|2 months before diagnosis|
In early October of 2008, Jen was a 30 year-old new mom to a healthy 4 month-old baby boy. Motherhood was particularly sweet for Jen because she had battled with infertility for several years and her son was born 7 weeks early, which was an emotional roller coaster. Things had finally calmed down, until she found a lump while breastfeeding one night. Jen was not overly concerned, but called her doctor who said it was likely just a clogged milk duct, but had her come in as a precaution.
Upon examining Jen, her doctor sent her to get a mammogram. Based on the initial reading of her mammogram, the radiologist asked her to stay for a biopsy and 2 days later she was diagnosed with breast cancer (invasive poorly differentiated carcinoma of the left breast, Grade 3). This was an aggressive cancer made more aggressive by Jen’s more active hormones because of her young age.
The week following her diagnosis, Jen underwent a barrage of tests including blood work, MRIs, an x-ray, and sonograms to learn more about her cancer as well as checking lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread. These tests showed another mass in her right breast, but thankfully it came back benign. Several lymph nodes looked suspicious and would need to be studied further. Jen would likely need surgery and chemotherapy and/or radiation.
The doctors felt confident that they had caught the cancer early, so Jen had several options for surgery: partial mastectomy, lumpectomy, or double mastectomy. Her surgeon recommended the double mastectomy and chemotherapy. This was very difficult for Jen to hear. The surgery meant losing a part of her identity and the idea of chemotherapy terrified her. Yet, all of Jen’s concerns were overridden by thoughts of her son. She said,
“All I could think about was my 4 month old son growing up without a mom. And at that point, I knew I had to fight. If not for myself, for him. I asked my son to fight for his life when he was born 7 weeks prematurely. Now it was my turn.”
|Home after surgery with drains|
Jen went in for surgery 3 weeks after her diagnosis. In addition to removing her breast tissue, the surgeon also removed 5 lymph nodes, all of which came back negative for cancer. Overall, the surgery was considered a big success. Jen would now need to recover before starting chemotherapy and the reconstruction process. During this time, Jen learned that she had tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation, which confirmed her decision to have the double mastectomy, because this mutation drastically increased the risk of reoccurrence. Unfortunately, this also meant that her chemotherapy would need to be stronger and longer.
|First chemo treatment|
Jen started chemotherapy 10 weeks after her surgery. Her first treatment was anything but normal. She felt fine during and immediately after, but had a severe allergic reaction several hours after treatment. She does not remember much, but was told that she had an anxiety attack where she was pulling her hair, trying to claw her face and pounding her fists on the bed. It took 2 morphine shots to calm her down! Luckily, the rest of her chemo treatments went more smoothly, although she did suffer from numerous side effects like nausea and fatigue after each treatment, which got progressively worse with each treatment.
|Shaving her head|
One of the most difficult parts of chemotherapy was losing her hair. This would make her battle with cancer public. Everyone would now know she was fighting cancer by looking at her. Yet, she decided to take control of the situation. Instead of waiting for all of her hair to fall out, she had her hairstylist shave it off. She had a wig, but never was quite comfortable in it. She decided to use scarves instead and came to love them. At the time she said, “I can shower and get out the door in 20 minutes! Plus, I never have a bad hair day, I don't care when it rains and I'm saving a ton of money on hair products/haircuts!”
Seven months after her diagnosis, Jen was able to get her chemotherapy port removed, which was a big relief. Nine months after her diagnosis she had her ovaries removed, which proved to be more intense than she had expected, but still another relief to know that she was reaching the end of her battle against the BRCA gene mutation. Jen has now been cancer-free for 3.5 years!
|Jen with her mentor at a survivor's walk|
Jen believes she survived this experience by relying on her faith and not dwelling on what she was going through. Jen had a huge support network of family, friends, and coworkers that also played a major role in her recovery. She connected with another woman who had been through a similar battle and she became Jen’s mentor and guardian angel. Her best advice was to follow a '10 minute day' plan where you take each day 10 minutes at a time and not worry about the rest.
Jen has been very open about sharing her story in hopes of helping others. She kept a blog during her treatment that had 400 followers. She was also interviewed by the local news and was featured in several television and radio ads aimed at raising awareness of breast cancer. Eventually, she would like to right a book targeted at young breast cancer patients. (I hope she does!) During her fight, she found that there weren’t many resources for those under the age of 40.
|Jen and her son today|