It was Monday May 14th 2018. I had been thinking I was pregnant for about a week. I finally took the at home test (okay more like seven of them!) and they were all positive! I immediately called the doctor’s office and I got an appointment for the next morning at 9 am with my good friends OB. That in itself felt like a miracle! Now knowing that I was pregnant I thought for sure that the lump that I had been feeling on my right breast HAD to be from pregnancy. That night, two days before our three-year wedding anniversary I told my husband we were pregnant. We were both super excited and nervous. He continued to say “I knew it” “I just knew it!” The next morning, we went in to confirm the pregnancy and got to see our little babe on ultra sound. They said I was about six weeks along! *Side note* my cancer timeline goes by my pregnancy weeks and how far along I was at the time! The weeks and trimesters are very important when it comes to cancer treatment and surgeries during pregnancy. Towards the end of my appointment Dr. Kyzer (my OBGYN) had asked if I had any other questions. I told her about my lump. She felt it and said that it felt like a fibroadenoma but wanted to send me to a breast specialist to be sure. Now looking back and also seeing so many other moms’ stories of their lumps being brushed off as nothing…I am so thankful to her for sending me to Dr Whitworth.
A week later at about 7 weeks pregnant I had my appointment with Dr Pat Whitworth. I was only nervous because he was a male and I always had a female doctor. I even told my husband not to come with me because they would just look at it and tell me it’s a clogged milk duct or something. After looking at it on ultra sound he said he wanted to do a biopsy right then and there, and that’s when I felt like I knew it was cancer. I called my husband and he rushed to be by my side while they did the biopsy of my tumor and a lymph node. If you know me, you know I am terrified of needles. I was very nervous about the biopsy. Dr Whitworth said oh don’t worry we numb you up and it just sounds like the sound that the ear pierce gun makes. I look at him terrified and said “I’ve never had my ears pierced!!” That was the joke we made throughout the whole journey.
At 8 weeks pregnant we went in and got the news. You have cancer. I didn’t cry. I just sat there and stared at them and my husband. I felt I had already prepared myself from the biopsy. My husband is a warrior. He was my patient advocate, best friend, and personal assistant starting right then. We had not even told family or friends that I was pregnant yet. My husband Ted took on the task of calling all our family and friends and letting them know we were pregnant but that I was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
I sat around for a couple weeks with our dog by my side feeling very tired from the pregnancy. I binge watched Impractical Jokers (I highly recommend!) and laughed a lot. Ted was always out on the phone calling doctors and friends to get opinions of doctors and who was the best. Sure enough we ended up with the BEST team of doctors who had a solid plan.
We found out that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, triple negative, stage 2 with lymph nodes clear. Most dread the thought of triple negative but for treatment with me they felt best about that type as any hormone therapy while pregnant would be difficult. At 10 weeks pregnant on June 5th I had a lumpectomy and one lymph node removed. If I was not pregnant they would have done the double mastectomy but since I was pregnant I could not be under anesthesia for that long. June 5th is technically my cancer free day but we decided to attack from every angle in case there were any stray cells. July 2nd I had my port placed. It may sound silly but that was the worst part for me. Being pregnant I could not have any anesthesia only local numbing. I felt most of it, plus could not take any pain meds after. On July 5th 2018 at 14 weeks pregnant and the start of the second trimester I started chemo treatment. After the first trimester the chemo is too big to cross the placenta so it is safe for the baby. If you are pregnant and fighting cancer I urge you to reach out to me and/or an organization called “Hope for Two”.
I did A/C first. Every three weeks instead of every two because my oncologist did not feel good about giving me the nuelasta shot (which brings up your white blood cells) while pregnant. My counts surprisingly all stayed very high during treatment until after I delivered, which just proves that Charlotte had my back and was fighting too! I am an artist so I brought some things to paint to help the time pass. I recommend bringing books, crosswords, painting supplies or whatever you enjoy doing. Thankfully I had very little side effects until the fourth and last A/C where I just got extremely tired. I did start to lose my hair after the second treatment. It was very itchy and hurt so I had my husband shave it. We got an amazing wig from HPI hair partners here in Nashville, TN and no one could tell It was a wig! People would always say how much they loved my haircut! We made it a funny experience since he is bald also, and it brought us that much closer together.
