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Her Strength

I met Jennifer at a city park to talk with her and take her photo for a magazine. She emerged from her sedan with a bright, contagious smile. I liked her instantly.

Jennifer was wearing a pink sweater — appropriate for the photo since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. She was one of three local breast cancer survivors I interviewed for an article I titled, “A Sisterhood.”

Jennifer, a 37-year-old single mom with two young sons, agreed to share her story with me, and today, I share her story with you in hopes that it may help you or a loved one in some way.

“I actually found my lump when I was getting out of the shower and drying off,” she said. “My towel slipped and my hand hit a small knot on my right breast.”

She went to a diagnostic center for an ultrasound, then she was referred to a doctor for a biopsy. “Dr. Manahan called me the day after the biopsy and told me it was cancer.” She was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductal breast cancer in 2012, when she was just 28 years old. She tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation and learned that her cancer was hormone fed.

She continued, “I had a bilateral mastectomy the following month and expander implants placed in my chest. I had a high chance of recurrence, so I had to do chemo. I didn’t have to have radiation. I did 15 out 16 chemo treatments because my body couldn’t take the last one. Chemo made all my hair fall out, and I had neuropathy so bad I couldn’t get my kids dressed in the mornings. My fingers hurt so bad I couldn’t stretch the socks to put them on their feet.”

She had her implants surgically inserted in June 2013, then a hysterectomy in July 2013. Jennifer had multiple surgeries from 2013 until June 2019 to try to correct issues with her implants. “I developed a lot of health issues. I was tired all the time, I had stomach problems, I had lots of aches and pains, etc. I read about something called Breast Implant Illness and realized that I had a lot of the symptoms. A plastic surgeon in Atlanta confirmed and suggested I remove the implants, and I did. I have been flat chested since June 2019, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I wish I had considered staying flat when I had my first surgery. I honestly didn’t think about it at all.”

She was also diagnosed with osteoporosis in 2015 at the age of 31. She took a medication called Reclast for five years to help her bones.

“Through it all, people in my life supported me. My mama was at every surgery — there when they wheeled me off, and there when I woke up. My daddy brushed my hair for me when I couldn’t raise my arms up far enough to do it myself, and he went to many medical appointments with me. A few friends took me back and forth to chemo because I couldn’t drive home. I also found a wonderful support group that helped me figure out the questions to ask when I went to the doctor — stuff I would have never thought to ask, but they had all been through it, so they were a huge help.”

Aside from her battle with breast cancer and all the associated problems she endured, Jennifer also told me about a recent tragedy in her life.

“My boyfriend was killed in a car accident last spring,” she said. “It’s been hard — mourning and living without him. I have learned to walk through life one day at a time and try to stay as positive as I can.”

Jennifer’s a tough woman. You can’t go through all she’s gone through and not be a “steel magnolia.” She’s as strong as they come and shines bright as a diamond.

While I was shooting her photo, she smiled and told me that the cancer changed her — that it made her the person she is to- continued from page

day. “I enjoy my life — my time — more. I appreciate things more. And it made me realize that every day that I open my eyes is a gift. But it has also made me more scared. I am terrified of the cancer coming back.”

She didn’t strike me as a woman who was afraid of anything. Indeed, her strength and courage inspired me — inspires me.

“What do you want others to know, Jennifer?” I asked, looking for her to provide some nugget of wisdom.

“Cancer doesn’t care what color you are, if you are religious or not, if you are rich or poor, or how old you are. It doesn’t care.”

She paused then added, “And it’s important to keep an eye on your health. Ladies, do your self exams.”


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