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My Story

My story begins with my family...

My grandmother had brain cancer. My mother had breast cancer. This pattern prompted me—the oldest among my siblings—to be especially vigilant about my health.

 

This family history is why one day in 2002, at age 39, when I discovered a lump during a self-breast exam, I went immediately to see my doctor.  She agreed something was wrong and sent me first for a sonogram and then for a mammogram. Both came back clear, but because I have dense breasts, they recommended another mammogram, and then they recommended a biopsy.

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I got the call from my doctor about the biopsy results...

In a way that was not what I envisioned for the start of this journey. I was at work when the phone rang. The radiologist asked how I was doing. I turned the question right around and asked, “How am I doing?”.  The weird thing about the call was that I could hear a lot of noise in the background, and I asked, “Where are you?” It didn’t sound as though he was in a quiet place, which is where you would think he would deliver test results. He responded, “I’m in New York trying to hail a cab, but you have breast cancer.”

I realized then that I would have to advocate for myself and surround myself with laughter because this would be an exciting journey.  I finished my workday, and two days later—on my birthday—I was in my breast surgeon’s office being advised of treatment. I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, five rounds of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiation. One day while I was still going through chemotherapy, my sister, her 10-year-old daughter, and I were riding in the car together, talking about a book dealing with cancer. 

This conversation prompted my niece to ask, “Did my grandmother have cancer?” My sister replied, "yes" and my niece asked, “and she died?” Again, my sister said "yes".  She then asked if our grandmother (her great-grandmother) had cancer? My sister again responded, “yes,” and my niece confirmed that her great-grandmother also died. I could see where this little girl was going in her mind and when she got to the question I knew was coming, “and aunt Jackie has cancer?” I jumped in and responded, “Yes", and I am not going anywhere.” I knew then I needed to fight to give her hope. She needed to know that cancer ends with my generation in our family. To help make that happen, I got involved with organizations to fight back against this disease that has affected so many people.

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I want to make sure my niece never has to hear the words, “You have cancer.” 

I want her to know that cancer doesn’t have to mean death. I use my story, time, talent, and the power of my voice and the pen to push for increased funding for cancer research and legislation that protects people diagnosed with cancer.

 

A year and a half after completing treatment, my cancer returned to the same breast. This time I had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. It wasn’t easy, but I am overjoyed 18 years later to be a thriving, two-time breast cancer survivor!  The second act of my life is dedicated to fighting for others who will travel the journey, ensuring funding for continued research and legislation that provides access to affordable and adequate health care and protections for cancer patients.

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