Jill Jester knows well that cancer touches everyone.
“I just don’t think you can meet anyone that hasn’t been affected by cancer,” the Denton attorney said.
Her mother is a breast cancer survivor and her father, Tom, who works with her at Minor & Jester law firm, is enduring his own battle with pancreatic cancer.
Tom D. Jester Jr., who served on the Denton City Council and as mayor in the 1970s, said the years he’s lived with cancer have been tough.
“The ups and downs, thinking you’re cured and to find out it comes back, all those operations ... it’s been a tough journey both physically and mentally,” he said.
Sisters Debbie Howard, Belinda Hawkins and Jimmye Hill, who are fifth-generation Denton residents, know that feeling. Among the six siblings in the family, they and another sister are all breast cancer survivors.
The sisters say they’ve provided support for one another, being at one another’s side for surgeries and sometimes driving each other to doctors’ appointments and treatments.
“Through our ordeals ... we just didn’t allow each other to go to that dark place, any of us,” Howard said.
Howard, Hawkins and Tom Jester are among the cancer survivors who will be modeling clothing in the annual You’re Beautiful! Style Show and Luncheon on Jan. 31 at the University of North Texas Gateway Center. Jill Jester will serve as the event’s emcee.
The event recognizes cancer survivors, remembers people who’ve battled cancer and raises money for cancer research and Denton County patient services, organizers said. In addition to featuring fashions from area stores, the event will include singing, a video and a celebration of advancements made in fighting the disease.
The event has raised $407,098 for the American Cancer Society since 2004, organizers say. Tickets cost $50 and are available through Friday.
“The money that’s raised is making a difference,” Jill Jester said. “It feels good to feel like you’re doing something to help. We hope everyone that can participate will. I can tell you it makes you feel good feeling like you’re making a difference.”
According to the cancer society, more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year.
Catching it early
Hawkins was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 at age 38. Howard and Hill were diagnosed with breast cancer more recently — Howard in August 2012, at age 61, followed by Hill last February, when she was 65. Their younger sister was diagnosed in 2009 at age 50. Another sister and their sole brother have not been diagnosed with cancer.
Laughter has been a go-to for the sisters, who laughed often when discussing their experiences with the disease this week.
“We have a very good sense of humor, and humor is probably what has helped all three of us get through the hard times that we’ve been faced with,” said Howard, with her sisters Hawkins and Hill by her side.
The sisters say you have to laugh and find the humor, even in cancer. They say you have to laugh to get through it.
“You have to focus on the positive,” Hawkins said.
When Hawkins’ diagnosis came in 1992, Howard said, they “were all so scared” and unaware. The experience made them more proactive in getting checked for signs of cancer.
“After Belinda was diagnosed ... it makes you become aware of your own self and what you need to do to be proactive to make sure the care is there if you need it to take the precautions if you do get breast cancer,” Howard said.
Regular checkups caught Howard’s cancer at a Stage 0, she said. Hill said her cancer was detected at Stage 1.
The sisters say they tested negative for the breast-cancer gene, so their doctor suspects something in the sisters’ tissue must make them vulnerable.
Every six months, the sisters go for checkups, and recent visits revealed Howard, Hawkins and Hill are “clear” of cancer.
Howard hopes she and her siblings can inspire everyone to go for regular checkups, and to know that if they’re diagnosed, “it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “Deal with it and move on and enjoy your life.”
Though at first hesitant when asked by a friend to participate in the You’re Beautiful! Style Show, Howard said she considers it an honor.
“I think there may be people there at that luncheon that may think twice about getting a checkup, and if that encourages one person, that may be that one person that has breast cancer that doesn’t know it,” she said.
Hawkins, who was recruited for the show by Howard, said she’s also honored to participate and looks forward to raising funds to assist people who couldn’t otherwise afford a mammogram or to have support. She said she just wants to give back.
Tom Jester was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2001 at age 61. Since then, he’s undergone six major operations, several procedures, radiation, chemotherapy and CyberKnife — a form of radiation that targets one particular spot in the body — and is currently in an experimental drug program in Dallas.
He said he had two cancers that were growing and doctors removed one last February and sent it to Johns Hopkins University to develop a serum that would attack the other cancer, but they were unsuccessful.
This is the third time his cancer has returned, he said.
“The cancer that I have is inoperable, and there’s no medicine that will cure it,” Tom Jester said.
What keeps him motivated is the desire to “make it, keep going.”
“I’m going to live life everyday to the fullest,” he said, as his daughter, Jill, asked for a tissue to wipe away tears. “And I’ve got a daughter to practice law with. I look forward to that every day. It’s been great having her here. It does give me inspiration.”
Being a part of this year’s You’re Beautiful! show means being an inspiration and showing those with cancer that there’s hope for living a normal life for several years after receiving a diagnosis, Tom Jester said.
“It’s very devastating when they walk in your room and tell you have cancer,” he said. “The first thing you think of, you’ve got six months to live, and to see others such as myself that have made it for several years and have had a good, quality life, it does give you hope and inspiration that we all can go on to have a good quality of life in the years to come living with cancer.”
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.
What: Style show and luncheon featuring local cancer survivors to celebrate advancements made in research and treatment
When: Noon to 1:30 p.m. Jan. 31
Where: University of North Texas Gateway Center, 801 North Texas Blvd.
Details: Tickets cost $50 each and can be purchased through Friday. Underwriting levels begin at $250. For tickets, call Krystal Alvarado at 940-268-6127. To underwrite or volunteer, call Lucy Huff at 940-367-0862 or Judy Shortino at 214-435-5395.