Becoming A Survivor

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to, U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, “about 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 13%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.” I used to scroll past posts like these with a “thumbs up” thinking that’s all I needed to acknowledge the movement.

Eleven years ago, I was invited to be a special guest in Kansas City’s Fountain Pinking Ceremony on October 2nd, 2010. It was a beautiful event where selected people gathered, adding pink dye to the city’s most famous fountain on the Plaza. The ceremony was a symbolic way to honor those who have passed away and support those who have survived their journey, while raising awareness about breast cancer. I was honored to be included as a VIP, but I remember feeling out of place. I wasn’t a survivor. And at the time, I hadn’t personally known many women who had experienced this horrible disease. I was invited to participate because I am passionate about supporting women advocacy events. I was honored to show my universal support of women, while recognizing one of the difficult journeys we may encounter in our lives.

Along with my mom and my two daughters, I also invited a friend who had recently overcome breast cancer. The event was especially meaningful to her and her daughter. Through the years, we’ve remembered it fondly together, and I am thankful we got to know each other better that day. However, it took a full decade before I truly understood the magnitude of the ceremony, and most of all, what it means to be a survivor.

Fast forward to Fall 2021 – I am on my way to being a breast cancer survivor. I am only two months into my journey, and I have a long road ahead of me before I can say I am officially cancer free. Earlier this year, my dad passed away from congestive heart failure. His decline inspired me to be more proactive about my own health. I am forty-five years young, but I want to manage my health now so I can age comfortably and gracefully.

I scheduled my first mammogram in early August after noticing some concerning signs. Initially, I tried to tell myself I was overreacting. Breast cancer does not run in our family, and I believed my healthy lifestyle had decreased my chances of developing breast cancer. However, the results of my mammogram revealed several questionable masses. I had an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy of two suspicious tumors on the same day. Within a few hours of checking in for a routine mammogram, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I went to the appointment by myself, but as the discussions became more serious, my husband was able to join me to hear the diagnosis. I had invasive ductal carcinoma. Following several weeks of appointments and other tests, including a breast MRI, I ended up having a single mastectomy on September 10th. Some get a choice between a lumpectomy, or mastectomy – I did not have an option. During that surgery, twenty-one lymph nodes were also removed. The cancer had spread into four of those lymph nodes, requiring me to start chemotherapy in October, eleven years after I naively participated in that memorable Pinking Ceremony. 

Throughout these physically painful and emotionally challenging weeks, I have been encouraged by the positive diagnosis that my form of breast cancer is in fact “survivable and treatable.“ I understand and appreciate the value of these words. However, it’s a lot to process. Cancer is frightening, no matter how many encouraging words we hear as we face each uncertain step towards recovery.

Everyone’s treatment plan is different. For me, five months of chemotherapy will be followed by four-six weeks of radiation, followed by medication, followed by reconstructive surgeries within the year ahead. While all of these are truly wonderful medical advancements, it feels like a series of violating forms of punishment. Cancer is a crime against our bodies, and our lives are interrupted as we do the time for an offense we didn’t commit.

While I cannot fully control what is happening to my body, I can control the narrative. Having a positive mindset is a crucial part of healing my whole body and my broken spirit. I learned a long time ago, centering oneself in a place of gratitude can offset suffering. And I am most grateful for the abundance of support I have received from my friends, family, and church communities in recent weeks. I have a gratitude debt for which no amount of thank you notes can adequately express my appreciation for the love, support, and acts of kindness our family has experienced. I realize there are others who face this journey alone. Having such a strong and supportive network is a blessing, and has eased so many uncertainties.

Initially, I felt the need to turn inward and remain private, keeping my community small. Now, I’m choosing to share my journey with a wider circle to put the spotlight on breast cancer, not me. As I learn more about this disease, I want to do my part to raise awareness. I’m hoping my story will inspire others to get a mammogram, even if it doesn’t run in your family, or if you think you are considered low risk. For women over forty, it’s easy to dismiss abnormalities as hormonal changes. Plus, many of us fill our schedules with other things, putting off important appointments for ourselves. Yes, mammograms are awkward and uncomfortable, but cancer is worse.

Make your body a priority. I know I wish I had done so sooner. Overall, I have felt healthy through the years, and I didn’t feel the need to see a doctor for anything. However, based on the spread of my cancer, it appears my body has been carrying this for quite a while, long before the visible signs finally got my attention. I will always wonder if I could have avoided such an invasive surgery and aggressive treatment plan had we found the tumors earlier. I am also aware that thinking about what I could have, or should have done doesn’t help me heal, or change anything about my situation. Once again, I am reminded to live in the present, one moment at a time.

We caught my cancer in time, making it treatable and survivable. This is only a short chapter of my life, which will have a long lasting impact. I’ve been given a second chance to be stronger and healthier than before. 

