#YWMBC: Jennifer

Name: Jennifer Landa
Age: 31
Occupation: Client Relations and Event Coordinator
Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 
First Diagnosis – 26 years old; Reoccurrence – 29 years old
Breast cancer type: ER / PR+, Her2-, BRCA2
Breast cancer stage:  First Diagnosis (June 2014) – Stage 3: Found lump in right breast, biopsy confirmed it had spread to 2 lymph nodes. Cancer free Oct 31, 2014 post double mastectomy, finished radiation Feb 2015. Reoccurrence (August 2016) – Stage 4, Metastatic: Came back in the bones (Sternum, lower right ribs, spine & right hip), 10 brain tumours, and for Christmas 2017 they found it had kept spreading, from T3 all down my spine, my whole right hip, and 6 liver Mets.
Treatment: First Diagnosis: 8 AC/T Chemo treatments, double mastectomy with expanders, 14 lymph nodes removed and 30 sessions of radiation. Reconstruction/exchange surgery 6 months post radiation Reoccurrence: Pain management, symptom management & quality of life. Oophorectomy, 10 sessions of whole brain radiation, gamma knife radiation on 2 brain tumours, spot treatment radiation on spine and right hip, chemotherapy. Started on Ibrance, but have moved through 6 different chemo options as each of the ones I have used failed me. Currently on Olaparib – a daily pill form chemo.
Occupation: Client Relations and Event Coordinator
Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: First Diagnosis – 26 years old; Reoccurrence – 29 years old
Breast cancer type: ER / PR+, Her2-, BRCA2
Breast cancer stage:  First Diagnosis (June 2014) – Stage 3: Found lump in right breast, biopsy confirmed it had spread to 2 lymph nodes. Cancer free Oct 31, 2014 post double mastectomy, finished radiation Feb 2015. Reoccurrence (August 2016) – Stage 4, Metastatic: Came back in the bones (Sternum, lower right ribs, spine & right hip), 10 brain tumours, and for Christmas 2017 they found it had kept spreading, from T3 all down my spine, my whole right hip, and 6 liver Mets.
Treatment: First Diagnosis: 8 AC/T Chemo treatments, double mastectomy with expanders, 14 lymph nodes removed and 30 sessions of radiation. Reconstruction/exchange surgery 6 months post radiation Reoccurrence: Pain management, symptom management & quality of life. Oophorectomy, 10 sessions of whole brain radiation, gamma knife radiation on 2 brain tumours, spot treatment radiation on spine and right hip, chemotherapy. Started on Ibrance, but have moved through 6 different chemo options as each of the ones I have used failed me. Currently on Olaparib – a daily pill form chemo.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer

1 word – Foodie. I love everything about food – the smells, tastes, flavours, colours, cooking it, eating it, indulging…and most importantly; how it brings people together. Whether it’s a picnic, sitting on the dock at the cottage, the dinner table or cozying up with some munchies on the couch … just YUM! Okay…so I really need 2 words – Foodie & Yum!

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?

Too many to pick just one so I narrowed it down to my top 2!

  • Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
  • LMFAO – Party Rockers
How did you discover your breast cancer?

I found the lump in my right breast doing a regular self-check. If you don’t do self examinations on a regular basis, please change this and start checking! I know you’re probably sitting there, similar to what I was like before I found the lump — thinking I’m not a doctor. I don’t know what I’m looking for or what it’s supposed to feel like if something’s wrong. Trust me when I tell you – when you find a lump, you know it doesn’t belong there. I thought I was paranoid and that maybe I had imagined the lump and it wasn’t really there. I went to get it checked out just in case. I, unfortunately, was right. When in doubt, you can never be too careful. I had to push pretty hard with the clinic to get the proper testing needed because of my age. Multiple doctors told me I was too young and it was likely just fibrous tissue or a benign cyst. The sad truth behind it all is that if I hadn’t trusted my own gut feeling and pressed forward, chances are you wouldn’t be sitting here reading my story.

What went through your head when you received your diagnosis?

The first sentence out of my mouth was “Can I still drink wine on chemo?!” (True story). Then all the ‘normal’ response thoughts started to filter through – how did this happen? Did I do something to cause it? Can they get rid of it? What are the next steps? WTF? Why…? How…? I’m a healthy eater, a runner, I live a balanced life…. I just…I just don’t get it. A few hours after the appointment with my oncologist and surgeon, armed with a pile of information on breast cancer, drugs, and a treatment plan overview that started in 2 days, I sat at home on our balcony (with a rather large glass of wine) and then the tears came. We had a good cry, took a sip of wine and screamed “F*CK YOU CANCER”. And just like that, I began the biggest, scariest, and hardest challenge that I’ve faced to date. One I’m still battling today with the same F*CK YOU CANCER attitude. I’m not done yet – so cancer – you can kiss my a$$.

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?

My best friend and I were at the mall wandering through stores because she didn’t want to grab coffee to chat, as being so young, surely the scans would come back clear/not cancerous. Ironically enough, as we were walking through Victoria Secret, she casually asked how my appointment went and I said that it hadn’t gone so well and that we need to sit down and talk about it. She looked at me, burst into tears and said “Great…!! I’m never going to be able to come shopping at this store ever again”. Shock — and just the way your head processes change, it’s a funny thing.

Who or what is/was your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?

I have been so blessed to have a beyond amazing network and team of people all around me. My family, my friends and my whole medical team (Doctors, nurses, admin staff). And honestly, the fact that I’m just stubborn – if I’ve got my mind set on something, I’m not giving up or stopping until I get there. It may not always be a steady uphill climb, and it may not always be moving forward, but people keep supporting me, loving me, taking turns being brave and strong for me when I can’t and that keeps us all moving forward together.

What is/was the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?

Unrelatability. I tried reaching out to a few different support groups online and in person and found it to be a very challenging and lonely process. Sure, there are lots of people out there with breast cancer – but they’re substantially older than I am. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, or grand kids. My career was just taking off and words like savings, RRSP contributions, continued education, travel, etc. are/were the common words in my vocabulary. You can be loved and supported by all of the non-infected people in the world and still feel alone. It actually wasn’t until I went on the Rethink Retreat that I truly felt connected to people who just get it. It was such a humbling life changing experience. So many powerful women with their own stories that I could relate to on a level of communication I’d never experienced before. All the drugs, side effects and feeling non-human sucks too – don’t get me wrong, but when you’re around people that just get it, without you having to explain and reexplain yourself over and over again makes it so much more bearable.

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer?

I’m a stronger person than I thought I was. When everything is falling apart and you haven’t had a good day, a good hour, or even a good minute, in who knows how long, and all you want to do is give up, the tears start to well up, and you take your time to fall apart and be sad. Grieving is definitely an important part of this process too but I take it all in, have a mini pity party, take a deep breath and start picking up the pieces again because as much as feeling less than human sucks, cancer sucks more and I’m not ready to let it win.

To give yourself more credit than you do. It’s okay to be sad, to cry, to feel like you want to give up and stop fighting. I would say there are more things wrong with you if you DIDN’T feel that way from time to time. But don’t let those thoughts and feelings consume you. Life is a balance and you’re fighting one of the biggest battles you’ve ever had to tackle. You are a strong woman and you will kick this disease to the curb.

 
In one sentence, what words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

To follow Jennifer’s ongoing story follow #boobiewarrior and @jenn_landa


To read more #YWMBC Profiles, click here.

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