JoAnn Bierle has survived cancer twice, but that isn’t the end of her story.
This feisty woman is on a constant crusade to encourage all woman to have mammograms, especially if they have any family history of the potentially deadly disease.
This campaign recently took Bierle cross-country, all the way to Hollywood, to share her triumphant story of survival and of finding and helping to save the life of her firstborn daughter.
Bierle will appear in a future episode of “The Doctors.” The show is hosted by emergency room physician Dr. Travis Stork, and co-hosted by plastic surgeon and reconstructive surgery expert Dr. Andrew Ordon, along with co-host Dr. Nita Landry and recurring co-host Dr. Sonia Batra.
It airs during daytime hours, Mondays through Fridays, and offers helpful information regarding health and wellness.
Bierle survival story
“I just want everyone to have a mammogram. It could be the difference between life or death,” Bierle said in an interview Monday, following her arrival back in Arkansas City.
“To me, there are two kinds of survivors. One, who takes their first step down that long hallway for their mammogram. They are survivors in my book who want to live. The second survivors are the people who take their first step down the long hallway to their cancer treatments. Because they, too, have the will to live.”
Of her mission to promote mammograms, Bierle said she is motivated by her experiences and preventing others from sharing in them.
“I just don’t want anyone to have to go through what my family and I went through … ever,” she said. “I didn’t realize it had been 17 years ago when I first had cancer. And now (I am) in remission for four years again.
“I also want everyone to know that I am always here. I do not want anyone to ever have to face cancer alone. I am here any time, anywhere if you ever need me. Just let me know. I will be there … always.”
Bierle took this mantra with her when she spoke about her story on film in California.
“They were wonderful,” she said of the show producers. “They bought me clothes, they paid for partials for my teeth…”
Bierle and her youngest daughter were flown to California and put up in the Hotel Roosevelt.
“I thought my oldest daughter wasn’t going to make it, but she was there,” she said.
Her oldest daughter, Kandi Gongora, was given up for adoption many years ago.
But she, too, won a fight against breast cancer — which was found only after Bierle begged Gongora to have a mammogram.
“Two and a half years ago, I found my birth mom, JoAnn,” Gongora related. “My birth mom is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Because she and her family were so open to speaking with me, I was able to catch my breast cancer early. My cancer was fast-growing and very aggressive, so quick treatment was critical.”
While Bierle flew into Hollywood on Oct. 23, Gongora arrived on Oct. 25.
“Wednesday night, I enjoyed lots of laughs and dinner,” she said.
“Late Thursday afternoon, Eric (Gongora’s husband) and I decided to go to Universal Studios, since it was across the street from our hotel. We then enjoyed a fun date night and dinner at Sur.”
“Friday, we had a pick up time of 6:30 a.m. from the hotel,” Gongora added.
“After getting to the studio, we settled in our green room; signed all legal docs; met with wardrobe; got mic’d, hair and makeup; and then shot our segment. It was an unexpected trip, but an amazing experience. All of the people who work for the show are amazing.”
First meeting since birth
“We had never seen each other (since Gongora was born),” Bierle said. “I was so happy.”
The journey was a whirlwind, she said — not only through the trials and tribulations of cancer, but also meeting her firstborn daughter for the first time.
“It happened so fast, my mind is still struggling to wrap around it,” Bierle said.
“As you can tell, our story was different from other breast cancer stories. (But) we still battled this devastating disease like everyone else.”
Of tattoos and faith
While in California, Bierle’s youngest daughter decided to get a tattoo.
“As Lindsey (Bierle) and I were walking down the street, I thought, ‘Surely there must be someone more capable of telling their own story of cancer. Why me?,’” she said.
“As I was waiting for her to get the tattoo, I was thinking, ‘What all hurts and aches? My right knee swelling up, both hips hurting, my tennis elbow, my neuropathy in my hands and feet, my gray hairs now hidden, my teeth, my big nose, all my scars, and my back. What a poor example I am for this important tale to tell!’”
JoAnn Bierle said she glanced through the tattoo artist’s sample book and found the answer to her woes.
“After looking them over, I closed the book and saw the word ‘Jesus’ written on his front cover,” she said.
“Shocked, I looked up and said, ‘Jesus?’ (while) wondering where this would lead. He turned towards me and gave me one of the most genuine, gentle and biggest smiles, and said, ‘Why yes, do you know Him?’
“I took a big breath and said, ‘Why yes, for many years. My father was an amazing minister for over 60 years.’”
The tattoo artist said she should know God well, but his relationship with God had just begun.
“My eyes started to tear up, thinking maybe I didn’t really know Him so well to doubt His faith in me. And then I looked up and smiled a secret smile in my heart, and whispered, ‘Thank you, God.’ You see, all the doubts of my being able to do this didn’t seem as important now. Here was another chance to talk about God, a person I love.”