Jenn lives in Lincoln with her husband and daughter and is a lifelong Lincolnite. She had been regularly performing breast self-exams due to a strong family history of breast cancer that includes her aunt, mother and grandmother. In late January 2015, Jenn discovered two large lumps. One in each breast.
Because she had been diligent and performed self-exams routinely, she knew that these lumps were out of the ordinary and immediately made an appointment with her family doctor. On January 30th, her doctor confirm her findings. Within days, she went for a mammogram and biopsies. On February 5th, she was officially diagnosed with an aggressively growing bilateral breast cancer. A few short weeks later, she had a port placed and began chemotherapy on February 17th. “Within a matter of one month, I went from being just Jenn, living life, to cancer patient. It happened just like that,” said Jenn.
After her diagnosis, Jenn said she learned the value of community—friends, family, co-workers, sports teams, church groups—whatever those circles might be for you. “You just have to remind yourself that you have cancer, you’re not cancer. It’s a part of you, but it shouldn’t define you. When you have a really good team of doctors and a really good support system, those reminders come pretty frequently and they are really helpful.”
In total, Jenn did 20 weeks of chemotherapy, during which she had to have blood transfusions. “The thing about chemo is that it doesn’t only impact the cancer cells, it impacts everything—red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets; everything just gets depleted. I got to the point not once, but twice where my body was so worn and beaten that I couldn’t receive chemotherapy and I had to spend 6 or 7 hours at the hospital receiving a blood transfusion instead. They needed my body to recover fast enough to continue the necessary treatment to kill the cancer.” It takes one hour or more to transfuse one bag of blood, and Jenn needed 2-3 units as well as platelets. “But luckily for me, there was blood on hand, and I didn’t have to wait for the next day or the next week. I was simply able to get it and go and there was no further delay in my treatment.”
Once chemotherapy was completed, she recovered for a couple of weeks before having surgery. Jenn underwent a four-hour procedure that included a port removal, sentinel node biopsy, double mastectomy and immediate one-step reconstruction. This is when a general surgeon performs the mastectomy followed directly by a plastic surgeon who does the reconstruction. This ensures only one surgery and one healing process.
Upon recovery after surgery, she had 33 sessions of radiation. As part of her cancer care, Jenn did genetic testing to see if her cancer was genetic. She did test positive for BRCA1 genes. This type of hereditary breast cancer has a higher chance of coming back as ovarian cancer, so after radiation, she had a preventative surgery to remove her ovaries.
By the end of 2015, Jenn was finally cancer free. “I am 100% convinced that I saved my own life by doing breast self-exams. My tumors were between 3 and 5 cm, and the cancer was growing at a fast pace. If I hadn’t caught it when I did, who knows what would have happened. I was only able to do that because I was routinely checking myself,” Jenn said. “You know your body, you are able to track that better than anyone else. You need to be your own advocate, because nobody else is going to do it for you,” Jenn said.