“Get your baseline mammogram as soon as possible, even if it’s before you’re 40. I never thought this would happen to me, and I got the surprise of my life. You know your body, so if something feels off or if you have a gut instinct, listen to it. Breast cancer does not have to run in your family for you to experience it. I don’t think I’ll ever know why I had that nagging feeling… but I’m so glad I listened to it.”
Jenny Sweet had no reason to get a mammogram– she wasn’t 40 yet, and she had never heard or known of a family history of breast cancer in her family. She had spent most of her life feeling confident that she didn’t have anything to worry about, because it couldn’t happen to her.
“In July of 2013, I was having my yearly visit with Dr. VanCuren, who was my OB/GYN at the time,” says Jenny.” I was 38 years old. Something was nagging at me for some reason to ask about getting a baseline mammogram. Because of my age, I hadn’t had one yet, but I wondered if now would be a good time to start, just to get things checked out.”
Dr. Van Curen didn’t appear to think anything of it, but he assured her that it would be fine to go ahead and get a mammogram, if that’s what she wanted to do. Because there was no reason for her to suspect anything, Jenny waited until November to have one done. “I ended up having my first mammogram right after Dr. Van Curen’s unfortunate accident. I had turned 39 by this point. There were no lumps or signs that anything would come back abnormal, but it did. I needed to switch physicians anyway, so I started seeing Dr. James Hall. From there, we started on a journey that I could never have been ready for,” she comments.
Dr. James Hall called her on Black Friday to say that she had what he thought was stage 1 breast cancer.
“From what he could tell with the mammograms I had, it was very widespread and he recommended that the best treatment option would be to remove my right breast,” says Jenny. “I went in for a mastectomy in Indianapolis on December 18, 2013. When they biopsied the tissue after the procedure, it turned out to be stage 2 breast cancer. I felt overwhelmed… it was like things just kept getting worse,” recalls Jenny.
It was very widespread – just as Dr. Hall had suspected – and it had spread to two of the four lymph nodes that she had removed. “Originally, I was somewhat relieved because I didn’t think I would need to have chemo. After that news, it was definitely a necessary part of my treatment,” she says. “I started chemotherapy in January of 2014 and endured six rounds. Thankfully, I did not need to have radiation too.”
On top of all of this, Jenny balanced a full-time job as a third grade teacher in addition to her role as a wife and mom to three kids. “I had a lot of help and support through this entire experience, but looking back, I’m really not sure how I did it all. There were days when it was so tough… I definitely felt the ups and downs of chemo treatment, just as they said I would. But I wanted to keep things as normal as possible for my kids – Kyleigh was 12, Kendall was 9, and Easton was 5 at the time. I didn’t want my children to see me looking or feeling like anything less than their strong momma. I didn’t want to worry them any more than what they needed to be. Cancer is a scary word, no matter your age – so we tried to talk to them about it in a way that made it less scary,” she remembers.
The “we” refers to the unwavering support that Jenny found in her husband, Jason. “He was my rock through this whole thing. I honestly don’t think I could have done it without him,” she says. “I also had some good friends at school who were another great support system. A couple of women had been through a breast cancer diagnosis before, so they were especially helpful in understanding what I was going through, trying to manage everything with how I was feeling from treatment. My mom was great too, and I had some other wonderful friends who made such a difference for me. I just can’t say enough about the support I was given in so many ways by so many different people.”
Her family has had lots to celebrate since her mastectomy and chemo treatments… so far, her mammograms have come back normally and things have been fine.