Jennifer T.

Breast Cancer - Stage 2

Jennifer Thigpen

City of Hope cared for me as a whole person. My doctors saw me, not just my disease. That approach gave room for all of me to be involved in my care, and I believe that made a great deal of difference in my outcome.

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results. 

I was a 36-year-old mother of two when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I do not have a family history of breast cancer. I am athletic and exercise regularly. I eat healthy and nutritious meals. I had recently completed a half marathon. I was not taking any type of hormone therapy. I had none of the risk factors normally associated with the occurrence of breast cancer in a woman younger than age 40. The diagnosis was a shock.

I was close with my doctor at the time, and we both cried when she called with the news. In that moment, I thought about all I treasure in life, what I value, what is important to me. And I knew right then that I would do whatever it took to get through whatever was headed my way.

At age 2, my son was still too young to know what was happening, but my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time, understood. That was the hardest part for me. I was so worried about how she would feel and how she would cope with the experience of her mother going through cancer treatment.

Gaining control

Once I had the diagnosis, I wanted to seek multiple opinions about what to do next. I wanted to know all my options. I knew I wanted to stay near my home in Atlanta. I was seeking an approach where I would be an active participant in the healing process.

CTCA Atlanta* was the second place I called. I could feel how different it was from other health care facilities the moment I walked through the door. From that first moment, it was clear that CTCA® was focused on healing. It felt like everyone we met shared the same goal: to see each patient walk out the door after treatment and not have to return. After meeting everyone on my Care Team, I knew that CTCA was the right place for me.

A cancer diagnosis may bring an acute sense of losing control. You may start to feel that your life is suddenly out of your hands. Because of that, it is so important to be in the care of people you trust. It is essential to find ways to regain control, to take charge where you can. CTCA fulfilled both of these needs for me. I felt confident in my medical oncologist and surgeon. I was considered an active participant in my care. My doctors were always clear that the final decision at any step of the way was mine. The numerous integrative approaches available to patients at CTCA provide an additional outlet for regaining control. With so many supportive care services available under one roof, there was so much I could do to help myself. Whether it involved dietary changes, pastoral care or supplements recommended by my naturopathic provider, these supportive therapies helped me through treatment.

Only temporary

My treatment at the Breast Center for Advanced Oncology at our Atlanta hospital included chemotherapy, breast cancer surgery and radiation. I had six rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks, followed by a double mastectomy and then six weeks of radiation. After the treatment was completed, I had reconstructive surgery.

Just before the surgery, my doctors wanted me to have an MRI so that they could see whether the chemotherapy had had an impact. I grew very nervous at this point. I remember going into the MRI machine thinking about how my doctors had done all they could up to that point, how I had tried to take care of myself and that we had all done our  best. I decided that no matter what they saw on the image, I would be happy with the result.

Music was playing in the MRI machine, a religious piece. I had spent a great deal of time focusing on my faith during the weeks of chemotherapy. Hearing that music connected to me spiritually. I began crying, and I knew that it was out of my hands, I wasn’t in control, and I was at peace with that.

Faith became one of the most important aspects of my experience with cancer and its treatment. I recall a pastor at CTCA reassuring me that it was perfectly okay to wonder why this had happened to me—to ask God why someone who has two children, who exercises and eats well, why this would happen. But, she said, don’t get stuck there. Don’t get stuck asking, “Why me?” Instead, let the question move into, “What are you trying to show me?” That question allowed me to stop worrying, to pray and give thanks to God, and keep going with my day. It allowed me to relinquish some control.

I had a great deal of help from the staff at CTCA. I had nutritional and naturopathic support, both of which helped me cope with treatment side effects and stay strong and healthy. I experienced very few side effects and nothing as severe as I had imagined when I first received the diagnosis.

My husband was also my caregiver, and he is the unsung hero of my story. I don’t know how he did all that he did, but he did everything. He drove me to appointments, took care of the children, took care of our home, and made me feel supported in every way. The drive to CTCA from our home was about one and a half hours, and he made it work every single time.

I was nervous about how my daughter would handle this time. But we got through it together. Above all, I explained to her that this was temporary, and we always emphasized the short-term nature of the treatment. I had a calendar where I could cross off the days of treatment so that we could see, every day, that this was a temporary situation. I kept a schedule and a timeline to remind all of us that cancer treatment was not for the rest of my life; it was only for a few months. I also kept a list of people we know who have been through cancer treatment and come through just fine.

Job change

For a little while, cancer treatment became my job. But soon enough, it was time to return to my regular job, and to our normal life. 

Yet life is different. I am more focused on teaching my daughter about healthy lifestyles. I am not as serious as I was before. I’ve learned to take things a bit more lightly. I am back to being physically active, and I cherish these activities more than I used to.

We are a little less rushed each day. We used to get through breakfast, through the school day, rush to after-school activities, eat dinner, then bedtime, and then the same routine the next day. Now, life is a little sweeter. I take a few extra minutes to appreciate the day and feel thankful for it. I am enjoying life more. I don’t worry about breaking up our routines and letting go a little bit. We are together, and we have our lives, and that is all we need.

With cancer, the mental battle is just as hard, if not harder, than the physical battle. And just like we have medications to fight the physical disease, you need tools to face the mental challenges. For me, faith became that tool. Now I continue to use that tool every day.

CTCA cared for me as a whole person. My doctors saw me, not just my disease. That approach gave room for all of me to be involved in my care, and I believe that made a great deal of difference in my outcome.

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.

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