Jennifer Diagnosed at 29
I am writing this to heal. I am writing this because maybe, some night at 1 o'clock in the morning, someone like me will be searching the internet for a story like theirs that ends with a happy ending. I know I've been that person, searching and scanning the stories on the Young Survival site. I still am. I would be lying if I said I'm not scared anymore. And, that's okay – it means I have something to lose, and to fight for. In August of 2006, I was just a few weeks pregnant (but I didn't know it yet!) when I found a small pea-sized lump near the top of my right breast. I remember being freaked out about it, but I'm a teacher and I got so busy with a new school year and new students, I was distracted for a few weeks. And then, I found out the best news – I was pregnant! My husband, Jeff, and I had been trying for almost two years. Even busier, I forgot about the lump, and actually it seemed to get smaller, so I assumed it was a duct or gland of some sort agitated by the pregnancy.
A few weeks before I delivered, I noticed the lump was dramatically larger. I'm not sure if my milk ducts forced the tumor out or what, but it was definitely prominent and palpable. With just a couple weeks to my due date, I showed it to my Ob/Gyn. Part of me really wanted to believe the more likely scenario that it was just a fibroidanoma, but some small part of me knew it was something more. I think I subconsciously held off inquiring about it the beginning of my pregnancy, because I knew they would tell me to end my pregnancy, and I knew I could never do that.
Anyway, my Ob was very concerned and got me in for a sonogram two days later. While I was there, the doctors proceeded to do a mammogram and a biopsy. I knew something was very wrong. I got a few days away from it because I went into labor the very next day, April 7, 2007. Oliver Lawrence Merchant entered the world perfect in every way. A few days later, my Ob called me and told me it was cancer, that it was pretty aggressive and that I would probably need chemo. I remember feeling very numb to it all at first. It took me a while to understand why I had to have chemo before my mastectomy, but I turned to reading and research and educated myself. I took my medical care into my own hands, fired my first breast specialist, and found an amazing one who is not only well-known, but cares about ME and doesn't believe in statistics.
My cancer was Stage III with a 6 cm tumor with one of three sentinel nodes involved. I was est./pro. receptor neg, Her2 neg., and neg for the BRCA ½ test. I did four rounds of Adry & Cytoxin followed by four rounds of Taxotere. My tumor shrank to 2 cm before my mastectomy on September 4, 2007. I have about a week left of radiation (I had 33 treatments), and, last Wednesday, December 6, 2007, I heard the most beautiful voicemail message from my oncologist ever: "Jennifer, your scans were normal, completely normal." I'm planning on removing my other breast (although it never had cancer) next summer when I do reconstruction – I will not allow my health to be taken away from me again.
It was not easy caring for a newborn and dealing with chemo at the same time, and I had a lot of people offer to help me, far more than I ever allowed them. I think I had something to prove – that I could do it. I did do it. I'm a still doing it, everyday. Yeah, I'm still scared – but it makes me stronger. I have sworn to my son that I will be here to see him on his first day of kindergarten. When that happens it will mean I have been cancer free for five years – I can't wait for that day to come.