Name: Jennifer M Crespo
Occupation: Secondary School (High School) Teacher
Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 40
Breast cancer type: ER+ PR+ HER2-
Breast cancer stage: 2A
Treatment: Bilateral Mastectomy, Chemotherapy, Tamoxifen
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer
I am an identical twin.
What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?
Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
How did you discover your breast cancer?
Through my first mammogram. I had felt calcifications two years prior, and had them checked at the age of 38. I was told not to worry, and that I was young. My mom was first diagnosed with Stage 1A cancer at age 50 and was in remission for 17 years. In 2018, it metastasized to her bones, but I now call her a metastatic thriver. She’s incredible!
What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?
I thought, “OMG. I have a four year old. This can’t be true.” I had just recovered from years of debilitating vertigo (that was also not taken seriously by many physicians), and had been feeling great. Then I thought, “If I got through vertigo, I can get through this.” So, initially, I was fearful and cried, but handled it with a positive attitude. It took weeks for the news to really set in.
What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?
I had more than one woman share with me that they had just had a mammogram and freaked out thinking that a benign fibroid or lump was cancer, that they cried thinking they had cancer, and thank God that they didn’t. I really was floored.
I had another woman in the medical community say, “I had a friend get cancer in her 40’s. She passed away.”
I will say though that I had a lot more positive support and heard more positive stories. Thank goodness!
Who is your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?
My mom is my strongest support since she had a mastectomy, had been treated with chemo, was on tamoxifen and is now living her life. I also have an incredible therapist, a solid group of female friends, a few friends who have been through cancer, a great acupuncturist, and am being treated at a great hospital in New York. The healthcare team there is outstanding. My surgeons are not only talented, but have impressive bedside manners. The nurses are compassionate, skilled and encouraging. My oncologist is also invested in this, and has been such a great support, treating me as a member of her team. She disclosed that her own sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at 26.
What is the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?
I have one son, and had put off having a second child because I had gotten really ill in my pregnancy but I was hoping to give my son a sibling. Since my cancer was hormone receptor positive I was advised not to get pregnant for five years after chemo and not while on Tamoxifen. Although, I have had three chemo treatments and regular periods thus far, I think when my periods start becoming irregular and/or hot flashes start, that will be difficult.
Plus, I have a young son and think, “Will I be around for him in 20 years?“ We’re also a dual income family where I need to work, and am fortunate enough to have some paid sick leave. However, I think, “Is this the right job for me? Is it making me ill? What are my options if I were to switch? I can’t afford a pay cut and to lose my family’s health insurance plan.”
What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself?
I have learned that being sick doesn’t mean being broken, and that I actually have a positive spin on life. I have spent much of my life being cynical, and have had bouts with anxiety and depression. Now, I know that I am allowed to reach out, share my experience with others, ask for support, take time off without feeling guilty and recognize my feelings (rather than shoving them to the side and denying them.) I’ve also learned about my body’s incredible healing ability.
What words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
To have a strong conviction in yourself KNOWING that you will heal and develop an enormous amount of strength and resilience. Also, to be self-forgiving; this isn’t “your” fault.