Journey to "The Walk"Posted by Paula Paine on April 30, 2014 in "Your OU" Jennifer Schoenwetter has been an Angell Snyder School of Business adjunct faculty member for OU-Wisconsin since 2005. With the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk” just around the corner, she shared her very personal and inspirational story with her colleagues at OU-WI, who participate in the walk each year.
There are a few types of phone calls no one ever wants to receive, let alone at work. In late September 2011, I received such a call. “You have breast cancer,” were the piercing words spoken from the other end of the phone. To say I had a million thoughts run through my mind is an understatement. If you’ve ever received difficult news, you can appreciate the emotions running through my head. I’m scared, worried, mad, reflective, and calm. Oh, and toss in a good measure of stress to the mix.
Since I’m not one to sit back, I started asking questions. A lot of them. I felt like I was being tossed a 1,000 pieces of information all at once. That, or I was back in college cramming for finals - not that I ever waited to the last minute to study! Little did I know at the time, you’re assigned an entire cancer team—surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses, physical therapists . . . and a navigator.
Enter Ann, my navigator. The American Cancer Society truly understands the questions, concerns and worries of those undergoing treatment. Among the very important support network I had, Ann was integral in making sure I had my appointments, called me after each one to answer questions, called before my procedures to ensure I was going to be ok and knew what to expect—even meeting me at the hospital the day of my surgery and subsequent radiation treatments.
One of the key aspects of treating cancer is preventing reoccurrence. Treatments such as chemo and radiation are typical. “If only I had a crystal ball” was often running through my head. Do I need chemo? Should I elect to have chemo? All I knew was that I didn’t want to ever have to receive a phone call like that again, and I was willing to do whatever it took to prevent it.
Given the advancements in breast cancer research, I was actually given a look into a crystal ball—the Oncotype test. I was elated that I could, scientifically, determine whether or not chemo was needed. However, the news that the test cost $4,000 was disappointing. I couldn’t afford it at the time. So the emotional roller coaster began again. I actually put myself in the frame of mind to elect to have chemo on the off chance I’d get cancer again. Enter Ann, once more. With donations and supporters of ACS, I was able to receive the test—at no cost to me!
Never in my life did I ever want a low test score—but I did that day. I knew a low score would indicate I didn’t need chemo. I spoke to many women who had been diagnosed before me. The test was relatively new—and they wish they had been able to have the information available when they had to make such difficult decisions. I’m happy to say, I didn’t have to undergo months of chemo.
Jump ahead to late 2013. Again, with the advancements of technology and research, I underwent genetic testing. While controversial, I chose to have the test based on some of the other aspects of my medical diagnosis. Low and behold, it turns out I’m genetically predisposed and at a very high risk of getting cancer again.
In January 2014, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy. The good news is, just three years after my initial diagnosis, there were even more advancements in testing that allowed me yet another look into my crystal ball. I was able to make a life-altering medical decision while healthy and not facing another dreaded phone call.
The reason I’m sharing my story is two-fold. First, after my initial diagnosis, I experienced something unexpected. I received a phone call at work one day from a coworker who wanted to thank me for speaking out. Little did I realize that the woman had never had a mammogram. The fact that I could, unknowingly, help change someone’s perspective on mammograms and preventative health measures was humbling.
Secondly, I’m sharing my story to ask you to join the Ottawa University Team for “The Walk” on May 3. Over the last several years, Team OU has raised thousands of dollars. Every dollar donated literally changes lives—it changed mine. Donations support much needed research, but just as importantly, help women who worry like I did make solid medical decisions with a glimpse into their own crystal ball. The information and resources are there. If you can’t attend the walk, you can donate at http://main.acsevents.org/goto/TeamOttawa14.
Let’s stop breast cancer. Together we can provide the support and information to save lives.