On October 10, 2018, the 10th Annual Drink Pink for a cause will take place at Bernard’s in Ridgefield. This event supports Ann’s Place while putting a spotlight on local breast cancer patients and survivors.
The photo you see here is one of Kristen Jensen’s “Courageous Faces”. This and many other photos of cancer survivors and those in the midst of treatment will blanket the walls of Bernard’s on October 10 telling a story of life, struggle, friendship, and hope.
Here, we couple the many Courageous Faces with their unique stories. We thank each and every one of these ladies for sharing their difficult journey with us.
Occupation: Lawyer turned busy mom
Tell me about when you first learned you had breast cancer
My close friend, Sherry, encouraged me to get a baseline mammogram (and ultrasound due to density) at age 35. I had the same tests at 40, then again at 41. Around the time I turned 42 in June 2016, I saw my (former) gynecologist for my annual visit. She did a breast exam and said all looked good. Three months later I noticed a lump, and figured it was likely a cyst (I had had several in the past). I had already scheduled my annual mammogram and ultrasound, so I didn’t think much of it. While golfing on the 4th fairway the day after my annual mammogram/ultrasound, I received a call that I needed more images taken – that day. I live a healthy lifestyle with no family history of breast cancer, so I figured it was just a shadow on the mammogram. Sherry came with me and thank goodness she did. Dr. Mah, the radiologist, told me that she was 99% sure I had cancer because of the size and shape of the image. Dr. Mah immediately performed a biopsy. Three days later, I received the news that it was indeed cancer – Stage 2, ER+/PR+, HER2- Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. I was told that due to the way lobular cancer grows, it “hides” in mammograms and ultrasounds until it gets large enough to show up in imaging. To say I was shocked and scared is an understatement. I am so grateful that I didn’t skip my annual mammogram/ultrasound that year!
Who did you turn to for support and how was that person or organization supportive?
My husband and two kids (ages 9 and 12 at the time) were my rocks. It was not easy for my kids to watch their mom endure a double mastectomy, 8 rounds of chemotherapy and a reconstruction surgery, but they are resilient and helped out as much as they could while reminding me to smile and laugh through it all. My parents came to help out and took care of me during the painful days following my surgeries. My sister is a nurse practitioner, so she was a huge help with my crash course in breast cancer. My friend, Sherry, took me to countless doctor appointments and accompanied me to all 8 rounds of chemotherapy. I am blessed to have amazing friends and they all supported me in so many ways – from being a shoulder to cry on, cooking for my family, driving my kids to activities, walking my dog, sending encouraging messages, and keeping me company when I felt horrible after chemotherapy. Even those who were strangers at the time, and now friends, looked out for my kids at school and during their activities. Ridgefield is an amazing town filled with kind, caring people who take care of one another. I could not have made it through without the love and support everyone gave to me.
After my treatments ended, I experienced side effects from the trauma that a cancer diagnosis and treatments can cause. The amazing people at Ann’s Place helped me to heal. I will be eternally grateful to the providers and other cancer survivors I met at Ann’s Place for helping me get back to me.
Finally, everyone at the Pilates Barre and the Gym encouraged and helped me with my mission to get back to the active, strong person I was before cancer surgeries and treatments left me unable to exercise for nearly a year. It took a lot of hard work and some tears, but I’m back and stronger than ever loving every sweaty second of each class I take!
Tell me about something someone said or did that helped you through your most difficult days
Sue Jehl, my friend, and fellow cancer survivor who lost her battle to breast cancer one year ago, told me to cry if I needed to cry and scream if I needed to scream. She also told me to focus on my strength and that she was proud of me.
Do you look at life differently pre/post breast cancer diagnosis?
My cancer journey definitely changed me. One of my doctors told me to live my life and do what I want, not what I should. I took her advice to heart and now focus only on what is truly important – family and friends – and I ignore anything that is insignificant. I cherish being able to do things now that I was unable to do last year like walk my dog, help at my kids’ schools and be physically active. I’ve been cancer-free for 16 months and I am truly grateful for every single one of those healthy days.
What message do you have for others who have been diagnosed with breast cancer?
- Think Positive Thoughts – The brain is an amazing thing and thinking positively impacts the outcome. It is very hard at times, but important.
- Breathe Deeply – Deep breathing got me through some of the scariest moments after my cancer diagnosis, before my surgeries, and during chemotherapy.
- Focus on Today – Don’t think about the past or worry about the future. There are so many steps in your journey that it is important to just think about today…one day at a time.
- Don’t Listen to Others – Everyone knows someone who has had cancer and everyone wants to share their stories (good and bad). No one else’s journey will be the same as yours, so don’t let anyone drag you down.
- Accept Help – Allowing others to help, is win-win. It helps you and helps them feel useful.
- Smile, Dance, Laugh and Enjoy the Good Times – You may not feel great at times, but when you feel good embrace and enjoy it.
- Cancer is a monster, but you are a BEAST! You are way stronger than you can even imagine.