Cancerversary: July 2014

Age at diagnosis: 43

Diagnosis: Recurrent metastatic cancer

Stage of cancer: IV

Cervivor School Graduation: 2022

How my story begins: In 2014 I had been experiencing some spotting and bleeding but wasn’t concerned since I had never been “regular”. I had always made sure to get my screenings, but I decided I should reach out to my OBGYN and schedule an appointment. After my exam my doctor confirmed that he was concerned and wanted to do outpatient surgery as soon as possible.

That was a Thursday. I was in the hospital on Monday. After the procedure I was told to rest for 24 hours. I was prepared to go back to work that day when my doctor called and asked me to stop by his office for my results. Honestly, I still never suspected anything major let alone cancer, but the biopsy confirmed I had early-stage cervical cancer.

Within two days I was meeting a surgeon to schedule a radical hysterectomy. In addition to the major surgery, I had five internal radiation treatments. I was cleared within three months. I started to live my life as I normally did thankful that it was caught early, and I was able to get it removed. In fact, I traveled to Asia to visit my sister two months after my surgery. I was clear for almost three years, still getting my screenings.

In April of 2017 my leg began to swell. I thought it was a stress fracture, or a spider bite that caused it but decided to get it checked out at my local urgent care unit. They initially thought it was a blood clot in my leg and sent me to the hospital for testing. The first test came back with no indications of a DVT, but the ER doctor was concerned with some things he saw in my bloodwork. He ordered more testing, and it was discovered I had a mass in my pelvic wall.

In a whirlwind I was back to the specialist in two days who scheduled a biopsy and confirmed reoccurrence of my cancer. I was in complete shock. The tumor was in a place that they could not operate so I stared seven weeks of radiation and six chemo treatments. Once again, the PET scan cleared me that October, but my oncologist started CT scans every three months. Within a year it had returned and metastasized, so I was once again facing a cancer diagnosis and this time I was Stage IV.

My oncologist recommended going to a facility that may have alternative treatments or trials, so I traveled to MD Anderson in Houston, TX and met with their team. I was first on an aggressive chemo regime that lasted about seven months until my platelets bottomed and I ended up in the hospital for two weeks. My MD Anderson team and my local oncologist decided to change my treatment since my body could no longer handle the heavy chemo. That regimen didn’t hold the cancer at bay and my pelvic tumor returned, in addition to my metastatic cancer still being active. I was running out of options until my MD oncologist suggested I meet a doctor in their Targeted Therapy Department and investigate a clinical trial. In August of 2019 I entered a Phase I clinical trial that I am still a part of today.

Life before my diagnosis: I had an incredible career in banking that I loved. I enjoyed traveling around the world visiting my sister in both Europe and Asia multiple times when she lived there. I was in a golf league and loved playing weekly. I worked out. I was active in my community with fundraising and part of several organizations. I had a very busy life which I loved.

How I felt after diagnosis: With my first diagnosis I was scared but hopeful, as it was caught early. The second time I was in shock that it came back. I never felt that it would. The third time I was a little less shocked because I had prepared myself with the idea it would come back again.

Telling my family and friends: One of the hardest things was letting my family especially my parents know all three times. But I couldn’t have asked for a better support system. After my third diagnosis my friend Kristin started Jenn’s Tribe. Her intent was to give people who wanted a bracelet to wear. It turned into a Facebook page that is still active today and a great way for me to keep people up to date. Also, people donated money when getting a bracelet. Since I was fortunate with having insurance covering most of my out-of-pocket expenses, I was able to donate the money raised to our local hospital foundation that I serve on the board to help assist cancer patients that do not have the support system that I am so lucky to have.

My treatment: I am still in my clinical trial and travel to Houston every other week for treatment. I am fortunate that, although I still have cancer, the immunotherapy and chemo I am receiving is helping to keep it stable. I have side effects and struggle with chronic blood clots and circulation issues in addition to lymphedema but feel so fortunate that I am still able to travel to my treatments.

What was most difficult for me: I think the hardest part is not being as active as I used to be. I no longer play golf like I used to or walk my dogs in the neighborhood. Also, having to give up my career was extremely difficult for me being such a driven, goal-oriented person. I believe now it was the best thing I did so I now can concentrate 100% on my treatments. As someone said, “cancer is my new job”.

What I did to help myself: I joined an online support group during COVID since they went virtual and have formed incredible friends from that group. Through MD Anderson’s Cancer Connect program I met someone who led me to Cervivor. I spent the first year soaking it all in but now am active in the group and look forward to continuing to learn more. I also now seek things that bring me joy that I can do with my physical limitations. Most importantly I have learned to cherish the small things every day.

Where I am today: I am still in my clinical trial and traveling to my treatments every other week.

What I want other women to know: One thing I tell so many other cancer patients is don’t let your diagnosed or prognosis define you. I was given 15 months in 2018 which was a very hard message to receive. But with the support of my husband, friends and family I did everything to beat those odds and continue today. A Stage IV diagnosis is not a death sentence. Never give up and always fight for yourself. You know your body better than anyone.

How I will try to help others: I have found in my support groups that I am able to provide advice or just listen especially to those who or newly diagnosed or have metastatic cancer. I am also passionate about educating people about prevention and vaccine measures so they can make educated choices.

I don’t want anyone to go through what I have. Lastly, I have a passion for fundraising and want to continue to find ways to continue to do that for cancer patients who may not have the resources I have been blessed with.