“Life can be even better after cancer”
Jennifer Kelley is a true cancer thriver! She has survived breast cancer for 11 years, melanoma for 10 years, LMS for more than 8 years, and uterine adenosarcoma for 2 years, and she is currently NED. She hopes that her story will provide hope and inspiration for others.
In 2008, Jen was treated for breast cancer, receiving radiation on her right side. About a year later, she developed a melanoma in the same area. And two years after that, she was diagnosed with stage IV LMS in the same area, probably originating from a blood vessel (it would likely be classified as stage III under current guidelines, she says).
After a lymph node tested positive for LMS, all of the lymph nodes on her right side were removed, as were the mass and her right breast. She went through 6 cycles of chemotherapy with Gemzar and Taxotere; while she lost her hair and felt very tired, she had no other serious negative effects.
About a year and a half later, Jen discovered a lump under her right arm while showering. She consulted her primary care doctor, who lived down the street, and they initially treated the lump with antibiotics. But it kept growing. When she met with her breast surgeon to make a plan, the lump was the size of a ping pong ball—but when they met again just 13 days later, it had shrunk tremendously, so surgery was postponed. However, she was still able to feel it, and when it began to grow and change once again, it was removed. Sure enough, the lump proved to be an LMS recurrence.
Jen recovered well and was preparing to celebrate 5 years of being NED when–just two weeks short of that happy milestone–a thickening in her abdomen proved to be uterine adenosarcoma, stage 1B. Jen believes the adenosarcoma was probably related to the tamoxifen she had received during her breast cancer treatment. Jen had her uterus removed intact and urges others who need a hysterectomy to do the same, rather than having morcellation. Since her hysterectomy, she has been cancer-free!
Jen has learned a great deal over the years about managing cancer, and she has some valuable advice for her fellow LMS survivors. First, she recommends that we try not to waste energy worrying about things that have not happened yet—though she knows this can be tough advice to follow, especially right after being diagnosed! She remembers the stress of transitioning to seeing her oncologist every 3 months rather than every 3 weeks, and of fearing that changes in her body might be recurrences. At one point, she was very concerned about a lump on her neck that she was sure was LMS; it turned out to be swelling from a cat scratch. She still has some anxiety before scans, but she knows that if cancer arises again, she will make a plan and get treatment, as she has done in the past.
While Jen would choose a mastectomy rather than radiation if she could somehow go back in time to when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she would not change anything about her LMS treatment. She has had doctors she trusts completely, received excellent therapies, and learned a great deal from other survivors. She recommends that everyone have a consultation at a sarcoma center if they can, even if they have to coordinate treatment from afar.
Jen’s comprehensive cancer center provided art therapy, group therapy for women living with cancer, and guided imagery sessions, all at no extra charge. She took medication as needed for depression and anxiety, and she also participated in two six-week programs focusing on Chinese medicine. Jen learned a lot about mindfulness, which has helped her remain in the present moment and focus on moving forward, rather than on the difficult experiences of the past or worries about the future.
One of Jen’s favorite healthy practices is walking, which she says is a lifesaver for her. Jen’s doctor told her that if cancer killed her, it would probably be by slowly wearing out her body rather than by quickly accelerating. She believed that the most likely place for her cancer to metastasize was her lungs, so she decided to focus on keeping them as strong as possible. She researched walker-friendly marathons in her area, developed a training plan, and completed her first marathon (26.2 miles!). Jen has since completed two full marathons, multiple half marathons, and too many other races to count. Jen truly believes that life after cancer can be better than life before it, and she is happy to share the tools and insights that have helped her. February 2020 will mark 3 years NED for Jen, so she is well on her way to that hard-earned 5-year celebration!