Oct. 2, 2010 –
Kansas City Pinking Ceremony
Sept. 9, 2021 –
Jim always by my side.

39 thoughts on “Becoming A Survivor

  1. Teresa Stewaty

    Beautiful. Grateful for the way you’ve named the challenge of this honestly—but also made it an invitation to care. That kind of vulnerability is the very foundation of courage. Thanks for being courageous!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jane Kieffer

      Jeni, my prayers continue for your physical and emotional strength through your recovery. This blog is such an honest and personal writing of your journey. Thank you for sharing and helping many other women face their own health struggles. 💗

      Like

      1. Ann

        Jeni, thank you for sharing. You are right this is a short chapter but will change many things. Appreciation of the small gifts in life was a major change for me. Also I stopped taking things too seriously. You already have chosen to take the road to gratitude and positivity. Those are so healing to the mind and body. You are in our constant prayers. Sending love!

        Like

    1. Linda Stanislaus

      I hope you keep us in your journey, Jeni. Your story will hit home to many, including me, so that maybe it will encourage someone else to take that step to go get a mammogram. I have been cancer free for 11 years, but your thoughts are never “free” of the word cancer. I am a classmate of your Mother and read your story. You and your family will be in this journey together and my thoughts and prayers will be with you.

      Like

  2. Becca Bruce

    Jeni you are in my prayers. I wish you did not have to go through this, but I’m glad you have such a strong support system of family and friends. Bless you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sonya Haas

    My prayers are with you as you so bravely share your personal journey of breast cancer.
    I am a breast cancer survivor. August marks eight years . I started regular yearly mammograms at age forty. I was diagnosed at age sixty three.

    Like

  4. Michelle Madden

    Jeni and family. I am just a phone call away. Please let me know how I can help with cleaning, shopping or anything. Love you all. Michelle Madden

    Like

  5. Kerry Kuluva

    Jeni, your words are so powerful and moving. I am so sorry you are now part of this large group of brave women and pray you will get through it with very few side effects. I know your strength and positive attitude will help so much too! Thanks for helping spread awareness so that others will continue to get checked out. xoxo

    Like

  6. Lisa Bastean

    Jeni, Marcia and I are keeping you and your family in our thoughts and prayers. Marcia is a 23 year survivor and I am a 13 year survivor and we thrive. We found being grateful for others kindness, the break through in treatments and laughter helped us in our journeys. Hugs.

    Like

  7. Ernest James

    You’ve got the right attitude and determination! You are on it now. You’ve got a great support team and medical team. We will overcome, and in the process you are raising awareness for others. Thank you! Hugs

    Like

  8. Jim Adler

    Thank God for modern medicine!

    I believe cancer is from the pit of hell. Medical science is making incredible advances re treatment, especially in Israel. I believe that one day, many, if not all cancers, will have a medical cure…and maybe even preventative measures—natural or pharmacological or both..

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    1. Yes! I agree. It is the pit of hell, but I have a lot of Angels on my side to chase the demons away. I am hopeful over the next 10-20 years, we learn more about cancer and find a way to prevent it, or at least treat it with less invasive and interpuntive measures. Thank you for your love and support!

      Like

  9. Beth Markowitz

    Jeni, I am sending good vibes your way. Please, please, please allow yourself or other dear friends/family to reach out when you need sweetness, kind words, hugs eventually, meals, treats, etc. There’s going to be times when you need to let others take care of you/lift you up. And I say that from a selfish place because it’ll make me feel better to help in some small way. But you might not be able to ask for help so perhaps someone else can agree to be that person to reach out for you. You are in my heart as are your family members.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jeni, thank you for sharing this part of your journey. I sense God working through you as you embrace this new way of being. We have been praying for you since the night that Jim stopped by for a visit and shared your diagnosis with us. We place you each day in the God’s loving, healing embrace.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Laura Katz

    Jeni, I am so sorry you are going through this, but you are right, you have an army of supporters and people here to hold you up with positivity and prayer. You are brave and you are strong, your positive attitude will take you far!

    As my mom always says, “the way to eat an elephant, is one bite at a time.”

    I will keep you in my thoughts and just know I am here for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Julie Welch

    Jeni,
    I am so sorry you have to go through this. Thanks for sharing your journey. We are all with you and are praying for you. Your friends and family are always here for you – no matter what. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I LOVE your positive attitude! Julie

    Like

  13. Annette O’Connor

    Jeni you are in my thoughts and I will continue to send you healing energy as you continue your breast cancer treatment. Everyone’s journey is different but if you ever want to talk to a veteran I’d be happy to do that.
    Stay strong and rest in the support and love of your family and friends. 💕

    Like

  14. Pingback: Friendships and Our Emotional Capacity to Sustain Them – Write Now

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