Whether it’s heartfelt anecdotes or inspiring triumphs, the Scarves Dot Net gals love to share stories — especially when they’re incredibly touching. That’s why we’re starting a new series called SDN Spotlight. From influential bloggers to community leaders, we’ve scoured the blogosphere for the most inspiring men and women.
Jacki Donaldson is an Ohio native now living in sunny Florida. A mother of two boys, she works from home as an editor and writer, and runs her own business — JustEdits.org. Since 2004, Jacki has been sharing her cancer experience with readers on My Breast Cancer Blog. In addition to a career in writing, breast cancer has launched her into a life of healthy eating, vigorous exercise, and a big appreciation for the little things in life.
SDN: When and how was your breast cancer discovered, and how did you and your family deal with the news?
A few days before Thanksgiving in 2004, my hand landed on the lump in my left breast while washing in the shower. I knew it was breast cancer because it was unlike anything I had ever felt. I had been aware of my breasts for a long time because they had always been dense and lumpy; I had a breast reduction in 1996, and the surgeon who removed four pounds of tissue said the tissue was so dense, he had trouble taking some out and leaving some in. I always wondered how I would ever distinguish between normal lumps and abnormal lumps — until I felt that small, round, hard mass under my fingertips. It was like a frozen green pea, and even though everyone in my family suspected it was nothing serious, I was sure it was cancer. It was. I was 34 years old.
SDN: Can you briefly describe your journey as you battled breast cancer?
My first stop post-lump-discovery was to see my OB/GYN. He sent me for a mammogram, which did not show anything suspicious — this is not surprising because mammograms often do not detect cancer in young women with dense tissue. A follow-up ultrasound did show the mass, which was solid. “It is not a cyst,” said the doctor who did the test. “I want this out and in a jar.” I asked if it could be cancer. “Yes,” she said.
A needle biopsy came next, then a phone call the following day from the surgeon who did the procedure. “Unfortunately, cancer cells were found,” he told me, and that is when my crazy journey began. There was a lumpectomy and a horrible allergic reaction to the tape that bandaged my skin, a port surgery, four infusions of Adriamycin/Cytoxan dose-dense chemotherapy (given every two weeks instead of every three weeks), growth hormone injections, two hospitalizations, one blood transfusion, six weeks of radiation, one year of Herceptin infusions (given every three weeks), physical therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressant therapy, port removal — Whew! Now, eight years later, I visit my medical oncologist and radiation oncologist once a year, and I get an annual mammogram.
Early on, I was sure I would die and leave my babies, who were almost 4 years old and 18 months old at the time of my diagnosis, and I had some very dark and lonely moments. Now, though, I am able to look back on all of the horror and view it as something not all that bad. I try to use my cancer experience as a vehicle to better my life and spread hope for others.
SDN: You were recently informed that you have zero chance of your cancer returning. Can you explain the emotions you felt when you heard the news?
I was stunned when my doctor told me my cancer is not coming back. I was not sure when I heard her make the declaration that anyone could honestly say such a thing, so I asked for clarification. What I learned is that my type of cancer (stage I, grade 2, no lymph node involvement, ER/PR-negative, HER2/neu-positive), while very aggressive, has only been shown to recur within five years. “If it does not come back in five years, it is not coming back,” my doc said. Now, she did not say that I am forever immune to all cancers, just that I will never have a recurrence of the very same cancer. I am beyond thrilled about this.
SDN: Who was your biggest support through all of this? What advice can you give for those who have a loved one facing this fight?
I had a husband at home, a mom in my neighborhood, and a sister three miles away; these three people were key to my survival — so were friends and family members near and far, the bunches of moms in the MOMS Club I belonged to for a few years, the Chemo Angels who sent me cards and letters, and I could go on and on.
My advice to those with a loved one fighting cancer is to do what these people did for me — sit with the patient during chemo treatments, deliver meals, send cozy socks and brownies and books, babysit kids, and most importantly, do not say, “Let me know if you need help.” Just show up and help. Oh, and saying to a cancer patient, “Everything will be okay,” is not always a good pick-me-up. Saying, “This really sucks,” sometimes means a whole lot more.
SDN: You said that losing your hair was even worse than surgery, chemo, and radiation. Can you walk us through your hair transformation and the effect it had on you?
I wanted nothing more than to not lose my hair, which, about 11 days after my first chemo dose, starting pulling out in clumps. Despite my best efforts to hang onto my locks, I surrendered one February day and allowed my then 4-year-old to assist my husband while he shaved my head. It brought some relief — falling-out hair was painful; each strand felt like it weighed a ton, and my scalp was super sore — but it was mostly crushing. Losing my hair stripped me of normalcy. Not only was I sick, but I also looked nothing like myself, and that was hard to swallow.
Fortunately, I had prepared for this dreaded scenario and was armed with a human hair wig that matched my color, texture, and length. It was so seemingly real that a neighbor one day told my sister, “It is so great Jacki did not lose her hair!” That comment helped a lot, and I spent the rest of my bald days confident with my cover-up. I wish I had been bold and courageous enough to bare my noggin in public, but I was not. Sometimes, I would show the real deal at home, but I felt most comfortable when I looked like my old self, and that required a wig, which I now send to women who, like me, find hair loss a traumatic experience.
SDN: Last year, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you declined all “pink” offers and published a series of “Raw October” posts on your blog, featuring detailed cancer information and personal interviews. What inspired you to make this change?
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I bought into pink, but that is because I did not really know any better. When I started realizing that people were profiting from pink, often via unhealthy products, I decided I would not align myself with the color or the campaigns that compromise real progress in the fight against breast cancer. Does fried chicken in a pink bucket do anything more than boost food sales? Nope. Sure, perhaps a portion of proceeds go to some cancer charity, but often, the total is not enough to make any real difference. And fried chicken is not what women trying to minimize cancer risk should be consuming. I prefer fundraising for and donating directly to worthy causes.
SDN: You have used your blog as a personal outlet and a source of inspiration for others going through similar situations. What are you hoping that other women take away from the blog?
At first, I did not even know my blog would help others. I launched it after my husband suggested I log my progress online so family and friends could check in at their convenience. My posts were simply a means of communication. Then, they became a form of therapy. Journaling my hopes, fears, milestones, and setbacks helped ease my anxiety and soothed my soul. The magic of reaching other women was an unexpected surprise. Today, my blog averages about 200 unique worldwide visitors a day — if only a few of these people find a take away from my 8-year-long story, then I am happy.
A special thanks again to Jacki for being a part of our SDN Spotlight project and sharing her inspiring story!