On April 22, Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce walked into a doctor’s office and received a life-changing diagnosis. She had lung cancer.
“Even at that moment, I never felt a sense of doom. Not even once,” Mounce said.
Less than three weeks after having surgery to remove the middle section of her right lung, Mounce was back on the phone listening and participating during a 7 a.m. Lodi City Council shirtsleeve meeting on Tuesday.
She now will undergo four chemotherapy treatments over the next 12 weeks to treat her stage 1 cancer, and is confident she will make a full recovery while still juggling her council duties.
Mounce said she even had more time to review the city budget this year because she has been home from work.
“I’ve overcome a lot in my life. If cancer thinks it is going to get me, then it has another thing coming,” she said.
Since winning her election in 2004, Mounce has gained popularity by not being afraid to go against the majority. In 2008, she received 12,952 votes, more than any other council member in the last eight years.
She has opposed a Walmart Supercenter, the Reynolds Ranch development, the water treatment plant and installing water meters on an accelerated timeline. Mounce was the only council member who adamantly opposed redevelopment, and Lodi residents ended up voting it down in 2009.
So when Mounce, who is 50, received the diagnosis after months of battling what she thought were coughs and colds, she decided to approach it like any fight. With the support of her family and friends, she is keeping a positive attitude that often includes making wisecracks about her situation.
Doctors told her chemotherapy will make her lose her hair and about 40 pounds, and she joked that she has been exercising and eating healthy to lose some weight, so at least she had some to spare.
“He also said, ‘You will never run a marathon.’ I said, ‘Thank God, I never wanted to do that anyway,’” she said.
Lung cancer has run in the Mounce side of her family. Her grandfather died of it at the age of 57, and her uncle is a five-year survivor.
She used to be a smoker, but hasn’t picked up a cigarette in 17 years. Her doctor told her that 20 percent of women get lung cancer for reasons other than smoking.
In the United States, 203,536 people were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, according to that year’s Center for Disease Control stats, the most recent available.
Mounce is receiving treatment at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton. Her surgeon, Dr. Jerome McDonald, said there is a 60-percent survival rate of five years with surgery, and chemotherapy will make that percentage significantly higher.
But Mounce said that doesn’t take into account the Mounce moxie, which is the nickname her family has given to their persistent nature.
“That’s only what the doctor tells you. That’s not what is in your heart,” she said.
Getting to the cancer diagnosis took months of tests, false diagnoses and ineffective treatments.
It all started in September, when Mounce went to her normal doctor with a continuing cough and cold.
At the time, she asked if it was cancer, but they said that was highly unlikely because she wasn’t a smoker.
She wasn’t able to shake the cough and cold for months, and then in mid-March, she started having chest pains. She knew it wasn’t her heart because she had recently been to a doctor for routine tests.
Mounce went to a pulmonary specialist who did some X-rays and found a mass in her lungs. They did a CT scan and the doctor started treating her for pneumonia and Valley Fever.
When she still was having problems, the doctors did a bronchoscopy and discovered it was cancer.
After the surgery, she felt pain while in the hospital, but since coming home, she is breathing better than before the surgery.
Mounce has a breathing machine, and has already gone shopping for a wig with her cousin, Diane. She is getting a scalp prothesis that will be a similar to her haircut now. She joked that she didn’t take the opportunity to become a redhead.
“I’m a little upset about losing my hair. But then I think, ‘Hair? Life? Hair? Life? And I chose life,’” she said.
She says this is another test of her strength, and she is relying on her faith.
“I think, ‘How many things does the good Lord expect me to be an expert in?’ All things happen for a reason, and there must be a lesson to be learned,” Mounce said.
During this process, her first worry has been her mom, especially because she is an only child. She keeps telling her mom, “Don’t worry, Mom, I got this,” which has become her mantra.
When she was wheeled into surgery, her mom asked her how she could be so calm.
“I know in my heart of hearts that it’s not my time, so why be afraid?” Mounce said.