The Day Bad Luck Turned Good

I've never really thought much about the concept of luck.  Some people are just "lucky" they say.  And some people have "bad" luck.  Well, I think everyone can agree that getting cancer is pretty bad luck.  But December 28 was the day when that bad luck turned good.

That was the day that Dr. Winer and Ada came into our lives.  That was the day that Jenna learned that, although she had breast cancer, it was curable.  And that was the day that Jenna started to beat this thing.  It was a very good day.  


But I am jumping ahead. I should start by introducing myself. Hello World! (because that is how it feels when I think about addressing Jenna’s massive friend group).  Or better yet, Hello Extended Family! (because that is how Jenna, family, and her friends make you feel.....like you have always been a part of their family). 



I am Liz, a member of the Committee to Help Jenna Fight Cancer.  My role was quickly identified as the "Executor."   I had one mission and one mission only—to get Jenna the earliest possible appointment at Dana Farber.  And we did it---with the help of Jenna’s family, her friend Eleanor, lovely Judy from the scheduling office at Dana Farber, and last, but not least, Chris, my new best friend, who worked at the hospital Jenna visited in Colorado and who, in a matter of hours, gathered all of Jenna’s xrays, pathology reports, and biopsy slides and Fed Exed them to Boston so we could make the appointment.  We love you Chris.


So the appointment was made for December 28; a healing circle was conducted with her family and friends; 

and tears, laughs, fears, and hopes were shared at the "Healing House" 

(Jenna's parents new home in Marshfield). There was nothing more to do on the night of December 27 but lay awake and watch as the minutes ticked by until 5:30 am on December 28, when we headed into Boston.


Jenna was not alone in this journey.  She had her family--Lou, Jane and Kendra.  And she had her "YaYas," the nickname for the high school girls, Carolyn, Maryellen and myself. And, of course, she had about 1,000 other people calling, texting, emailing, and praying along with her.  (She felt you all)


We were all hoping for some "good luck" that day.  We knew that Jenna had Invasive Ductual Carcinoma and that it was Grade 3, which meant it was aggressive. We knew it was in her lymph nodes, which meant it was at least Stage 3.  And we knew the tumor was big.  We knew we needed some good luck.

The schedule for the day was daunting.   First, 7:15 am check in.  Second, meet with Dr. Winer, the oncologist.  Third, meet with he surgeon.  Fourth, meet with a genetic counselor.  Fifth, meet with a counselor for young women with breast cancer.

7:15 on the dot, they called Jenna's name and she officially became a member of the Dana Farber family.   Everything after that first check-in went completely off-schedule.   But in a amazingly beautiful way.

The first appointment was not an hour long as scheduled, but three.  That was because we met Ada, Dr. Winer's fellow, and a ray of hope.  She understood from Jenna's questions and anxiety that she couldn't stop thinking "why her?" Was it something that she did?  Or, was it her worst nightmare-- could her fiancé Drew's death and the emotional toll it took on Jenna's body have set something in motion that caused this?  Jenna never needed to verbalize that question.  Even Ada, who had only known Jenna for a few minutes, understood what Jenna needed to hear.  She stopped the intake, put her hands on Jenna's knees, and looked her straight in the eyes and said "Nothing you did caused this.  This is not connected to any event in your life.  There is nothing that you did to cause this and nothing you could have done to avoid it.  This was just bad luck."

And that bad luck was about to change.

It was bad luck that the cancer had metastasized (spread) so it was going to be Stage 3 or Stage 4.  Stage 3 meant curable and Stage 4 meant something else.  In order to know what stage, Jenna needed a CT Scan.  Bad luck, most oncologists couldn't get you in for a CT scan the same day as your appointment.   Good luck--Dr. Winer wasn't just SOME oncologist at Dana Farber.  He was the CHIEF of Breast Cancer Oncology.  He was the boss. The head honcho.   So when they asked whether we wanted to fit in a CT scan that day to find out if it was Stage 3 or 4, we jumped at it.  And because we had Dr. Winer as Jenna's oncologist, he made it happen.  Good luck.

The CT Scan process took hours.  The insurance company was questioning things because Jenna was at Dana Farber so soon after Colorado (Fuck yes she was).  They were dragging things out.  Bad luck.  But the CT scan came back C-L-E-A-N.  Stage 3 not 4.  Curable.  Very good luck.

It was bad luck that the tumor was very big in her left breast.  But it was good luck that her right breast seemed to be ok.

It was bad luck that Jenna had HER2 positive cancer, so it was fast growing and feeding off the hormones in her body.  Well, that WAS bad luck, until Dr. Winer told Jenna about a clinical trial for HER2 cancer that was having positive results in Stage 4 cancer.  It involved 18 weeks of antibody treatment that used the drug Herceptin with a "Smart Chemo" molecule that goes straight to the cancer to kill it and does not travel to the rest of the body. This gives time to get eggs harvested, and better chance of shrinking the tumor.   There was 1 spot left in a 160 person trial.  And because Jenna had Dr. Winer as her oncologist, that spot had Jenna's name on it.   Good luck.

The clinical trial is 18 weeks (treatment every three weeks).  Even if its 100% successful, because of Jenna's age and the type of cancer, they will likely recommend that after the clinical trial she still have a mastectomy, 20 weeks of straight chemo, 4-6 weeks of radiation, and more antibodies (total of 14 months of treatment).  But all of that was for another day.  We'd gotten enough good luck for one day.  We need to save some for the second visit.

When we said goodbye to Dr. Winer at the end of the day, he remarked that "you did more today than I though humanly possible."  Well, guess what Dr. Winer, Jenna is going to suprise you with her will, grit, determination, and strength every damn time you see her.

We left Dana Farber that night approximately 12 hours after we walked in, with a renewed sense of hope and gratitude for the people there and for everyone who has dedicated their lives to helping find a cure for this horrible disease.

And Jenna left with a plan for beating cancer.


To many more days of good luck, We love you.

Liz Virga

(a best friend of Jenna's)