Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I always knew I was high risk. Eight other women in my family have had breast cancer, so I knew my chances were very high. I went to MD Anderson Cancer Prevention Center every year for my ultrasound and mammogram. 8 years ago, I went in for my yearly appointment; they found something suspicious, biopsied it and then I forgot about it.
I got my call about the positive diagnosis a few days later, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, which is the second busiest transaction day of the year in our business – a bakery. After I hung up the phone, I had to keep working and get through the day. After we closed up, my husband and I drove to San Antonio to spend time with family, and I couldn’t find the right time to tell him until we had gotten in bed to go to sleep at midnight – that’s a long time to keep a secret of this sort.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I had been going to the same nurse for the last seven years, and she was the one who called me. I knew her well, so when she gave me the news, I promptly told her that I was going to cut them off. I told her I wanted the “$50 tummy tuck,” meaning reconstruct my breasts with tissue and fat from my stomach. I had to keep a positive attitude, and I knew that was what I wanted to do.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I was recommended to have a lumpectomy and radiation with genetic testing, but I chose the bilateral mastectomy with chemotherapy and genetic testing. It turns out I made the right decision, and the doctors were happy I chose the path I did because I had 14 spots of cancer in the left breast.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
There was nothing about the treatment that particularly surprised me. I had seen it first-hand with my mother. I think the most surprising thing is what I learned from talking to people. Everyone has a different experience and different tips and advice to share, and that insight is what I found most valuable.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
It is important to remember that sometimes the treatment and process can be harder on those around you than it is on you. You have to think about them too. I threw a surgery party for my husband and sister while I was having my operation. I packed up food and drinks (and baked goods, of course) for about 30 people to share while I was in the operating room. My surgery was scheduled to take 14 hours, and I didn’t want them to be alone. My cousin invited close friends and family to be with them. A friend of mine made a wonderful sign in book, so I could see who came to my party, and she left a space for them to even write me a note. It was a wonderful keepsake, and I used the book throughout my journey for all the people who made meals and came to visit, I had them sign my book. It also helped me to keep track for thank you notes.
Also, your attitude and your willpower are everything. And you will find all the support you receive helps you stay strong. Definitely tell people and let them help you.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I am an eight-year survivor.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
When I was going through chemotherapy, I was afraid of getting sick and rarely ventured out. I missed a few family occasions because I didn’t want to get on a plane. I even stayed away from the gym and got out of shape. I think that’s one of the most important lessons I learned. Staying in shape is just as important as your attitude and willpower. There are things you can do to improve your strength, such as swimming or walking because you don’t want to go to the gym when you are on chemo (too many germs).
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
I am here today because of early detection. A friend told me about the Cancer Prevention Center at MD Anderson, and it truly saved my life. It’s important to get the right kind of diagnostics. I knew the mammograms weren’t enough for me. It’s important to know your risk and family history, as well. A lot of times people are afraid to tell others what they are going through. But talk about it – you have no idea how many people care about you. How many people will rally around you to support you; make you food, pick up a few groceries, go shopping with you when you’re feeling self-conscious, take you to chemo or anything you need. You can’t change the diagnosis, but you can determine the journey.
STAY POSITIVE and you can find a way to find the positive in this life changing experience.
Janice Jucker, co-owner of Three Brothers Bakery and passionate advocate of breast cancer awareness, has been dedicated to helping the business grow and thrive, including opening a third location recently. A graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, Janice uses a strategic five-year plan, as well as her business knowledge, to help guide the business.