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Cancer, Horses, and Hope: Joyce's Story

Posted on: October 01, 2022 by SmartPak

For the past 4 years, SmartPak has been proud to partner with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to help support critical funding for cancer research, prevention, treatment, and survivorship. This year, we went a step further to connect with one of the riders in our community to hear her story about her fight with breast cancer, and how horses and family helped see her through it.

We met up with Joyce Rego, her daughters Ashley and Taylor Caparell, and granddaughter Isla at Colchester Brook Stables in Plympton, MA.

Growing up in a small town across from a farm, Joyce would drag her father over any time they had a horse for sale to try and convince him to buy one. She recalls, “He held out until there was a foal born, and that was the one he bought me.” (We don’t blame him; we wouldn’t be able to resist the cuteness either!) She began riding around eight, going from western to English with some bareback adventures thrown in until taking a break later in life.

Just as she had drawn her father into the horse world, it would be her own daughters to bring her back to the sport. Even though they partook in skiing, skating, gymnastics, and dance growing up, it was horses that captured their attention. “Once Ashley started having riding lessons, we girls were all in. It seemed so natural to me even though I had not ridden in years.”

When asked to take us through finding out she had breast cancer, Joyce takes a moment to reflect. “Wow, this is a hard one, I haven’t visited these emotions in a while.” She learned of her diagnosis in a phone call, recounting, “I felt like the bottom fell out of my life. It was August 2002. I was 46. I was told that I needed surgery and a treatment plan of chemotherapy and radiation. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go that route, but my doctor convinced me by asking ‘what if I can give you ten years?’ That was good enough for me because my main goal was to be there for my girls.”

Taylor, 13 at the time of Joyce’s diagnosis, remembers being very sad and scared for her mom. Nonetheless, she and her sister Ashley rose to the occasion, handling the care of their horses and serving as a source of strength for their mom. Joyce credits them, her own mother, and the equestrian community as giving her motivation to keep fighting during treatment.

My mother would say ‘thank goodness for the horses, I think they are healing.’

“The horses were such an important part of the process. It was the only time that actually took us away from all of the pain we were going thorough. It brought us peace and into a different world. My mother would say ‘thank goodness for the horses, I think they are healing.’”

For Ashley and Taylor, the barn gave them a sense of normalcy during a time of stress and uncertainty: “Horses kept us busy. It was our therapy.”

When Joyce’s cancer was deemed beaten, it took a while to sink in. She explains, “I never really felt like I beat the cancer. I always felt like I was surviving the cancer and it was a continual battle that could pop up at any time. One of the worst things about having cancer is that it never leaves your mind. Every pain you feel, every change in your body, leaves you wondering if it was back.”

Taylor shared the sentiment, saying “I’m not sure you ever feel free and clear. I feel like the fear of it coming back will always be with you.” Despite that, Joyce and her girls forged ahead in navigating post-cancer life. When her mom returned to riding after being cleared, Taylor expressed it “felt great to see her happy and getting back to herself.”

Today, Joyce has surpassed not just the ten years her doctor said she could give her, but twenty. “I can joyfully report that I do not think about cancer. I have conquered the emotional trauma of the experience.”

She reiterates the impact her daughters and the passion they share had on her breast cancer journey, expressing “What got me there was my daughters and the horses. Riding together, working together, and being in a such a beautiful peaceful place that the horses give to us.”

Now primarily a hunter rider with a third-generation equestrian in the family, Joyce has come a long way from the young girl who worked at her neighbor’s farm every day she could in hopes of riding a horse. Looking back on her experience with cancer, she attests, “I have learned that I have been blessed beyond measure. To live such an inclusive life with my girls and our horses. An added blessing is that now I am watching my granddaughter grow up with the horses. Such a joy for me to be able to ride with both of my daughters, and now my granddaughter.”

Know a rider with a story like Joyce’s? Tell us about her in the comments.

Want to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in their efforts? Shop our Breast Cancer Awareness collection all month long.

Special thanks to Joyce Rego & Family and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.