I then started Taxol. Taxol can cause neuropathy so my oncologist Dr. Vandana Abramson suggested icing my fingers and toes. It is not fun. I REPEAT NOT FUN, but it is worth it because I have no neuropathy! I suggest wearing two pairs of latex gloves and two of the super fancy puke bags on your feet! I iced them for 1.5 hours every Tuesday for 9 Tuesdays. I am thankful for Vanderbilt 100 Oaks private infusion rooms so I could curse the ice without anyone knowing other than my husband and Jerry Seinfeld.
At 32 weeks pregnant we did the Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk here in Nashville TN benefiting The American Cancer Society. I could not walk the whole thing but it made me feel so empowered! Until then I had not really put myself out there as fighting cancer. I wanted my journey to be all about my pregnancy. It was not until then that I decided it would be about both and I was okay with it! Being with other women, men and their co-survivors who have gone through it was so helpful.
Of course we won the game! She was and is the strongest girl I know. She is so brave and helped her mommy kick cancers butt. Charlie spent three weeks in the NICU at St. Thomas Midtown. It was hard leaving at the end of the day but I knew she was in the best hands.
I don’t think I could have done it without her. After she was born I decided to finish my last three taxol treatments to push out the time I could have at home with her before surgery. Charlotte came home on December 18th and got to spend Christmas with us! It also meant that she got to come and celebrate with us at our last chemo treatment. There was no better feeling knowing that she got to be there by my side as I rang the bell, after all she fought too!
I then had 5 weeks to either start radiation or have a double mastectomy. For me there was no question. I wanted to have the surgery. I would always worry about it if I didn’t.
February 4th 2019 I had my double mastectomy. I don’t remember much until getting home the next day from the hospital. My family came in to help and recovery went quickly with not too much pain. Getting comfortable in bed was the worst part. I would recommend an over the bed table as I found it very helpful! The drains to me were uncomfortable and grossed me out but my husband did all the cleaning and emptied them for me! It was devastating not being able to hold our baby girl but her being so small had its advantages. After surgery I had a 10-pound weight limit which meant I could still hold her and about a week later I could lift her. I had tissue expanders placed during surgery and went in for four fills. The needle looks scary but the fills don’t hurt, they just are a little tender that night. I had the final surgery on April 25th 2019 to replace the tissue expanders with the implants. I thank my plastic surgeon Dr. Jacob Unger for making me feel and look normal again! He was so great through the whole process. He made me feel so comfortable and his bedside manner was so calming. I would HIGHLY recommend him if you are in the Nashville area. It took about a year, but boy (or should I say girl) did it go by fast. All of my breast tissue from surgery came back clear and Charlotte, Mommy and Daddy are doing great!
My biggest take away would be to STAY POSITIVE! I found out that I had the best humans in my life and I promise you do too. So many positive and helpful people right here in my community with family living so far away. I am so thankful to my family who made many trips down to help after surgeries. If you surround yourself with positive people it makes the journey go by easier and faster.
The second thing is to be your own advocate! No matter what. I was one of the lucky few that had so many advocates for me. My husband and my doctors were all so great and made me feel comfortable and informed about every decision. However, that is not always the case. I hear time and time again women saying they get brushed off by doctors saying they are too young, or new moms where doctors say it’s just a clogged duct. It makes me so sad to say but it does not matter how young you are, just get it checked!
Lastly ask questions, and take notes. NO QUESTION IS STUPID! My husband would always walk in with a long list of questions and walk out with a sheet full of notes. It is so helpful to have everything written down and in one place.
It’s a tough journey but you can do it! It won’t be easy but it’s worth it. I love this quote and I am not sure who said it but I lived by it and I hope it brings hope to you!
“YOU WERE GIVEN THIS MOUNTAIN TO PROVE IT CAN BE CLIMBED”
*My husband and I also did a podcast with Jake Owen about our journey that I would love for you to listen to. His podcast is called “Good Company” and its #20 “The journey of Jocelyn and Ted”
Through it all my faith and trust in God has gotten me through. My church and all of the prayer warriors have brought me so much peace and hope. Trusting Gods plan for me and my family and what he has in store for us!
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Thank you for sharing your journey of hope, faith, survival, belief, joy, miracles and love. Blessings and love to you, Ted and Charlie!