*Thank you to Jen Blanton for this guest article.
I’m glad I got cancer.
Shocking, right?! It’s true. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back now, I am so grateful I was diagnosed and am here today to share this chaotic, sometimes gut-wrenching story.
I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in the middle of the pandemic while I was trying to save my service-based business that works with kids in small rooms. Oh, and also homeschool my four little love goblins. I still have trauma responses with zoom.
It was early November 2020, I was about to turn 35, not yet old enough for routine mammograms. I was in the shower and just happened to be using a washcloth, which I never use. I’m more of a loofah kind of girl. But for whatever reason, I was using one and was washing my chest and felt what I thought at first was a huge knot close to my sternum. I broke my sternum in college; that’s a whole separate story and still very traumatic. I digress.
A bumpy sternum was normal for me, but as I pushed my hand deeper into my chest, my heart sank. A rush of fear gave me goosebumps all over my body. At that moment, I knew I had cancer. I leaped out of the shower, breathing fast and heavy, calling out to my husband in panic to come and feel this foreign ball in my chest. I felt every side of this thing. I was begging the universe to make it squishy so I could convince myself it was a cyst of some sort. That was the only way I was able to sleep that night. “Yes, it is a cyst. I have a cyst in my breast. I do not have cancer. I am only 34, I have four children under the age of six, I am healthy, and I make good choices. I am a good person.” ….
But none of these things matter to those little cells that love their bow chicka wow wow time of duplicating.
Oddly enough, my GYN had just announced a few months prior that she was going through breast cancer treatment. So in my head, I thought if I called her, that would confirm that I had it. Oh, how silly our brains are. So I went to a GYN I had never met before (wrong decision!) I was able to get a quick appointment, thankfully. They told me it was a cyst and not to worry. I pushed for a mammogram because remember, I knew already. I couldn’t get into the imaging place for over a week. I had my first mammogram but because of my healed broken sternum, it was very challenging. They had to get two ladies in there to help me! That confirmed the lump and then next was the biopsy. Thanksgiving happened before the biopsy. This fear lingered over me. I was a shell of a human. We traveled to Virginia to stay at my dad’s lake house, just our nuclear family unit. I look back at pictures of that week and don’t recognize myself, I lost 15 pounds in a month from stress. I wasn’t eating, I was barely sleeping. I silently cried every time I held my kids.
The Call That Changed Everything
On December 15th, I got a call from the GYN talking about options before I even knew the biopsy was positive (see what I mean, going to this person was a mistake). “Oh, you didn’t know, did you?”- still makes me cringe. Yes, I knew, but it wasn’t a reality until someone else said it.
The next two days were the absolute worst days of my entire life.
I thought I was going to die. I cried for 48 hours straight. I had so many thoughts: “I want to see my children grow up, help them pick out their outfits for their first dates, celebrate when they do something they’re proud of, see their faces when they’re happy, and hold them when they’re sad. I want to just lay in bed with them every night and talk about their day.” I was told it was aggressive and that we had to act fast. So I went into survival mode, kept a checklist of everything I had to do, and trusted the process.
I got into my amazing oncology surgeon and oncologist on days 3 and 4; they were super quick. A few days later I was having surgery for my port, chemo education, case manager meetings for insurance, fielding phone calls, text, and messages from friends and family, and deciding if I was going to try to save my hair or let it fall out.
Two weeks after my diagnosis, I found myself in the chemo room at Roper Mt. Pleasant. Bless those chemo nurses! I was in a private room because I decided to use a cold cap, which was so incredibly painful. It only lasted two treatments. The first chemo went really well. I had so much medicine to keep me from getting sick, I actually slept for the entire six hours. I never once thought of not doing chemo. You don’t really know what you’ll do until you’re in that position. I decided the best route for me was traditional medicine with as many supplemental forms of treatment as we could afford.
I won’t include all the details of chemo, but it was ugly. Many times during it, I wanted to die. I couldn’t bathe myself and had never yelled out in so much pain before. I was so sick. My treatments were three weeks apart. I was lucky if I had two or three days where I wasn’t throwing up all day. I had hyperemesis during all four of my pregnancies, I would have welcomed hyperemesis. Cancer nausea is in its own category of torture.
I wanted to stop treatment and just wither away. Dying would have been easier.
