When I was 26 years old, I noticed a lump near my breast. I had already lost my grandmother, a survivor of internment in a Soviet work camp during World War II, someone I thought was invincible, to Breast Cancer. I immediately went to the doctor. Fortunately, the lump was a benign cyst. A few weeks later I began experiencing excruciating pain in my abdomen. Again, I went to the doctors. They removed my appendix, only to discover a week later that it was not the cause of my pain. The doctors finally discovered that I had Stage III Cervical Cancer. I needed to be operated on immediately. I was a single mother, struggling to support my son and I, slowly losing hope. But my grandmother taught me that despite how hard life is, as long as you believe in what can be, you can survive. After a hysterectomy and additional treatment, I beat cancer. I beat cancer for my son, for my grandmother, and for me. I now dedicate my life to helping others beat the awful disease.
Four years ago, my entire world changed…
I made my way to Miami for a second opinion on a leg injury from my car accident 5 months prior. I was unable to walk but FULLY expected my diagnosis to be a torn meniscus and a Baker’s cyst. I told myself “all I need is surgery and then this will be behind me”.
I will never forget the shock and emotion I felt on 11/11/15. My MRI scan showed something very wrong. That big white blob? Active Aggressive Fibromatosis of the left popliteal fossa. Complete with strangled artery, that if not treated NOW, could end in amputation.
Cancer was the LAST possibility in my mind. “I need a biopsy, why?”, “I’m sorry, I have what?”, “What does aggressive mean?”, “I need 24 weekly rounds of CHEMOTHERAPY?” — I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong person, car accidents don’t cause cancer!
After two rounds of chemotherapy and relearning to walk through physical therapy, I walked into my orthopedic surgeon’s office in December 2018 for a determination on whether or not I would continue with chemo, or be done for now. All I heard was “decreased vascularity”, “increased collagen”, “the tumor is so dense it’s absorbing all the waves”. These comments were soon followed by cheers and thumbs-up from all 8 doctors and nurses. My tumor responded well to the treatment, and it was his recommendation to stop chemo.
While I’m thankful to be done with chemo, its effects still linger. One of the main effects? My skin is WRECKED. Dark spots, dryness, and irritation. Accompanied by chronic fatigue, newly curly hair, and overcoming emotional and physical trauma.
Cancer doesn’t take a break. It’s been on my mind every day for four years. It’s an everyday choice to fight. I’ve tried my best to not let cancer define me, but instead motivate me to live a full and loving life, since I now understand I only get one.
Thanks for reading!
My name is Jessica,
and my husband, Tommy, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Esophageal Cancer on our 52nd day of marriage. Being 26 at the time (now 28), he was very young for this diagnosis, so it came as quite a shock. Our newlywed lives have looked incredibly different than most in the year and a half since. He has been through radiation, countless rounds of chemotherapy, a surgery to remove his tumor and most of his stomach/esophagus, a second surgery to help prevent a recurrence, and monthly infusions since. In a very short time, I went from newlywed wife to chief caregiver.
Throughout his treatment we took the 'laughter is the best medicine' approach, and were consistently positive, even in the darkest and most unsure times. I decided I wanted to do something to lighten the load for ourselves, and other people going through a similar situation. I used my time in doctor's offices and hospital rooms to create a cancer planner. I called it The Better Book. This planner, journal, and guide is designed to help patients and caregivers stay organized, connected, and healthy. Tommy told me I should see if other people might be interested, and now a year later, 1000s of patients across the country are using my book.
This past October, Tommy's cancer recurred and was found in his lungs. After a complicated journey to find a second opinion, we changed hospitals and began an immunotherapy clinical trial. Finding out we had to fight all over again was the darkest moment of our lives. Fighting cancer a second time after you think you've beat it is a much a mental battle as a physical one. He has luckily had a wonderful response to the treatment. His tumors have shrunk 30% and are continuing to shrink. We are now looking at a future that could be cancer free.
We have used our experience to become advocates for early detection in esophageal cancer. We are continuing to share our story to show other fighters that you need to continue to advocate for yourself and take advantage of the resources available. Being young adults in the cancer world can feel isolating, and we have been shown that there is a beautiful, strong, incredible community there to help you along as you navigate this difficult journey.
I am moved daily by the positivity and feedback we receive from people who share their stories with us. Being able to make the day to day a little brighter and easier for all the fighters out there has given me a new purpose. Sharing our journey, and using it to aid other's in theirs has changed my life in so many ways.
In Cancer on the Brain, Jay Lefevers chronicles his personal journey in dealing with first a brain tumor, and two years later, a diagnosis of lymphoma. In 2013, the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the nation’s largest independent book awards organization, selected Cancer on the Brain as a 2013 general nonfiction finalist.
His health struggles did not impact Jay’s passions for either baseball or business. In 2007, his Little League team advanced through championships games to become one of 11 Arizona teams that qualified for the state tournament that year. In 2008, his company, Viewpoint Group, was named to Inc. magazine’s “Inc. 5000” list — recognized as being one of the fastest growing companies in America. From 2010 to 2013, Viewpoint was named as the second-highest ranking top commercial real estate appraisers firm by the Phoenix Business Journal. He joined CBRE in June 2014.
Jay is available for speaking with business, cancer and wellness support and community groups, as well as for interviews. Review copies of Cancer on the Brain are available for reviewers, reporters and editors. For scheduling speaking events, or requesting book copies, photographs, or other general information, please contact the author at 602-770-4530.