By Jan Hillman
My name is Jan and I’m three months into my third breast cancer journey. I was first diagnosed in 1986 at age 34 with stage two breast cancer in my right breast. I was treated with a lumpectomy. Eleven years later, another tumor appeared in the same breast. A PET scan revealed a second mass, both stage two, and I had a mastectomy and reconstruction. My life has been an amazingly positive journey, and this third chapter is a defining one.
The new year of 2023 began positively. After years of volunteering for Breast Wishes Foundation (BWF), a Southwest Ohio-based non-profit organization granting wishes that bring joy to those with breast cancer, it was time for me to take the next step. That next step was answering the invitation to be the chair of the BWF Board.
As Board members, we rolled up our sleeves. With a new 2023-25 Strategic Plan and vision to grant 500 wishes by the end of 2025 (as of this printing, 250 wishes have been granted), we grew our Board, raised more funds, and strategically marketed BWF.
Early in the year, I was feeling fatigued and my joie de vivre had diminished. My primary care provider ordered blood work that revealed that I was anemic. She discussed this with me and recommended that I have a colonoscopy and an EDG, in which a gastroenterologist looks at the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. I had both of these procedures and awaited the results.
On a Wednesday evening in mid-May, I received a call and news from my gastroenterologist, Dr. Samuel, which was shocking, breathtaking and completely unexpected. He tried to soften the message by saying that he had bad news. Something about the hour and his tone of voice made that statement clear as glass. He continued to say, “Jan, you have metastatic breast cancer in your stomach.” Wait – what?! Dr. Samuel underscored the rarity of this finding, how it was surprising to him and the pathologist who had analyzed the biopsied stomach tissue. He told me that he had contacted an oncologist, Dr. Chamarthy, who would call me as soon as we said goodbye.
My mind flew back to 1986 and 1997 when I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. All those old memories and treatments resurfaced, including the lumpectomy in 1986 and the mastectomy in 1997. Back to the present time…
Dr. Chamarthy called me directly and we scheduled an appointment right away. My fiancé, Barry, accompanied me to my appointment and Dr. Chamarthy underscored the rarity of breast cancer metastasizing to the stomach. We discussed options for diagnosis and treatment and decided to proceed with additional diagnostic testing including PET scan, CT scan, brain MRI, bone biopsy, bone marrow biopsy, and breast MRI. Good news came from the breast MRI; there was no breast cancer found in my breasts. However, beyond my stomach, metastasis was discovered in my spine, rib, pelvis, sternum, bone marrow and skull (not brain).
For my treatment, Dr. Chamarthy recommended chemotherapy in the form of intravenous paclitaxel and I had a port placed in my upper chest to ease chemotherapy administration and blood testing.
By my choice, I am receiving 95% of my health care from Premier Health here in the greater Dayton, Ohio area, with most of that care at Upper Valley Medical Center (UVMC). I chose UVMC because it is close to home and, moreover, the compassionate, caring, skilled staff and their friendliness provide a comfortable feeling at every appointment, treatment and procedure there. My health care team is superb and every member including the nurses, physicians, technologists and all the other members have gone above and beyond to provide me with stellar care aimed at my healing.
I am an equal opportunity healer and have continued to meditate and pray daily, keep up with my yoga and stretching practices, eat healthfully, walk, garden, and have weekly reiki and chiropractic treatments. The outpouring of love, prayers and support from friends, family and complete strangers has been astoundingly beautiful.
It has been three months since I first learned of my metastatic third breast cancer. I’m living each day fully and that means keeping my life perspective in laser focus – forgiving, letting go and healing; not taking myself or my disease too seriously; having loving, memory making, and meaningful, thriving time with family and friends; and maximizing the power of positive change that comes with the most challenging life situation I’ve ever experienced.
In real terms this also means devoting time, energy and strategy to raising funds and granting wishes for Breast Wishes Foundation. My approach is inviting people to learn about the power of bringing joy to those with breast cancer by granting wishes and requesting their consideration to give the gift of joy. Helping grant wishes that bring joy for others with breast cancer is bringing me immeasurable joy. Joy is truly the mother and father of hope.
I commend the work of Surviving Breast Cancer! SBC’s mission to empower those diagnosed with breast cancer and their families from day one and beyond is powerful and uplifting, the core values are right on and the approach is strong. Bravo and kudos to Surviving Breast Cancer!
Thank you for sharing your story, Jan. SBC loves you!
On the Podcast: Breast Cancer Conversations
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