There are so many challenges when it comes to someone’s individual journey with cancer. For Jennifer Brown, the most challenging part was maintaining the emotional strength when physical strength seemed unattainable.
“I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia in October 2011,” Jennifer shared. “Routine bloodwork prior to an umbilical hernia operation showed an unusually high white blood cell count. The hernia operation was cancelled, and further tests were performed to verify a diagnosis. The results from a bone marrow biopsy detected the translocation of 2 chromosomes which are prominent in this disease.”
Jennifer was in her early 30s when she received this life-changing diagnosis. With two young children, she and her husband knew the road ahead would be challenging for the entire family. However, even after her diagnosis, her symptoms remained minimal and manageable. Jennifer and her husband saw this as an opportunity to work through the overwhelming challenges of acceptance and to discuss the uncertain future of their family.
The standard treatment for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia is an oral regimen of Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors that block proteins from overproducing immature white blood cells. Many patients have long lasting responses to this treatment and continue to live their life in a relatively normal manner. Sadly, Jennifer was not as fortunate.
“The growth pattern of abnormal cells continued, and harmful enzymes were present in my liver,” Jennifer explained. “A more aggressive approach was required, an allogeneic stem cell transplant, where an infusion of blood forming cells helps to stimulate new bone marrow growth and restore the immune system. I was matched with an unrelated donor and received a life-saving stem cell transplant on February 13, 2013.”
Excited and exhausted, Jennifer continued to monitor the potential side effects common after a transplant. Thankfully, her side effects remained mild and her body was slowly regaining strength, even as she felt weak and sick from the medications prescribed to support the new foreign cells in her body. It was a long process, taking an entire year to regain strength and mobility.
“Cancer sucks, for real!” Jennifer exclaimed, reflecting over the many challenges faced. “There are so many questions and worries and emotions. It is exhausting!”
“The most important thing to know is that you are not alone,” She continued. “Others before you, and many after you, will experience the excruciating news of the big C! Please reach out to others, talk through your emotions, and lean on those around you. It’s ok that your world feels dark right now. But remember that the only way to rid darkness is to find the light. That light comes in many forms: hugs from family, conversations with a friend, enjoying your favorite meal, feeling the warm sunshine on your skin, taking a nap, allowing yourself the grace to know that it will be ok!”
A few short years after regaining her strength, Jennifer and her family made a major move from Canada to Texas. Jennifer has continued to celebrate her healthy and able body by keeping up with her now-teenage kids, singing, trying her recipes, and keeping active with her Peloton bike. She even set (and conquered) new goals by completing an interior design program while preparing to open her own business. Though it has now been years since her diagnosis, Jennifer still receives small reminders that life is fragile.
“The fact is, sometimes I act stronger than I feel,” Jennifer expressed. “Sometimes I forget I even had cancer because so many years have passed, and everything seems so normal. But 6 months ago, bloodwork showed potential sign of relapse. I was flooded with fear and questions. I could feel that darkness beginning to invade. I remembered the importance of being hopeful and realistic. I remembered the importance of showing up in my life, having uncomfortable conversations and allowing myself to choose joy. It’s not always easy, but I’m working on it! Fortunately, with consistent monitoring, the markers are no longer detectable. We are so relieved about this positive news, but realistically know what will be will be.”
Looking back over her journey filled with uncertainty and challenges, Jennifer shares that the most unexpected part involved joy. Despite being the sickest she had ever been, she allowed herself to experience moments of pure, unadulterated happiness.
“It seemed pointless to waste energy being upset,” she said. “Cancer had already taken so much away – I wouldn’t let it take my joy. Your life is a story consisting of moments, and cancer is just a moment in your story. You are in charge of every moment in your life and it is up to you to make them meaningful. It’s up to you to choose joy!”
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