Two years later the cancer had metastasized to her bones. Her medication continues as do regular MRIs and PET scans to monitor her status.

“I’m profoundly grateful we have doctors who pay attention and do look at each person as an individual and at what’s best for that person. I tell myself that I’m lucky to live now with the treatments that are available. I’ve had good, seamless care.”

Acceptance of the disease may benefit cancer patients with recurring cancer. Factors which influence adjustment may include: severity of the diagnosis, gender, marital status, economic status, support systems, adaptability, and attitude. Jane embraced an optimistic perspective.

“One has to decide how to live: how to keep the body and mind going through all of this. You start to realize that you’re going to live life a little differently; adopt a more realistic attitude toward the rest of your life. It helps to talk to friends and family. They are sympathetic and supportive.”

With her signature English lilt she added, “I’m not waiting for a miracle cure, just trying to keep it down as long as we can. I’ve managed to get to those special occasions: weddings, graduations, trips to England. Touch wood…. That’s important because these are special events.”

As for lessons learned from the disease, Jane said, “My advice for others who are diagnosed with cancer is to pay attention to your financial situation, take advantage of the excellent care we have available, and make your life feel more calm—no guilt. Start thinking more about the rest of your life and treasure your last years. Rid yourself of the clutter so you are freed up to do what you want.”

Jane worked as the library director at MSU-Billings for 20 years. She retired in 2010, joining her husband, Joe, a math professor in retirement. “It’s positive when you realize that you can make choices about what you want to do,” said Jane about the decision. “That felt good to me. I was leaving the library in good hands.” And students will remember the “funny English librarian” for years as Jane donated a stunning souvenir of her time at the library - an authentic English phone booth now in the MSU-B library.

Her contributions to the university and the community are numerous. In an effort to raise money for automating the college library, Jane helped to create the first MSU-B Wine Festival in 1993. Her gifts and time have benefitted the Montana Library Association, Parmly Billings Library, Montana State University Billings Foundation, Friends of Yellowstone Public Radio and the ACLU. Now retired from some of her volunteer organizations, Jane occupies her days with gardening, reading, travel, yoga, and her two cats and a dog. The mother of two became a naturalized citizen in 2008 and has dual citizenship in the U.S. and England.

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