After battling cancer for the last 15 years, June Boyko nearly died last December.
Less than four months later, though, she commanded a significant presence in the nation’s capital as Nevada’s lone representative for the American Lung Association. While in Washington D.C., she was tasked with getting Nevada’s Congressional delegation to support the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) proposed $63.1 billion research grant.
The grant helps fund biomedical research on cancer, diabetes, and other potentially fatal diseases like the ones Boyko had been diagnosed with.
Boyko never expected to speak on Capitol Hill, but after her boss, Touro University Western Division CEO and Senior Provost Shelley Berkley, asked her to attend a breakfast for the American Lung Association, she knew she had an opportunity to give back. Boyko was undergoing lung cancer treatments at the time of the breakfast and agreed to participate in the organization’s annual walk to help bring awareness to the American Lung Association.
In 2007, nearly a decade before attending that breakfast, Boyko had beaten uterine cancer and was ready to lead a cancer-free life. Unfortunately, just a few months later, she was informed that she had Stage 4 lung cancer. The misdiagnosis months before left her both stunned and angry.
“They gave me a pat on the back and told me I was good to go,” she recalled. “Then three months later I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.”
Although Boyko had lived with cancer since the early 2000’s, it wasn’t until December 2016 when she began fearing the worst. It wasn’t too long before Christmas when she endured long and sleepless nights. She was constantly tired. The cancer consumed her.
She thought the end was near.
“I really thought we were at the end of the road then. I was so ill. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t walk,” she said.
Just a few days later, shortly before Christmas, Boyko started regaining her energy. She felt stronger, a stark contrast from the weeks prior. When her husband offered her a wheelchair, she told him she didn’t need it.
At her next doctor’s appointment, her doctor told her that there was no visible cancer in any of her tests. Boyko was speechless. Surrounded by her family and friends, the words failed to come to her; almost as if she had awoken from a nightmare she thought would never end.
Still, she felt somber.
“Everyone was hugging me and kissing me and jumping up and down in the chemo room when I got the news, but all I could think was that there are all these other patients here who don’t have good news,” Boyko recalled. “I felt so bad that I was so happy. It was only a couple of days before Christmas and there were people there who were still so ill.”
She used their strength to fight on, something she does to this day.
In Washington D.C., Boyko was honored to share her stories with the Nevada representatives she met with, including U.S. Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), as well as Rep. Jackie Rosen (D-NV).
In addition to Boyko, survivors from each state lined the halls of the U.S. Capitol building, the first time the American Lung Association had representation from all 50 states.
Boyko’s long bouts with cancer and her commitment to making a difference resonated with each elected offical she met. She gained their trust, and they opened up to her by sharing personal anecdotes of how their family members had also been affected by an assortment of health issues.
Making that connection was critical to Boyko’s visit, something she was honored to do.
“It was very obvious they were listening to me,” she said. “Some people are intimidated by their representatives, but they were elected by the people to serve the people, and they owed it to me to listen.”
Boyko was assured by the officials she met with that they would vote to fund the NIH grant as part of the upcoming budget.
They stood firm on their word as the NIH budget funding was recently approved, though the Healthcare Budget is still pending. Boyko is confident that Congress will do the right thing.
“June has been an inspiration to me and to everyone else who has met her,” Berkley said. “Her strength, her bravery, her commitment to sharing her story and her extraordinary quest for survival has given hope to those who are going through medical treatment.”
Boyko feels as strong as she’s felt in quite some time, an incredible feat for a woman who has spent the last 15 years battling two forms of cancer. The fight has given her strength, as have the people who fight every day to defeat these dreadful diseases. The American Lung Association named her their “Hero of the Year” for 2017 and gave her an award to commemorate the honor.
“Right now,” she said, “I feel fabulous.”