Meet Breast Cancer Grad, Jess McIntern
Name: Jess McIntern
Age at Enrollment: 28
Major: Breast Cancer - Stage 1A Grade 2 DCIS, ER/PR/HER2 Postive with ATM Genetic Mutation
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? I had a very small lump in my right breast that was found by my gynecologist during my yearly visit.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? I had no symptoms and did not find the lump myself during my self exams. It was incredibly close to my arm pit, an area I did not consider part of my breast.
Courses Completed: I completed 6 rounds of TCHP Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy in August, Herceptin (H) infusions continued every 3 weeks for a full year (ending this April), followed by a Lumpectomy and Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy in September, followed by radiation which was completed in November. Due to my cancer being Estrogen receptive, I get a Lupron shot every 3 months to keep my ovaries in menopause and take an aromatase inhibitor (Arimidex) every day. The Lupron and Arimidex treatment will continue for the next 5-10 years (depending on new findings at the 5 year mark). My port removal surgery is this coming April once my Herceptin treatment is complete.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you you get through it/them? My most difficult physical moment was being violently ill during chemotherapy (3rd & 4th treatment). I have always been terrified of vomit, my own as well as everyone else's, so handling the nausea and vomiting was incredibly difficult. It was the most terrified of my own body I’ve ever been. Chemo was horrible all around. It was the summer time and not only was I sick, bald and constantly teary eyed, but I was banned from the sunshine due to photosensitivity, told I couldn't enjoy adult beverages, and suffering hot flashes in the heat. I felt as though cancer treatment had taken everything I enjoyed away from me. In retaliation I refused to let go of the summertime ritual my boyfriend Joe and I have had for the past 4 years, which is taking underwater photographs. We planned our photo shoots for a few days before I was due for another chemo infusion, when I was feeling reasonably well. I couldn’t eat, drink or enjoy the sun but I could hold my breath and create beautiful art. We were able to make incredibly powerful images (featuring my rarely seen bald head) and the process made me feel beautiful and strong.
My most difficult moment mentally is now. Treatment is coming to an end (the repetitive appointments part that is) and without the constant surveillance I worry about recurrence. I find myself worrying that the cancer will come back somewhere else in my body. My breasts will be scanned in some fashion every 6 months, and I’ll have check ups with my doctors but knowing the rest of my insides aren’t being routinely looked at is nerve racking.
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? Have as much fun as humanly possible at all stages. Laugh often and try to find humor in even the darkest of situations you may find yourself in.
How did you find joy during this experience? I found joy in being able to turn my tragedy into something to help others. I shared (and continue to share) my journey through social media. Cancer wasn’t on my radar at 28, so I assumed it wasn’t on other young people's radar either. I figured if my experience could help someone, then every ounce of despair was worth it.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? The cancer treatment process showed me that I am much stronger than I thought I was. It also forced me to be an advocate for myself, both in the doctor’s office and with friends and family. It also forced me to accept help from others and accept my limitations at times.