When Mit Joyner, MSW, LCSW, BCD, learned she had stage II breast cancer in 1995, she had one thought: “At this time in my life, I am too busy to deal with cancer.”
She was 45 years old and deeply involved in her career as director and chair of the department of undergraduate social work at West Chester University, in West Chester, Pa. Her twin daughters were in their senior year of high school – that year was supposed to be about their prom, graduation and college applications.
“I thought, ‘really, not now?’” Mit remembers. “So I told my oncologist just to do everything and not miss anything. I left my treatment completely up to him” because "he promised if I listened to him I could do everything that was important to me."
During Mit’s treatment, her family and friends served as a tight network of support. Her husband took care of her while they both took care of the kids. Toni Brown, a friend who had gone through breast cancer treatment twice, took Mit to all but one of her appointments for chemotherapy treatment.
“I was scared to death to have chemo,” says Mit. “Toni scaled the elephant down to size and helped me find ways to avoid and manage the side effects. I will always be indebted to her.”
Filling the Gap
Even as she went through treatment, Mit’s role as a social work professional kept her attuned to the way breast cancer impacted other women like herself. She saw gaps in support and information that she knew could somehow be filled.
“Why didn’t I just fall apart at my diagnosis? Because I had a family and a very supportive spouse,” she says. “Everyone diagnosed asks, ‘well, why me?’ The real question is ‘why not you, and what are you going to do with the news once you get it? How do I navigate and advocate for myself?’ Advocacy is something I am passionate about.”
A friend took Mit to a meeting hosted by Living Beyond Breast Cancer at Paoli Hospital, where founder Marisa C. Weiss, MD, talked about LBBC’s mission and Mit heard from other women diagnosed with breast cancer. Mit and Dr. Weiss soon began to talk about how Mit could become more involved with the organization.
“LBBC wanted to bring breast cancer information to all women, regardless of their race, income, or other life circumstances,” says Mit. “That was my niche. I knew I could contribute somehow.”
Embracing the LBBC Mission
Mit joined the LBBC board of directors, a position she held for 14 years. In that time, she applied her academic and professional expertise to help grow and develop the organization. She formed a relationship between her social work department at West Chester University and LBBC, making it possible for social workers to earn continuing education units for taking part in LBBC programs. As a professor, Mit involved her undergraduate students, often inviting LBBC staff to speak to students in her classes. Early on, she was part of a group of individuals chosen to select LBBC’s first executive director, Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP, who is now the chief executive officer.
“We were looking for someone who could take LBBC to the next level by bringing relevant programs to the community and running the organization efficiently,” she says. “It’s a tricky balance. You have to find ways to sustain the organization while continuing to do what you do – in our case, reaching the underserved. Jean has done an excellent job of keeping that balance.”
In 2011, LBBC recognized Mit with the Going Beyond Award, an honor in recognition of her leadership and fundraising achievements throughout the course of her 14 years of service. And LBBC isn’t the only organization to acknowledge Mit’s dedication to improving the world around her. In 2005, The Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors and The Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work created the Mit Joyner BDP and AGE-SW Gerontology Leadership Award in honor of her leadership in gerontology, the study of aging. The scholarship is awarded to undergraduate professors and students to encourage scholarship in gerontologic social work.
Now retired from her position at West Chester University, she serves as the board chair of the Council on Social Work Education board of directors. Before joining West Chester University, she was department head and legal liaison of the child abuse unit of Chester County’s Department of Children, Youth and Families. Mit has served as the president of the Council on Social Work Education and is a member of the National Association of Social Workers, former president of The Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, and member of The Action Network for Social Work Education and Research Coalition. She currently sits on the board of the Chester County Food Bank. Mit is also the first woman bank director of DNB First in Downingtown, Pa., serving since 2005.
When asked about her commitment to women with breast cancer, women’s health issues and LBBC’s mission, Mit cites her own experience with breast cancer as well as her innate desire to help others live with the highest quality of care that all people in our society so justly deserve.
“When you are first diagnosed everyone has information they want to give you, some that’s reliable and some that is just not right for you," she says.“It is overwhelming, especially while you are trying to make critical treatment decisions. We do not want to hear about a woman letting a tumor grow because she could not find the right information or an affordable doctor. We must meet those needs for all women or men and for their families.”
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