The Pink Chronicles: Jenn's Cancer Journey (part one)
Awhile back, a great friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though I always knew she was a strong, ass-kicking machine, I never knew just how tough she was until I watched her battle this disease. She inspired me throughout her journey (and continues to now), and I asked her to share her story here. I hope she'll inspire you, too.
There are those that tell you to listen to your body (step number one: listen to those experts). They could not be more correct.
I was scheduled for a routine annual (the dreaded female appointment, you know the one) in November. In typical Jenn fashion, I was hung up at work and had to reschedule—which meant several months of waiting. When I went in in late January, I had a nagging pain in my left breast. Nothing overly painful, it didn’t hurt more when I touched it and I could not feel any of the normal “lumps and bumps” they tell you to watch for. It’s sneaky like that, I’ve learned.
Erring on the side of caution, and convinced it was likely nothing, I was sent for a baseline mammogram. I woke up that morning with an overwhelming sense of dread. I kept telling myself: this is ridiculous, and it’s just a test. It’s not even painful. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. After a complete violation of my tissue (seriously, those machines are ridiculously awkward) and an ultrasound, I was called into the little side room.
They had found something. Not in the left, but in the right. As they put the images up so I could see these teeny-tiny calcifications throughout the left breast, I thought, “are you sure you just didn’t clean the lens?” Still, he wasn’t concerned; in most cases, calcifications mean nothing—just blips on the radar. I had two choices, test them or wait and see how they looked in six months.
“Why wait?” It was the only thing I said. If this was his daughter, wife, sister, best friend—he would say, do it now and get it out of the way. We scheduled the biopsy for a couple weeks later. It went horribly awry and they were not able to get the sample. I was sent to another medical facility bruised and battered and was forced to wait a couple more weeks before they were able to do the procedure. (As a side note, the second time around it really was no big deal. It should have been that much of a breeze the first time.)
I was told they would have the results in three or four days. I was scheduled for a post op, eight days later. On day five, I called with a sinking feeling. No results yet. Day seven, the doctor was not able to review the charts. As the days ticked by, I knew more profoundly what the results would be.
There was no small talk. It was cancer.
I spent the next few days in tears. Attempting to function, attempting to act as if nothing was wrong. I called my boss to schedule a meeting the next week—I wanted to let him know before the whirlwind tour of doctor appointments, tests, and surgeries—whatever was to come.
At the time, I asked one question. Will I be okay? Ironically, that is the one question no one would answer. Instead they talked statistics and facts.
The next couple weeks were filled with tests, blood work, and so much information that you can’t possibly keep track. Each doctor I visited had his or her own approach and I made it my goal to find the one that fit me. The first thing you realize is that the relationship extends beyond the initial surgery—the reconstruction, the radiation, the chemotherapy—everything that comes after is where it really counts. I found my dream team at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
Eventually, you stop worrying about who sees you—or rather, they see of you: you stop sucking in your stomach as you wait, and you cease to worry about the superficial. Now, it’s about answers. When I met Dr. Nayana Dekhne, it was clear we were on the same page. For me, the best outcome (and the safest) was to consider a mastectomy. I had a choice to do bilateral or just a single; we both agreed that to consider anything less would not give me the best result. What she did promise me, is that I would have every chance at a normal life following. She and my brilliant plastic surgeon would be able to perform a nipple-sparing mastectomy – believe me, this is a bigger deal than you would think.
In April of 2013, one month after my diagnosis, I underwent surgery to begin kicking a little cancer ass. The night before, I took photos. I wanted to remember what I looked like before. I knew that the girl in the mirror would be forever changed in a way, and as odd as it sounds, I wanted to remember. I spent two weeks in recovery and immediately returned to work following. A few weeks later, I started going back to the gym and getting my life back to some balance of normalcy. Reconstruction had begun and I wore baggy clothes and padded bras to keep a normal appearance. I was on the mend and on the fast track to being me again.
And then it came to a screeching halt all over again. I would require chemo. My cancer was a more aggressive form with a very high recurrence rate. However, my cancer was also the type the responded well to chemo. And then the oncologist said five magic words: “We can save your hair.”