One evening in November 2020, Jennifer Dell was getting ready for bed when she found a lump in her armpit. She called her doctor first thing in the morning and got in to see him that day. “He did a physical breast exam and couldn’t find anything. He said it was a swollen lymph node and to follow up in a couple of weeks. I did just that, but it hadn’t changed.”
Soon after, she got a mammogram and ultrasound done. Her mammogram came clear, but the ultrasound showed a small lump in her left breast. “I was in total shock when the doctor and tech came back in to tell me. I had a moment and cried. They said it was essential to find out if it was cancerous or not. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Jenn was booked in for a biopsy and days later was asked to come in for her results. That day, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“My world instantly changed as my doctor told me I had cancer. Because of Covid 19, I had to hear these awful words alone while my husband and kids waited for me outside,” she says.
She started chemotherapy at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre right away. “I had a total of 6 chemotherapy treatments for 18 weeks. It left me exhausted and nauseous and was one of the most challenging parts of my journey so far,” says Jenn.
After her last chemotherapy treatment, Jenn then went in to have a double mastectomy. “I have an extensive family history of breast cancer. After doing some blood work, I was found to have the BRCA2 gene mutation. To me, there was no question that both breasts had to go,” she says. Jenn will undergo follow-up reconstruction on both breasts once her radiation treatment ends.
“I owe a big thank you to all the health care workers at the Tom Baker Cancer Center. They are all remarkable, and I have been blessed with great care.”
Jenn is also grateful for the immense support she’s received from her family and friends. Having cancer and being a parent to young children can be challenging. But her husband, mom and mother-in-law stepped in to help.
“My son is seven, and my daughters are four and two. They’re very young to experience such a thing. You don’t want to change their worlds too much, and throwing COVID in the mix really made it difficult.”
“My mom took 15 weeks off of work so that she could move in, be a part of our cohort and take care of the kids. My mother-in-law did the same, deciding to not see anyone else just so we could be safe, it was a big ask, and I’m so grateful to them both.”
Jenn also found comfort through her faith, “God has supported me every step of the way. I am so thankful.”
Having cancer can be a devastating experience no matter your age, but it can be especially difficult for young adults. Having to undergo treatment on the cusp of starting a relationship, raising a family, or building a career can be a very different journey with a diverse set of challenges compared to cancer patients over 50.
“Every time I’m at the cancer centre for an appointment, I find that I’m the youngest person in the room,” says Jenn. At first, she felt alone in her journey, but when she started sharing her story on social media, Jenn found comfort in a community of young adult cancer patients and survivors.
“The scariest part of the journey is not knowing what happens next. You feel like you’re the only person on the planet going through something like this. But when I started to put myself out there, I met people like me – those in their thirties, and those with a young family. It felt good to talk with those who can relate and share what we’ve learned,” says Jenn.
Jenn’s purpose now is to help others by sharing her story to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.
“As a patient, I can see firsthand the impact of research. Many advances have been made with cancer treatment in the last 5 years, and thanks to that, I have more options.”