Bond built during breast cancer treatment inspires survivor to volunteer

It had been two years since Billa Woollam’s last mammogram, and she knew she was long overdue for
one. But it was a strange sensation in her breast that sent her
rushing into a clinic for a breast exam in November 2015. The
following morning, she was asked to return for a biopsy.

“My doctor’s office called and said I needed to be there within 30
minutes,” Billa recalls. “I knew they weren’t going to do that if
there was nothing wrong with me.”

A breast cancer diagnosis

Billa had stage I breast cancer. The day after her diagnosis, she
called MD Anderson. Within a week, she was
at MD Anderson in
— just minutes from her home — to meet her radiation
oncologist Elizabeth Bloom, M.D., and medical oncologist Nikesh Jasani, M.D. After discussing her
treatment options, she opted for a lumpectomy, a less invasive surgery
where doctors remove only the tumor and a small margin of healthy
breast tissue.

A special bond with her radiation therapy care team

Billa had her lumpectomy on Dec. 8, 2015, and started 20 rounds of
radiation therapy few weeks later. The first
time she walked into the radiation room, she jokingly asked her
radiation technicians to pin a photo of Houston Texans defensive end
JJ Watt on the ceiling to distract her during treatment.

“From that moment on, they knew they could joke with me, and we had
a fine time enjoying ourselves while I was having my radiation,” says
Billa, who found the exchange of jokes eased her through each session.

“We found a reason to laugh during most of my appointments,” she recalls.

When it was time for Billa to ring the bell to mark the end of her
treatment, the milestone felt bittersweet. To lighten things up, she
dressed up as JJ Watt.

“The girls took photos of me in the costume and a video of me
ringing the bell. I was really sad that I wasn’t going to see the
girls anymore because in those four weeks we got really close and we
became friends,” recalls Billa, who periodically visited MD Anderson in Katy just to see her care team.
During one of her last appointments, one of the radiation therapists
said, “Why don’t you volunteer?”

Volunteering to support other patients

Billa took the advice and applied to volunteer at MD
in Katy. “Volunteering is one of the ways I can say
thank you for saving my life and give back to fellow patients,” she says.

Now, Billa spends her Wednesdays supporting other cancer patients
alongside the same clinical staff who helped her through treatment.

“It’s just like one big happy family,” she says. “They all work
together, and the way they look after patients is just incredible, so
it’s nice to be part of that.”

Billa helps the staff with whatever they need. She also brings
patients drinks and snacks, as well as warm blankets to make them feel
more comfortable.

“I enjoy bringing in that normality when people are in a frightening
situation,” she says. “I know what the patients are feeling because
I’ve gone through it.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.