In Georgetown, the mayor’s wife is optimistic about beating breast cancer.
“Being positive is half the battle,” she said.
Faye Collins West is 59 years old and Georgetown born and bred. She met Mayor Bill West during her senior year in high school and married him a few years later. Their two daughters, 30-year-old Courtney and 26-year-old Megan, are now married and living out of state.
Following in the footsteps of her mother, Faye began a banking career two weeks after graduating high school, working for Sussex Trust, now M&T Bank. She’s taking medical leave from her 9-to-5 position as a “relationship banker,” in which she provides more than 500 clients with financial services.
Bill is a retired state policeman. He’s been mayor of Georgetown since 2014. Since he was first elected, Faye said she’s become more community-oriented.
“I definitely take more of an interest and get involved more,” she said.
Faye has a history of eye problems. There is no history of breast cancer in her family, which made her diagnosis all the more shocking. She went for her annual mammogram four days before Christmas in 2016 and was sent for a biopsy the next day. The results were due the week after Christmas.
However, it wasn’t until Jan. 11, after anxiety had festered for several weeks, that she got the news.
“The doctor told me three things,” Faye said. “‘You have breast cancer, we have to refer you to a surgical oncologist and the nurse will be right in to set you up.’ I bawled.”
Things began to look up when she started seeing the staff at Beebe Healthcare’s Tunnell Cancer Center, including surgical oncologist Dr. James Spellman and medical oncologist Dr. Carmen Pisc. Within a week, she had surgery to have a port installed, which would make it easier for doctors to inject medicine. The day after surgery, she started chemo.
“I have a rare breast cancer – triple-negative,” Faye said. “So they hit me with everything they had. I didn’t get out of the recliner for four months.”
Only 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancers are triple-negative. The cells test negative for estrogen and progesterone receptors and HER2, meaning none of those things cause the cancer to grow. Therefore, it doesn’t respond to many types of medication.
Faye started chemotherapy Feb. 1. Her youngest daughter, Megan, went with her to the appointment. They were discussing Megan’s wedding plans during the treatment when a nurse, Robyn Spendley, approached.
“Robyn’s daughter had gotten married last year and she told me I could just wear her dress. She brought it in to me and it just fit like a glove,” Faye said. “You know, I would never have had the energy to go out and get my own.”
Faye praised Tunnell’s compassionate staff, including Pisc, who would sometimes stop her and say, “You look like you need a hug.”
Even though she would only need treatment once every other week, chemo would be the hardest leg of Faye’s treatment.
“It didn’t hit the day after,” she said. “But four or five days later you’re just a zombie. I could barely get up to walk to the bathroom. I always felt sick, like I had morning sickness. Then you start feeling better and it’s time to get more chemo.”
Eventually, Faye developed neuropathy, or numbness, in her fingers, so her chemotherapy was cut a few weeks short. Doctors were optimistic, though – her tumor had shrunk from 3 centimeters to the size of a pencil eraser.
Just a few weeks after finishing chemotherapy, with Faye still very much suffering from “chemo brain,” she and Bill attended Megan’s wedding in New Castle County. Faye slept while Bill drove, and she summoned enough energy to enjoy herself at the wedding, even dancing.
The next step in her treatment was a lumpectomy, which took place July 24. Spellman was confident he had removed the entire tumor, but he also took out 15 lymph nodes under her arm, which took her four weeks of physical therapy to recover from.
Finally, on Sept. 7, Faye started the final leg of her treatment - six weeks of radiation, five days a week. She’s a little over halfway through.
“I’m just tired. In bed by eight,” she said. “But they say it may get worse. A rash, itching, burning.”
Faye is much more active during radiation treatment. She said her prognosis is good; she’ll get another mammogram at the end of her treatment, and as long as it’s clear, she will be considered in remission.
Pisc is helping Faye and Bill with a special pink ribbon project. Much like Rep. Ruth Briggs King “turns the town teal” with teal ribbons for ovarian cancer awareness month in September, the Wests will adorn the Circle in Georgetown with pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness in October. They’ll be up in time for the Georgetown Breast Cancer Awareness Car and Motorcycle Show at 16 Mile Brewing Company, Saturday, Oct. 21.
Find out more about the fifth annual show at debreastcancer.org.