My name is Jennifer Jones. I live in Memphis, Tennessee and I am a breast cancer thriver. Not just a survivor, a thriver. I’m approaching my first anniversary in January.
Symptoms and diagnosis
I felt a lump in my left breast. I, like many people, ignored it at first thinking it was something else. Finally, I went to my doctor and he examined it and suggested that I get a mammogram. And I had been getting regular mammograms, and my last mammogram was fine. So I felt fairly confident that it was nothing. Nonetheless, the diagnostic test came back as breast cancer.
I think my first response was shock. I was almost paralyzed like it was a bad dream or some sort of an alternate reality. I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is a very aggressive form of breast cancer.
Treatments underwent and side effects
I went through five months of chemotherapy and twelve treatments of Taxol. I lost my hair and had bad fatigue for a while. I had an extremely dry mouth and there were a lot of things I couldn’t eat. I did not get neuropathy. The side effects were bad but I did okay.
My cancer didn’t spread. It was stage two A. It was a small tumour that was 2.5 CM, with nothing in my lymph nodes. So they did chemotherapy first, neo adjunctive treatment. And by the time I finished, my cancer was not detectable on an ultrasound. They found only residual cancer in the surgery. All my lymph nodes were clear and I had a double mastectomy. No additional treatment was needed like radiation. From here, it was just about recovering and reconstructive surgery.
Importance of self-examination
I think people need to be aware and in tune with their bodies, especially for breast cancer. Breast cancer is treatable cancer. Denial is probably the first thing we all go to. It’s just a protective self-preservation thing. But I wish I had gone to the doctor a little bit sooner. My tumour might have been even smaller. Go for a self-examination if you’re not feeling right. If something hurts or your skin changes colour or if it’s red or itchy just go check it out, especially if you have a history of cancer in your family.
Experience with hospital staff and medics
I was treated in a fairly comprehensive place. I first met with a nutritionist. Thankfully, I had a pretty good eating regimen before I got cancer. I exercised a lot. I then went and saw a psychologist there who specialises in cancer patients, and that was extremely helpful.
My oncologist was a real straight shooter, but very warm and empathetic. All who were administering the chemotherapy were there for me and talked to me. They’re warm and engaging. That’s how I got through a lot of this having a support system.
Coping with negativity
The exercise was important to me before the first few treatments. I started jogging. I put on a playlist and I would jog a little bit and then walk and then jog. And it just made me feel a little bit more like myself. It made me feel that cancer wasn’t putting me down. My hair was starting to grow back a little bit. I still had some mouth issues, but I was starting to feel a little bit more human. And so that helped me a lot.
I kept working during most of my treatment, so I tried to keep busy. I would literally put my phone down and walk away. I didn’t talk too much about the specifics of my cancer unless I wanted to, because I didn’t want it to define me or trigger something. I did things that made me feel good.
Support system and caregivers
I had my husband and my kids. I also had a lot of great friends. Four or five of my closest friends put together a schedule that someone always came with me to chemotherapy. People were cooking for us and bringing us food. I had friends who would sit outside and just talk. And we weren’t talking about cancer. We were just talking like friends. I read some books that were healthy for the brain. I talked to a very helpful psychologist. So I had multiple ways that I got support.
Fear of recurrence
I have the fear of recurrence. I try not to get stuck thinking about it. Because it just kind of steals your time away from living in the present. If all I feared was reoccurrence, every pain, everything that bothers you physically would be back.
My life lessons
What I learned is no one is guaranteed a long life so you should do what makes you happy. I’d say my other life lesson is to live in the present. I think the other thing it’s taught me is just to enjoy simple things like spending time with your kids, and your family. You only live once. I’ve learned that life is precious, appreciate and be grateful for what you have.
My bucket list
African Safari is probably my biggest bucket list. I always wanted to do that. I’ve travelled quite a bit, but there are a lot of places that I really would like to go to that are probably on my bucket list. I’m contemplating skydiving, but I’m not quite sure about that. I also want to go in a hot air balloon.
Message to the cancer survivors and caregivers
In the darkest moments when you’re feeling at your lowest, that’s okay. Don’t allow yourself to stay there. Your body is so much stronger. And even though it’s getting beaten up and you’re feeling like garbage, your body is made to do this. You can do it. Find an outlet. When you’re feeling dark, find an outlet. I would find some funny shows on TV or talk to a friend. Just don’t dwell in the darkness. You will get through it. It is not a death sentence. I feel great now and it takes time. But trust that your body is strong enough to do this. Hold on to things that ultimately make you happy.