St. Augustine Woman's Journal - Educational Resource to the Women of St. Johns County Since 2009

Local Community Volunteer Finds a New Meaning for Courage After Breast Cancer Diagnosis


June 1, 2019 | View PDF

Jo Ellen Parkey is a well-known community volunteer, mother, local swim coach, and a recent breast cancer survivor. When she first received her breast cancer diagnosis after a routine mammogram from a regular visit to her primary care physician, Jo Ellen knew she had to tackle this diagnosis head-on and find answers.

“When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I reached out directly to my friends who had breast cancer, and they told me, “You’re lucky that Flagler Hospital is right here in the community, you don’t have to go to Jacksonville for treatment. That eased my mind knowing that I could get the same level of care, right here near my family,” she said.

Jo Ellen felt that her diagnosis would create a burden on her entire family, and that was her main concern while planning doctors’ appointments and discussing treatment. However, once she relayed the news to her family, her sister flew into town from Nebraska to be there for the initial surgery, her husband and kids were right by her side asking questions and being there for support, and her neighbors even rallied together to help make sure the kids had a ride to school, meals to eat, and an entire community that could step up and assist the family during this tough time. While those family members and friends were still concerned about the outcome, the goal during that process was to ensure Jo Ellen and the family felt less stress, and that they were never alone.

When Jo Ellen was in treatment, the immediate fear that was present in the beginning of the diagnosis, shifted as she experienced a thorough and stress-free process with the help of the relentless doctors, imaging staff, radiation oncology team, and cancer navigators.

“The fact that I could get diagnosed with cancer, have surgery, complete chemotherapy, complete radiation, and feel like myself again all in one school year is a miracle of modern science,” Jo Ellen shared.

The doctors and nurses helped Jo Ellen understand that the symptoms she was experiencing were normal and that everything was going really well. Armed with that knowledge, Jo Ellen decided to keep pushing forward. If you met Jo Ellen, you would see for yourself that she is a superwoman in disguise, filled with a positive attitude and determination to continue her busy lifestyle and stay true to her passions.

“I didn’t miss an event- soccer games, concerts, breakfast with Santa, book fairs, holiday shops, PTAO meetings. With help from my community, my doctors, and loved ones, I could still be me.”

Jo Ellen recently shared her story with more than 100 survivors who attended Flagler Health+’s recent Cancer Survivor’s Day event.

“Cancer gave me courage. Those who know me know that courage is a big thing with me. I thought I was pretty brave. I thought I was pretty tough, but cancer taught me to be a different kind of courageous. I learned to have faith in my doctors and my nurses when they told me I was ok and that things were going as well as we could possibly hope for. This “cancer-courage” allowed me be brave enough to let go of worrying about my treatments and my symptoms and continue with my life. Cancer showed me where that courage lies and it was in my own heart. And finally, cancer gave me community. I have been a volunteer in my little corner of the world for a long time. I know it takes a village. And I know that my village is particularly beautifully and wonderfully made. I am lucky enough to work with the hardest working, kindest, dearest, most devoted and driven people in the world. And I know what a blessing it is, what a joy it is to be of service to others. But what I didn’t know is what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of all that help. All that concern. All that time and energy spent for me. I had no idea what communion meant before my cancer and now I do. My cancer’s final and best gift to me is the deeper communion of my heart and the hearts of those I love.”

- Jo Ellen Parkey

About Us: Flagler Hospital is a 335-bed, acute care hospital. The hospital has operated as a not-for-profit healthcare institution in St. Augustine, Florida, since its founding in 1889. Flagler Hospital has also earned the Gold Seal of Approval™ from the Joint Commission for primary stroke care centers, national accreditation for its total hip and total knee replacement programs, accreditation from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer, Center of Excellence designation for its bariatric surgery center, and ANCC magnet status for nursing excellence. To learn more about all of the hospital’s services, log on to


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