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2018 News Jennifer's Story
March 23, 2018 : Jennifer’s Story: My Next, Big Comeback!


Story by Jennifer Roy, OUC Health and Wellness Center Director


You hope to never hear the word ‘malignant’. The first time I found a lump in my breast I never thought it could be cancer. I have overcome so much in my life. From a very rough upbringing, and being on my own at age 16, I still graduated and succeeded in this thing we call life. I had experienced all the things in life that usually lead to a ‘repeating of the cycle’ -- But I, I, broke the chains.

I’ve always been strong, stronger than expected. So, when I found out that something finally put a kink in the armor, I didn’t want to believe it. I was at a job that didn’t allow any personal calls when “the call” came in. I hid in a storage closet to return the call to find out my results. I’ll never forget looking at metal shelves with archive boxes while hearing the woman on the other end of the line say, “Your tumor is malignant.” No one else around, no one to turn to, just a metal shelf. While I had a wonderful husband and two sons who cared dearly for me, I couldn’t help but feel alone at this time because I was trapped at work. The path to this call had already been stressful enough. Let’s start from the beginning.

I was just about to start a new job. I was sitting on the couch with my arms resting on the back of the couch. I went to itch a spot on my chest that kept bothering me, because my arm was extended, the skin pulled tight and I finally noticed a lump. It felt like an almond to me, shape and size.

I called my surgeon who had removed a benign auxiliary node several years before to see if he could see me. I expressed my urgency for getting a mammogram prior to starting a new job because I would not have any vacation time. The new job I was about to start had an incredibly strict attendance policy. If I was a minute late I would obtain a point and if I got three points, I would lose my job. I was unable to “call off” for personal reasons and with the uncertainty of unpredictable events, I was worried that would this cause me to lose my job.

My surgeon and gynecologist both agreed that the lump was a result of my very active lifestyle and displaced breast tissue, but, I could not get a mammogram prior to starting my new job. I tried to get after hour appointments and weekend screenings for a mammogram, however, they would not see me because it would be 1-3 days before a doctor could review my results. I tried on three separate occasions to get a mammogram and was turned away each time, until I finally got admitted on the fourth try. After almost being turned away, I stepped up close to the technician and adamantly asked to have a mammogram. Right then, and there! I couldn’t wait any longer. So instead of waiting three days, I waited four months for an appointment.

The technician did the mammogram. It is important at this point to mention that the lump I found was in my right breast. I received a phone call a few days after the mammogram stating that there was something abnormal and they wanted to get some more pictures. At this point, I still did not think it was cancer. Because I felt a lump, it was an expected call. Thankfully, the company I was newly working for had an annual shut down for the holidays; therefore, I was able to make an appointment during regular business hours.

Finally! The day came and I walked into the appointment when the technician said, “Well okay, we need to get more pictures of the left breast.” I said, “Left breast, what about the lump in my right?” The technician then said, “What lump?” The mammogram showed some gray matter in my left breast and that was the only reason they called me in. The lump in my right breast did not even show up on the mammogram.

I couldn’t believe it! I had the technician feel the lump in my right breast. The location of it was almost impossible to get into the scope of a mammogram. She called for the doctor, who in turn sent me to get an ultrasound. At this time, four months later, the lump was finally analyzed. I saw the doctors face, the ultrasound techs face, and I began to think that perhaps this was not as I thought.

I still believed it wasn’t going to happen to me. I’d already fought enough. They set me up for a biopsy and I immediately went. This is what led to “the call.” I was appointed a medical oncologist and a lumpectomy was scheduled. I went in for my pre-surgery appointment and my oncologist paused. She wanted me to have breast MRI’s to make sure it was just the one tumor.
Wait, what? She went with her gut and low and behold, I am forever grateful for that. The breast MRI discovered four more tumors in my right breast, none of which ever showed up on the mammogram. Because of this, she decided I would absolutely need to have my right breast removed. My husband and I sat across from my doctor as she gave us the news. We had some choices to make.

I was only 41 at the time and have always been a fitness professional. My body was a part of my job. I have always been thin and the lack of one breast would be obvious. I asked her what are the chances that I would get cancer in my left breast if it wasn’t removed. She said, “I’ll see you in less than five years to remove the other breast.” My husband and I looked at each other and silently agreed to remove both. She gave us some privacy to talk, but the decision had already been made. I chose to have immediate reconstruction.

Surgery was scheduled for Feb. 1, 2013. June 9 was my final reconstruction surgery. I went back to work at four weeks because I could not afford to be off work without pay. I was in immense pain, especially because I worked such a physical job. I’ll spare you the details, but the reconstruction expansion for implants was incredibly painful. I am a spiritual person and knew that I had to do something with my cancer to help others.

I decided I would compete in a figure competition as a person who had been disfigured by cancer. I got a Survivor tattoo on my right shoulder to signify the cancer and for my being a part of the competition. I was my own trainer and posted my improvements on Facebook. Nine months, almost to the day, after my final reconstruction surgery, I was on the stage and competing in my first figure competition. I did three back-to-back competitions and brought home five trophies! I’m very proud of that, but what means more to me is the fact that what I was doing made a difference for others.

I received tons of messages from people who were inspired. What means even more is that after following my comeback, I have been contacted by several women over the years who have also been diagnosed with breast cancer – all hoping for some support. I am thankful that I have been able to give encouragement to so many women. That is all I’ve ever wanted out of this journey. The strength and realization that you can come back from this. You can move forward. You can be stronger than ever before. THIS was my message! Every woman should make sure they are getting their screenings as this is the best preventative care. But, not only that, they need to make sure they are doing self-checks. Always be your own health advocate. There is nothing more important that doing both checks!

I was just four months shy of celebrating my five-year anniversary of my cancer recovery when I found yet another lump doing my self-checks. I was almost in remission. I heard that word again, “malignant”. This lead to another surgery. This time, instead of a bi-lateral mastectomy I had a lumpectomy. I also underwent radiation, which just finished 2 weeks and 3 days ago from my writing this. I am currently planning my next comeback and I will be videoing my recovery and journey at our own OUC Health and Wellness Center. Be sure to like the OUC Health and Wellness Center Facebook page here to follow my journey and to keep up with health and wellness tips!

On another note, did you also know that the OUC Health and Wellness Center is currently accepting applications for the Hilltoppers for Hope Scholarship? I organized this scholarship fund as I understand the importance of support, and what better way to support a student than to help better their future. Any current or incoming OUC student who has battled or is currently battling cancer is encouraged to apply. The deadline to apply is Mar. 30, 2018. An application form and a copy of the guidelines may be found online here.