STAGE AT DIAGNOSIS: 0 – I do not have any cancer now.
ER DIAGNOSIS: Positive
PR DIAGNOSIS: Positive
HER2 DIAGNOSIS: Negative
In Her Own Words…
I knew I should start getting my mammograms at age 40, but I never expected they would find anything. My first mammogram was uneventful, but my second, at age 41, found calcifications. The day before my 42nd birthday in 2019, I sat in my surgeon’s office to hear the words, “you have breast cancer.” My world changed in a split second. Suddenly, instead of being a healthy, virtual-schooling mom of two teenage boys, I became a cancer patient.
What followed was a whirlwind of appointments and uncertainty. When a breast MRI revealed more areas of concern on my opposite breast, I needed more biopsies to figure out what those were. Finally, after five total biopsies and genetic testing, we settled on a treatment plan. My breast cancer was a small area of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) that was about 4 millimeters, so I had the option of choosing between surgeries. I decided to go with a lumpectomy, followed by whole breast radiation, because I didn’t have any genetic variants, and the surgery was less invasive than a mastectomy.
Initially, I thought walking through this wasn’t going to be too disruptive — after all, it was only stage zero. I was wrong. During the diagnosis and treatment process, I experienced disruptions to my mental and emotional well-being that I had never had before. I was full of anxiety and frustration. I was fatigued and couldn’t do my normal homemaking and virtual schooling duties. I learned that I couldn’t power through this treatment, and I accepted help whenever it was offered. I often say stage zero doesn’t mean zero challenges.
After treatment, I began to write. I needed a way to process what I’d been through. Every morning I opened up my laptop and continued the story. Getting my feelings out of my head and onto the page was therapeutic. After a few months of writing, I realized I had written a book. I’m excited that my book will be published in spring 2023 by Bold Story Press.
I’d always dreamed of becoming an author, but it was one of those things that I put off. Later would come, my kids would be grown, and I would have plenty of time. Breast cancer woke me up and made me realize that I might not have “later.”I began writing and advocating online in the spring of 2020. I quickly discovered a community of support that I never knew existed. I began to realize that the feelings I was experiencing were not unique to me but were shared with others who had cancer as well. I felt heard and understood.
I continue to get imaging every six months to monitor my breasts for changes. In the summer of 2022, I had an inconclusive biopsy that led to another lumpectomy- on my non-cancer side. A week after surgery, I was thrilled to find out that it was a benign fibroadenoma. Walking through the diagnosis and surgery process again brought up the anxieties and worries I had in 2019- but this time, I had a cancer community around me. When I was worried, I tweeted and wrote, and words of encouragement and support came in to surround me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to offer and receive support, especially during uncertain times.
I’m so grateful I didn’t skip my mammogram in 2019. Without that imaging, my DCIS would have remained undetected. Regular imaging caught the change so that my medical team could take action. I get scanxiety every time I walk back into the imaging room, but then I remember that I’m not alone. I walk with everyone who has been through this journey before me.
Get To Know Jennifer…
What has been the most challenging part of your journey?
I wasn’t expecting the challenges to my emotional and mental well-being. During and after my diagnosis and treatment, I had painful emotions and anxieties at levels that I’d never personally experienced before. I also thought that one day I would wake up and be recovered. Three years after my initial diagnosis, I am still walking through the recovery process and learning things along the way.
What is your superpower?
If we are talking about “realistic” superpowers, then it would be my ability to listen to others as they share deeply personal things with me. There is nothing that I would rather do than have coffee with a friend or loved one and learn about what is going on in their life. I also love to research, so whenever I’m facing a new and challenging situation, I will take to the internet or library and read everything I can on a topic.
What is your theme song?
Whenever I have good news coming out of the doctor’s office, I blast the song “Tahiti” by Keen’V in my car on the way home! The song begins with the line, “One day I will go to Tahiti.” While I haven’t been yet, the hope and energy of the song bring a smile to my face every time I hear it.
What is your favorite movie?
The cartoon version of Beauty and the Beast is my favorite movie. It is set in France, and Belle loves to read- which is one of my favorite pastimes! I also appreciate that she is a woman of depth and intelligence. I spent many math classes in high school practicing my drawing skills with characters from the movie (after I did my work, of course).
What your spirit animal?
A hummingbird is my spirit animal for a few reasons — they are beautiful and love to flit about, which is a good picture of me. They are constantly snacking — which is also an essential component of my well-being. If I’m hungry, I wilt. Plus, they love flowers, and so do I!
What is your favorite food?
Does coffee count as food? Well, if it does, then that would absolutely qualify as my favorite food. I also love a nice big burrito! I remember on one of my first dates with my now husband, he took me to a Mexican restaurant, and he was completely shocked when I ate my entire chicken burrito. So, coffee and burritos, but not together, that would be weird.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I love France, and specifically Paris. I speak French, and something about being immersed in the history and language lights me up.
What is your favorite quote?
Whenever I’m worried about what someone might think, I repeat this in my head “You can’t please everyone because you’re not pizza.” I don’t know who said this first, but it is one of the many sayings we have on our wall of “family proverbs” on the staircase in our home.
What I want all breast cancer patients to know…
Breast cancer is hard, no matter what stage you are at diagnosis. I thought that being diagnosed at stage zero would mean that I would have fewer bumps along the way. I was wrong. I quickly realized that stage zero doesn’t mean zero challenges.
— Jennifer Douglas