What an earth-shattering six weeks. It feels like both yesterday and a lifetime since the last time I walked into Studio 1A. In the past six weeks, I learned I am positive for a BRCA2 mutation, had stage 2 breast cancer, then had a double mastectomy and learned that my life will soon look very different. Despite regular mammograms and sonograms, it wasn’t until genetic testing that I learned I have a gene mutation. A gene mutation that is the cause of my breast cancer.
Read more about Jill’s breast cancer diagnosis and her message about genetic testing here.
The surgery was three weeks ago. Honestly, physically, I am doing OK. (Emotionally is a different story; it’s been a roller coaster.) My double mastectomy was successful. A week after my surgery, my 45-minute meeting with my oncologist, Dr. Joseph Sparano at Mount Sinai in New York City, started with the news that there is a good chance I am cancer-free, but I need further treatment to help ensure that.
The results of the tissue my medical team had biopsied had come back, and they believed they had gotten it all. I had an aggressive tumor removed, and my surgeon, Dr. Elisa Port, removed 18 lymph nodes, one of which was cancerous. They actually test the nodes in real time, so I found out the results of the biopsy when I woke up from the four-hour surgery. There is always a small possibility that cancerous cells could have escaped, so the rest of the meeting was dedicated to planning out my long road ahead, and what the doctor suggests I do to prevent this insidious disease from coming back. Honestly, it was a good thing my husband was with me and wrote everything down because, as you can imagine, it is a lot to take in.
I have to say this before I say anything else: I cannot tell you how helpful, inspiring, heartwarming, and life-changing it was to get all of your messages of strength and prayer after I shared the news of my breast cancer diagnosis. I received so many DMs, texts, emails, and calls. Strangers came up to me on the street saying, “Can I please add you to my prayer list?” or, “I am going to get tested because of your story. I didn’t realize how important genetic testing was on both the mother and the father’s side of the family.”
I am so touched, blown away and humbled. That really is what has helped me during this slow journey of healing. What I didn’t realize was almost everyone I have spoken with has either been through a version of this or watched someone go through it. I personally think it is easier to go through it than watch your loved one suffer; at least, that has been my experience with my family. It hurts me the most watching them watch me go through this. It shakes a family and a household. The past three weeks have felt like a lifetime.
I have gotten word from so many of you that you got tested for gene mutations and have gotten your results back. Most of you have received good news, and some of you have tested positive and are now deciding what to do. After going through this first part of my treatment, I understand it is such a personal choice because everyone’s circumstances, diagnosis and outlook are very different. But again, it should be your choice.
The most important message from me? Many dear friends, viewers and family have said, “I am afraid to have any kind of genetic testing, as I am afraid of what I will find out.” I totally understand that sentiment and reasoning. But let me be very clear: Any preventative measures you can take, although not easy, are easier than battling cancer. This entire process is life-changing, but adding cancer to the mix is a different kind of battle — one I do not wish on anyone.
I have shared the happy, the sad and now the scary. We will get through this together.
Also, even if you test positive for a gene mutation that means you are more likely to get cancer, it is not as if preventative surgery is your only option. You can choose to get scanned more often and tailor a plan with your doctor. It’s all about doing what is right for you. No one can force you to do anything if you are not ready. Knowledge is power. Technology is power. I am writing this to ask that you please be your own best friend and advocate and educate yourself. No family should have to go through this unnecessarily.
This coming Wednesday, I will find out my exact next steps and treatment plan from Dr. Sparano. He will look at the findings from my Oncotype test, which is a test that determines the activity of a group of genes and how likely they are to respond to treatment. I do already know for sure I will need to have another surgery, preventatively, to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes to decrease my risk of ovarian cancer. In my case, I will need a full hysterectomy, as I have had fibroid issues in the past. I will also need to take anti-hormonal drugs for 5 years. And I will most likely need chemotherapy because of the aggressiveness of the tumor. That is the part that hit me the hardest — the idea of chemo.
Dr. Port has been my rock throughout the last few weeks and has told me numerous times: “Whatever it is, you will get through this. Chemo is not a walk in the park, but it is not always what you picture. There are good days and harder days, and people work, exercise and do many, if not all, of their favorite activities throughout it.” She has spoken to me about ways to save my hair and has suggested I have a wig made, “just in case.”
I am still in a state of shock, of course. Dr. Port told me that most people reconcile and process leading up to the surgery after being diagnosed. Yet, all of this happened so fast for me. There was not a lot of time to process upfront, and a lot of that is going on now after the fact. Cancer has knocked me down. It has. I used to jump out of bed every day to begin work, but now every day is a choice. Do I feel like staying under the covers and crying? Yes. Every day. But I did that when I first started recovery … and little by little, like today, I am choosing to get up. I am choosing to fight. And I am choosing to use my strength and platform to do my best to crush cancer.
My two nurses, who work with the incredible Dr. Mark Sultan, who is doing my reconstruction, will forever be in my life: La Rae and Marilou were extraordinary. The first time I looked in the mirror after my mastectomy, La Rae said to me, “You are under construction.” It was the first time I laughed, and I realized I am allowed to cry, to mourn, to smile, to laugh. To be.
I will be on and off the air dealing with treatment for the next six months, but I thought it was important to share this journey with you in real time. I have shared the happy, the sad and now the scary. We will get through this together.
Thank you again for all your love and prayer.
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