It was the magical month of December. Jenna’s was filled with concerts,
a trip to Santa Cruz with me to visit our cousin Nicky (where we found a lions and unicorns and bears, oh my),
and a birthday week extravaganza - parties never-ending,
including a surprise bday party where everyone declined Jenna's invite to meet her out, and then secretly surprised her anyway.
Ski season was around the corner, and Jenna was on that mission to get in the best shape of her life so she could get up in the mountains and do what she loves most. But something wasn't feeling right - it was really hard this time to get in good shape, she said she wasn’t feeling as much “grrr” as she typically does, and she even said at brunch one day with some friends, "ya know, I feel like there is something wrong, but I can't figure out what it is".
The following week, she scheduled the next available appointment at a Naturopathic/Osteopathy Women’s Health Clinic - December 19th - the day before she'd be leaving to go back to Marshfield, MA for Christmas with the fam.
A few days before the appointment she thought up things she wanted to discuss with the Dr. The first thing that came to mind was she wanted her thyroid tested because she thought it was off - energy wasn't what it usually is. She wanted a full blood panel done to check all hormone levels. She wanted to make sure all of the supplements she had been taking were helping; but most importantly, she wanted a go to a local doctor in case that was needed in the future.
Sunday 12/17/17: two nights before the appointment, she felt a kind of hard, mass-like abnormality in her left breast. She called a friend who had had a cyst removed recently, and assumed that's all it was.
Jenna is in tune with her body more than most, has been on a holistic health journey for about 9 years, spending countless dollars to see Holistic Nutritionists, Acupuncturists, Naturopaths, Energy Healers, Chiropractors, Spirit Guides… etc. etc. and she had NEVER felt this abnormality before.
On the day of the appointment, the doctor suggested to draw a full blood panel to make sure all was good there; and at the end of the appt, she encouraged Jenna to get an ultrasound of the lump - just to be sure.
The soonest they could schedule her to see someone was mid-January. But this would mean living in the agonizing unknown for weeks. Almost like trying to smile and laugh with your family at Christmas dinner with a Black Mamba curled under your scarf. Torturously impossible, right?
Some people might concede and take the date. But not our Jenna. She doesn't take "No" to her desires. Like the time she wanted to move 2,000 miles away from home to study college courses (sometimes) while mostly enjoying the Rocky Mountains.
Jenna spent over 2 hours calling every single facility in CO who could do the ultrasound asap. She finally found one in Castle Rock who could take her the next day - the day of her flight home.
Wednesday 12/20/17: 8am - 10am - she spent 2 hours getting a mammogram (to her surprise) and an ultrasound. At the end of the ultrasound, a doctor came in the room, did more ultrasounding, and Jenna turned her head and asked, "so, do you see anything weird?" The doctor responded, "we have a lot of reason to have concern right now."
Jenna's stomach dropped, but she still assumed maybe a cyst and that meant a simple surgery to remove it.
The Doctor and nurse sat Jenna up and without delay, stated, "this looks like cancer. I am very concerned because it has already travelled to your lymph nodes quite significantly. We won't know if this has spread anywhere else in your body, including your bones, until you get more scans. But I am 95% sure this is metastatic breast cancer.”
Jenna, "what?!? Cancer?!!!" She even looked behind her as if the doctor were speaking to someone else, and immediately started to cry in utter disbelief. The very first thing that came out of her mouth was, “Noooo, this can’t be happening to my family! This isn’t possible!” She couldn’t stop crying.
Even more than the diagnosis, she feared telling our mom, dad, and me. She's always been one to care more about how others are doing.
Her next question was, “What do I do now?”
The Dr. said a biopsy would be needed to test what kind of cancer this was. Jenna asked when the next appt was available. She couldn't bare to arrive at home with news that there was a “95% chance she has cancer."
The Dr. said, “There really isn’t any rush in getting this done. You can wait until you return from your Christmas trip.” Jenna assumed addressing this as quickly as humanly possible was imperative and asked, “Isn’t it important I get this done right away?!” The Dr. basically sighed and said, “Jenna, it doesn’t matter at this point.”
Jenna asked the Dr. and nurse to please give her a moment to herself. She told me that in that moment, she thought that was it for her - she had cancer all over her body, and her life was over.
The Dr returned, and Jenna insisted she get the biopsy completed that day. Somehow they managed to get her in at noon.
So, she waited for 2 hours in the lobby in hysterical tears literally fearing for her life and all of the unknowns. Her roommate Kristen immediately drove to Castle Rock to be by her side. She didn’t want to tell people because the Dr. kept saying 95% chance - so there was still hope.
Kristen sat by Jenna’s side while the 2 biopsies were performed - one of the cancer in the breast tissue and one of the cancer in the lymph nodes.
Did I mention that Jenna has a REAL needle phobia? She can jump out of planes, but she dropped out of nursing school after reading a chapter on 'an intro to IVs' in the first month of school (just to give you an idea of how real it is).
She squeezed Kristen’s hand as hard as she could through the entire procedure - not because of pain, but because of the emotional trauma of hearing the “c” word. And the evil needles too, of course.
When the biopsy was completed, Jenna asked what else this could be if it isn’t cancer? (like - what's this elusive 5% category the Dr. keeps heralding).
And with the best dreadside manner she could muster, the Dr. said, “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and there is a greater than 95% chance this is metastatic breast cancer.”
Jenna left the hospital knowing it would be 24-48 hours before the cancer diagnosis would be confirmed from the biopsy.
Promptly texting her family "I have to stay an extra day to finish up some things at work," she spent the night very scared but VERY well-supported by her roomie Kristen, and 2 of her best friends Chelsea and Angela.
It was a night described by Jenna as “completely surreal." She didn’t sleep for a minute that night. In the morning, Chelsea and Daniel picked her up at 6am and drove her in a snowstorm to the airport.
Her best friend Carolyn in Mass, already privy to the situation, asked to pick her up from the airport in Boston. As if that wasn't sweet enough, her other best friend Liz took a last minute train from NYC to be there as well.
Jenna texted the family when she landed. "Hey! Carolyn and Liz surprised me at the airport, so we're going to hang out for a little bit. See you guys later."
Meanwhile this was just a stall tactic to come up with a plan for how to break the news to us.
Twenty minutes after Carolyn picked Jenna up at the airport, she got the phone call from the doctor confirming this was in fact “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, and you have the most aggressive kind.”
She realized she needed backup and went over to Uncle Dave and Aunt Sue's. Carolyn, Liz, Dave, and Sue all sat with her in the most loving way, as she told them the diagnosis.
Another text went out to us, "Hey! We ran into Dave and Sue at CVS. Want to come over for Thai Food?"
My dad, mom, and I all looked at each other and said: “Have them come over here!”
Shortly after, the five of them walked in the house with about 49 pounds of take out food (food will take the edge off, right?)
We all sat down in the family room.
Jenna: “Ok so I have something to tell you. You're all strong, right? Our family can handle anything, right?
Us: A resounding "Right. Absolutely, yes.”
Jenna goes on to tell us the story you just read above.
Super intense. But nothing she can't handle. And we're all in this together with her.
So while this might be a very unexpected beginning to this story, please stick around with us for a very, very happy ending.
Feeling confident + surrounded by love,
Kendra (her sister)