There is no time more exciting in your life than preparing to have a baby. Life is all roses and sunshine, until the black cloud of breast cancer unexpectedly rolls in and a downpour of unplanned life changing events occur. Happening Survivor, Jodi, experienced just that in March of 2009, as she and her husband began planning their second child. Jodi was laying in bed one night watching television when she felt a “lump”, not thinking much of it at the time figuring it was a bruise or something. Over the next couple of days she kept playing with it, poking and touching it convincing herself it was nothing, it was shrinking…
Her son just turned two, and they had just booked their last vacation as a family of three. Absolutely nothing involving a lump, let alone cancer was on the fore front of Jodi’s mind. After five days passed Jodi finally called her physician and made an appointment, she hadn’t mentioned this discovery to anyone, not even her husband. So just before heading out to her doctor’s appointment she shot her husband a quick email to the tune of, “Oh by the way I found a lump, have a good day at work”. Since the lump was not there back in October at Jodi’s annual exam the doctor gave her the option of waiting to see what it did, or schedule a mammogram and ultrasound. Not being a the type to wait around, Jodi had the imaging tests done, and later saw a surgeon who stated that she had a “complex cyst”. Being that Jodi was only 30 years old there wasn’t a real concern at that point that the cyst could be cancer. In fact the doctor said that he saw these all the time and less than 5% turned out to be cancerous. Good news was he could remove it, and could squeeze her in in the next two days. As any mother can relate, Jodi’s biggest concern was that she had tickets to take her two year old son to see Elmo Live the day after surgery and was worried she would be unable to take him.
Two days later the cyst was removed and Jodi and Hunter were off to see Elmo. Hunter had a great time and all was well. Then on Monday, April 13, 2009 the phone rang. Jodi got the news that would completely change her and her family’s life. Jodi had breast cancer. At that moment all she could do was scream.
The proceeding days and weeks were a blur of second and third opinions from various surgeons; words like chemo, surgery, and radiation were thrown at Jodi. The joyous plans they made just a month before of having another child were gone. Finally, Jodi chose a doctor and a course of treatment. Jodi scheduled a lumpectomy and prepared for a round of IVF (in-vitro fertilization) so she could freeze embryos in hopes of having a future baby.
The IVF process involved far more injections than she had ever anticipated. Her husband gave her all her shots, multiple injections a day, leaving no unbruised areas on her thighs. Jodi recalls the painful process, “It was surreal to go through the process of having to freeze the embryos indefinitely and not use them immediately. It had to be hard on my husband, giving me all those shots.” In the end Jodi and her husband froze eight fertilized embryos.
Because of Jodi’s young age and family history she had genetic testing done that revealed the BRCA1 mutation, putting her at an increased risk for another breast cancer and gave her the knowledge to plan for the future and adjust her treatment accordingly. After the lumpectomy came chemo, the hardest part of treatment for Jodi. She, like some of our other Happening Survivors, was known for her long curly hair, and feared losing it. Jodi participated in a clinical trial for Avastin, and had four rounds of a/c and 12 rounds of Taxol. At the end of the trail she found out she had in fact received the Avastin and not a placebo, hoping it provided her with more targeted therapy.
“Chemo was really hard. I was so sick and tired. I was still working part time at a local United Way in the marketing department and raising a two year old. My son did great with everything. He knew Mommy wasn’t feeling good and her doctor have her medicine. He used to bring me his doctor kit while I was laying on the couch and he would take care of me. He didn’t mind I had no hair, and would tell me to put my hair on before we would leave the house.”
After chemotherapy Jodi went through thirty rounds of radiation, followed by the drug Tamoxifen to suppress the estrogen receptors and help prevent a the cancer from returning. She will take Tamoxifen for five years. Having a really hard time emotionally Jodi sought out a support group, looking for one with other young women, which brought her to YSC (Young Survivor Coalition). Like many other survivors, the first group she tried she was the youngest by more than 25 years. Finding YSC gave her the support of other young women who understood the emotional roller-coaster she was going through. “They became my extended family and I still can’t live without them,” Jodi says.
Six months later, after chemo had finally ended Jodi had to return for a follow-up mammogram. “I walked into the office in a panic; it was like my nightmare had returned. The feeling was terrible and I realized I couldn’t do this every six months. From the beginning when my journey began, mastectomy was not part of my vocabulary and I had a hard time considering this. My oncologist told me from the start to take one day at a time, and treat the breast cancer before we talked about the future.” Because of Jodi’s increased risk of a recurrence due to the BRCA1 mutation she opted for a prophylactic mastectomy. In November 2010 she had a bilateral mastectomy with latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction of the breasts. The doctors used the latissimus muscle in her back to rebuild new breasts. “It was a long surgery and hard recovery but the peace of mind and putting everything I can against this disease was the only option for me.”
It has been three and a half years years since Jodi’s journey began and volunteering and raising awareness have become a family affair. The entire family participates in the Race for the Cure, and her husband (an avid bike rider) will participate in YSC’s Tour de Pink for the third time this year, among other charity rides. Her son, Hunter, who is now 5 1/2 and about to begin kindergarten, held a “pink” lemonade stand to donate money to “pink ribbons”.
Jodi says that the greatest gift cancer gave her is the ability to give back and help other women as they embark on their journey. She says, “It has shown me that I am a strong woman and can handle any challenges that come my way” She also says that people surprise you, and you find out who your true friends are, like the friends that made her a boobie cake and get well basket the night before her mastectomy. Or the several friends who took turns taking off from work to take her to chemo and try to make it as fun as possible. Last, Jodi says it showed her how much her husband, Kevin, truly loves her. That he never complained no matter how much he had to take on, and she can’t imagine life without him.