Judy Piersall

Friendship is unnecessary,” C.S. Lewis once wrote, “like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” He was right, friendship helps make the human experience meaningful. We asked Judy Piersall to reflect on her friendship with Dawn Faust Bibby.

SCL: Hello Judy, thanks for agreeing to do this, I know her passing is still very fresh on your mind.
JP: I miss her terribly, but I’m happy to; she was such a great spirit, and friend. The breast cancer community has been really shocked by her passing. She’d been cancer-free for 5 years, and for it to have come back so unexpectedly really scared a lot of her friends, me included, and other cancer survivors.

SCL: How did you two meet?
JP: She came to work in sales at SCB Marketing and I met her through Jeff (SCB Marketing Founder, Jeff Piersall). I was mostly just “the boss’s wife” but we talked frequently. At the time, she’d just finished her chemo treatments, and while we weren’t close then, I could tell there was something there. Just one of those feelings.
She left SCB to work at Space Coast Cancer Center, and I got to know her, and her husband John, better. It was funny that her husband and I were very similar, like she and Jeff were. They’re both very trusting upbeat people, never met a stranger. But for John and I you have to earn our trust. The four of us were perfect friends in that way, playing off of each other so well.

SCL: So you went through this with her since her breast cancer?
JP: No, not quite. When we first met, she rarely mentioned her breast cancer. I knew about it and it came up occasionally, but she was in full remission and living every day to its fullest. We became good friends, went to movies, met after work, and had a great time just hanging. She’d even turned her career into helping others with cancer. She’d said that was the best thing about cancer; it made you appreciate living so much more.

SCL: How did she find out her cancer had returned?
JP: Dawn always said it was a God thing. In 2014 a friend was opening an imaging facility in town, and needed a sample brain MRI. Dawn, always the volunteer, said she’d do it. It was that MRI that came back positive, even though she had no symptoms. There were 22 lesions in her brain, some in her lungs, and a couple on her liver. Her cancer had come back very aggressively and in different places. Dawn was no longer just my friend; she was my friend with cancer. I had to figure out how to be her friend through this.

SCL: She must have been in shock. You too!
JP: You see, that just wasn’t Dawn. I’m sure there was some of that, and I can’t say there weren’t bad days, but she was a fighter and a positive person. I think about this every day…she always chose hope, and to a Doubting Thomas like me, it taught me a valuable lesson.
I’ve got a photo of Dawn in her “Warrior Mode”! When she got angry and wanted to fight her cancer, she’d cut her hair very short, dye it blonde, and go shoot “big girl guns.” Not a little handgun, but a full-on assault rifle, an AR-15, her favorite therapy. She’d shoot for a while, then go back to concentrating on getting well. She lived a good 2 years after doctors told her she had but 6 months, and the quality of life she led inspired us all.
They say if you can count on one hand the true friends you have, you are blessed. She was one of my five, and I was one of hers. It’s a tough thing when you lose that. But she touched so many people in Brevard County, and no matter how bad she felt, she always had time to talk and help someone else.

SCL: We’ll often ask a question out of character, something more personal to shed some light on the person we’re interviewing. But in this case, tell us something about your friend that she’d have laughed if she knew you’d told us.
JP: Oh, that’s an easy one. We were going to a movie or something in The Avenue, and we were on Wickham. She turned into Walmart and I asked if she needed something. She said, “No, I’m just afraid of that roundabout. I survived cancer, I’m not going to get taken out by the crazy drivers going through that circle!” She avoided that circle at all costs. Every time I drive it now, I laugh because she’s right! People cannot navigate that roundabout!!