Voices of FORCE

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Jessica Gardner, Niles, OH

Quick Info About Me

 

Age: 34

Being pregnant with cancer allowed me to NEVER take one moment with my daughter for granted.

I'm more than my risk… some fun facts about myself:

Favorite book / authors:
I like YA novels since I teach high school English.

Favorite TV / Movies:
The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones

Favorite Quote:
"Fate goes ever as fate must." -Beowulf

Favorite Superhero:
Iron Man

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My journey

You're probably reading this if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with the BRCA mutation, ovarian, or breast cancer. I'm sorry that you're reading this, but I wanted to share my story in hopes that it may aid others with their diagnosis and healing.

At 33 years-old and 33 weeks pregnant with my first (and only) child, my husband noticed a large lump in my breast. I shrugged it off and thought it was my milk coming in, but at his urging, I sought the opinion of my ob/gyn. After seeing the doctor, I had two core-needled biopsies of my breast and enlarged lymph nodes. I was educated enough about cancer that if it infects your lymph nodes, that could mean trouble. I had a breakdown right there.

Six days later, I received a phone call that verified my diagnosis. Because I was pregnant, things moved quite quickly. I was sent to the Cleveland Clinic because doctors in my area had never seen someone who was pregnant with cancer.

My team at the CCF tested me for genetic mutations, and in fact, I am a mutant. I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation.

Twenty days later, I had a c-section, and my beautiful daughter Savannah Joan was born nearly four weeks early so that I could begin treatment. She was healthy, and no NICU was needed.

Ten days after my c-section, I had a bilateral mastectomy. This was one of the best things I have ever done. I have peace of mind in knowing that I did everything I could to get the cancer out of my body. I had one tumor (4mm) that did not even show up on any imaging I had done. The other tumor was 7.5cm, nearly the size of my entire breast. I had 15 lymph nodes removed, and four were infected with cancer. This surgery and healing was difficult because I could not hold or lift my newborn baby. I was worried about not breastfeeding and the bonding process. Good news, we have a wonderful relationship and I don't think it was affected at all.

Surgery confirmed my diagnosis of Stage 3b, grade 3, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Er+/pr+/Her2-.

A month after my mastectomy, I underwent six months of aggressive chemotherapy. When women complain about being new moms, I have to laugh because they didn't do it while going through chemo. Chemo was followed by 33 rounds of radiation. After radiation, which kicked my butt, I began hormone therapy on Tamoxifen until my hysterectomy on December 13th, 2017. I had complications from my hysterectomy, and I am awaiting to see the doctor regarding reconstruction in February 2018.

I have also entered into a clinical trial for Olaparib, a parp inhibitor for BRCA patients through the Cleveland Clinic. I'm healing, but the time it takes to feel normal again is a waiting game. I'm hopeful that it will come.

The hardest part of my journey

The hardest part of my journey has been accepting help and support from others. I was always the person who helped others, and to admit that I need help was a big deal for me. Let people help you. Know that you can always return the favor.

If I could do it over again

I wouldn't do anything differently if I could. I feel that I threw everything I could at this nasty beast. I stayed positive through all of my treatments, and my best friend couldn't believe that I was smiling the entire time. I utilized all of the tools that I could through traditional treatments, supplements, diet, and mental health. I can never look back and regret the road that I took.

Other thoughts

Life is beautiful. Choose to live it.

FORCE:Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered