I met Jenny via Instagram, I reached out after seeing a few of her posts. Here is her story…
Tell us your story / stats:
I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer at 28 weeks pregnant and just a couple of months shy of my 34th birthday. I had discovered the lump around 20 weeks but chalked it up to normal pregnancy stuff. The lump quickly doubled, then tripled in size, measuring at 9 cm at the time of diagnosis. It was estimated that I was stage 2B (I wasn’t able to do more testing until after the baby came, that test and the surgery pathology confirmed the staging) with a grade 3 tumor. I tested negative for the BRCA gene, but a variance of unknown significance, RAD51C, came up in my report. It has a connection to both breast and ovarian cancer so my doctor recommended that I remove my ovaries before age 40.
C aside, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!
I’m 36 years-old, living in Baltimore, MD with my husband Jesse, our 2-year-old daughter Chloë and our cat Cash. I’m currently a freelance writer with a background in journalism and some marketing and communications work. I love photography, yoga and gardening.
What went through your head when you were first diagnosed?
“But, I’m pregnant…” I don’t remember a whole lot after I heard the doctor tell me that I had cancer over the phone. It was noon, I was at work and I thought my doctor was just going to say that the lump was benign but it needed to be removed but that it could wait. I never even considered the possibility that it would be anything beyond that. But that’s what he said and I suddenly realized that I had to tell my husband. It was heartbreaking to tell him and then have to say the words again to our parents.
What are some of your personal coping skills during difficult times?
Yoga, meditation, cannabis, acupuncture, time with family and friends, I could go on but the bottom line is: self care has been an important part of my healing journey during and beyond breast cancer. These are the tools in my kit 🙂
Tell us about your support system. Or lack of. Where do you get your support from?
My friends and family are amazing. I would not be here would it not have been for their love and support. It sounds like a canned response but it is so true. Tragedies, emergencies—that’s when people really step up and contribute in unexpected ways. Our friends got together and bought us a deep freezer so we could store the hundreds of ounces of breast milk that friends and friends-of-friends had donated to us. People brought frozen meals or sent cards with words of encouragement. All of these things helped in some way and also let us know that there was a larger community looking out for our little family.
I also have found a lot of support in the cancer community, both through social media (Instagram and Facebook) and also locally at the hospital where I was treated (Johns Hopkins) and support centers in the community such as HopeWell. I feel an immediate connection to other survivors. It’s like service members who have seen battle—there’s just something in their eyes: they get it. A major positive for me in this whole experience with cancer has been the friendships I have made. I would not have met a lot of these amazing people had it not been for such a terrible commonality and that is something to be positive about!
Many people are unaware that you can do chemotherapy while pregnant. Thoughts and personal experience?
I am always quick to tell people that chemotherapy is safe while pregnant! I HATE that horrified look on people’s faces when I tell that I went through one round of chemo while I was pregnant. The truth is that it is totally safe and there are tons of studies out there to back that up. The molecules are too large to pass through the placenta and therefore the baby is basically unaffected by the drugs.
What have you learned about yourself since dx?
I’m still learning! Breast cancer challenged me to my physical and emotional limits. It taught me that I am a lot stronger than I had ever thought but also that life is precious and there are no guarantees for tomorrow. I am still fearful of a recurrence but I am slowly learning to live with that fear and know that it will get better with each day. So trying to stay as present as possible is very important to me.
What do you believe is a common misconception about being diagnosed? Or something that you’d like the general population to know about C.
Cancer isn’t a death sentence and being diagnosed with cancer isn’t a result of anything that the people “did.” Cancer happens to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Thoughts on the pink…
It’s MARKETING. And pretty damn effective at that. But seriously, most of that shit doesn’t go to any research, it’s just a ploy to sell junk and fool people into believing that they’re donating to a cause. If you actually want to do some good in the world of breast cancer, donate directly to organizations that actually FUND research, because that’s what is going to save lives. There still isn’t a cure for breast cancer and research is so vitally important, 40,000 women died from it last year.
Some organizations that I donate to include: Metavivor, Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, Young Survival Coalition, American Cancer Society and HopeWell Cancer Support (it’s a local support center here in Baltimore).
Where are you at in life now? Mentally, physically, emotionally…
At this moment I am 2 years from my diagnosis and I feel as though I am in transition. I learned a lot about myself through cancer treatment but when that ended, I struggled with the “what next” part. I struggled with survivor guilt and anxiety of a recurrence, I still do, but for awhile it was overwhelming and debilitating.
I have a follow-up reconstructive surgery scheduled for January that will hopefully fix some of the sagging and rippling that has been happening on my right side. I love my plastic surgeon and I think she has done an amazing job but implants are a pain. They just feel so foreign and I don’t think that will ever change for me. Sure they “look” great, but I miss my breasts.
Do you have any lasting side effects- mental, physical, etc.?
Right now I am still struggling with joint pain, fatigue and anxiety.
What are you passionate about? Is this different than what you were passionate about before dx?
I am very passionate about yoga and cannabis, both used together and separately. I had an interest prior to my cancer diagnosis, but throughout treatment I leaned on both yoga and cannabis to heal my mind, body and spirit. I would never tell anyone to use alternative medicine or integrative modalities in place of traditional medicine, but I think it’s important to explore alternative means of healing. Terrible side effects come along with medical treatments and to combat those, the doctors will prescribe medications that often come with their own side effects. It’s a vicious cycle. And one that can be stopped by integrating alternative methods of healing. Yoga, meditation, nutrition, acupuncture, reiki, and yes, cannabis—all of these aided my healing during an extremely difficult time and helped me recover both mentally and physically from cancer treatment.
Do you have any short term or long term goals that you are actively working towards?
Right now I’m slowly picking up more freelance work and thinking about going back to work in some capacity. Being home with Chloe is really important to me right now, especially because she’s still so young but I also have some ideas bouncing around in my head that I am interested in pursuing. So stay tuned 🙂
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?
The past and the future don’t matter. All that matters is this moment. And it is PERFECT.
It’s basically a reminder for myself to stay centered and exist in the present. I’m still working on this though, it’s definitely easier said than done!
Whenever the day comes to travel to the “great beyond”, what do you hope people remember about you?
I hope that they remember a loving and caring friend, wife, mother, daughter who wasn’t afraid of taking risks or trying new things.
Honestly the most important thing to me right now is being a good role model for my daughter.
Would you like to share one of your shittiest moments/memories? The raw side of C.
There are so many things! Haha at this moment the fact that I don’t have nipples and have little to no sensation in my breasts has been a source of stress. When you’re in fighter mode you’re willing to do anything you can to slay the beast but when the battle has been “won” and life moves on. There are very real scars and changes that are permanent and that is something that takes a while to adapt to and finally accept. In terms of sexuality, losing breasts/nipples/sensation, it’s an adjustment. And at times that reality can be heartbreaking.
What’s the latest happenings in your life now?
Right now I’m working on putting an updated portfolio together and searching for my next career move. I wrote a series of articles about integrative medicine and breast cancer and they will be published in October. I’ll be sharing everything through my website, jennyleyh.com.