But then I would see a little note pushed under my bedroom door because I had to stay away from my kids during Covid (also a terrible time to get cancer!) They would color pictures or write love notes. Every day I would receive at least three things under the door. We would have moments where I would get to see them, hug them even, but they had to be very calculated and controlled. I wasn’t allowed to be around them a lot. We had a lot of walks outside: me on one side of the road, them on the other. Even though they were young, they understood mommy was sick and we were fighting this together. I am proud of the compassion they learned. I am proud they saw me weak but fighting every day. I am proud of the humans they are.
Intense chemo lasted four months, my full chemo was 14 months. I was able to stop the really intense drugs in April 2022. I had a lumpectomy and two months of radiation in the middle. I lost my hair, my lashes, and my eyebrows. My skin was smooth but hurt. I developed signs of heart failure, a side effect from one of the chemo drugs, so we had to pause treatment two times. I had neuropathy and couldn’t walk. I couldn’t play piano (my profession) and prayed every day to regain feeling back in my hands. I finally finished chemo and my oncologist said “Many people choose to stop; we are so proud of you.” I’m sorry, what? YOU HAVE A CHOICE? WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME I HAD A CHOICE? Well, that’s because I am an overachiever and a major rule follower. So in my book, there was no choice.
The only choice I could make was to continue and make it to the end.
I didn’t know if I was going to actually live until after the surgery. Surgery would confirm if the chemo worked and if it had spread by testing the lymph nodes. So from December 15th through May 25th, I feared every day that my children would lose their mom and my husband would have to remarry because managing four children alone would be too much. I did warn him that I would haunt his new wife from the grave forever. We found humor when we could; we cried a lot. I spent a lot of time escaping into whatever trashy reality show I could. I couldn’t read because I was so nauseous, I couldn’t eat anything except carbs because of nausea. I could barely sleep, but I wanted to sleep for 14 months and wake up at the end.
So then February 2022 came and I was suddenly done. Or so I thought. During a routine CT scan, a very large cyst was found on an ovary and wasn’t going away. The fear spiral began. Another oncologist, more chemo, more radiation. But this time the surgery was first. A full hysterectomy and partial oophorectomy. Well wouldn’t you know, it wasn’t cancer and now I could finally move on.
So by May 2022, 17 months after my diagnosis, I could now move forward.
So, why am I glad I got cancer?
Every single day, I love that I am alive. I take Tamoxifen every morning to keep it from coming back. That has its own side effects, but every morning when I swallow that pill, I have a moment of gratitude. I am grateful I am alive, I am grateful I have medication to keep me alive, I am grateful I have choices, and can trust my team of doctors to keep me alive. I felt so close to death, my perspective on living made a 180. I am now on a different timeline than I was before. Life really is so short. I may die tomorrow, but now I know that I am living my purpose. I am still a work in progress, and I still make mistakes. I’m not the person I was two years ago when I was seeing posts on social media about breast cancer, thinking that would never be me two months before becoming that person. And I am not yet the person I will be two months from now. I am a wife, a mother, a business owner, and a badass breast cancer survivor.
Ways You Can Help Someone Going Through Cancer
Please don’t give unsolicited advice to people going through treatment. You do not have all of the information and it is already extremely confusing without people messaging you information.
Ways you can help:
- Free childcare
- House cleaning
- Donate to charities that help cancer patients,
- Volunteer if your church has a group that helps cancer patients
- Donate blankets, gloves, and slippers for treatment days
- Caregivers need support; don’t forget about them! Offer respite care, or go to a doctor’s appointment in their place as a second person to take notes.
Going through treatment, even with insurance, may be financially devastating for a family. We had a more than full-time nanny because my husband had to literally take care of me. He wasn’t working full-time while I was in treatment, but bills keep coming. Your mortgage statements don’t stop. We had healthy savings and retirement accounts, but this greatly affected those. Our savings was zero by the end. And that was with so many people helping us. We were so privileged during treatment, I never lost sight of that. Not everyone has help in the ways we did, and that made a huge difference for us.
About the Author
In addition to being a Breast Cancer Survivor, Jennifer Blanton is the founder of FAME Performing Arts in Mount Pleasant. A career-ending injury to her sternum left Jen unable to sing for many years. After rehabilitation and teaching herself how to sing and later perform, she gained a deep understanding of the voice. Jennifer has been teaching private voice lessons to youth and adults for over 10 years now. In addition to vocal instruction, she also teaches sight-reading, rhythmic dictation, and solfège study with solid breathing and vowel production techniques in classical, music theater, jazz, and pop styles. She resides in Mt. Pleasant with her husband Ed Blanton, owner of Encore Music Production, and their four children.