On the morning of May 19, 2014, Jackie Taylor’s gynecologist called her with test results from a BRCA test. The doctor ordered the test, which reveals whether a hereditary cancer gene exists in a person who has a strong family history of cancer, because there have been multiple cancers in Jackie’s family. Fortunately, the test results were negative, which gave Jackie a great sense of relief.
Jackie asked her physician if she should keep her mammogram appointment at Piedmont Henry Hospital Breast Health Center, which was scheduled for laterthat day. Because she still had some concerns with Jackie’s last breast exam, the doctor advised her to keep the appointment. Due to her family history, Jackie has undergone scheduled mammograms since she was 18.
“This mammogram felt like it was the longest appointment of my life,” Jackie said. That was because the appointment didn’t end with a mammogram. Jackie had an ultrasound, during which multiple pictures and measurements were taken. Small talk with the ultrasound technician stopped as the technician became quiet and focused more on the screen. The technician left the room three times to consult with the doctor, and finally brought the doctor back with her. Based on the size and number of lumps she found, the doctor recommended a biopsy, believing she might have cancer. Jackie’s gynecologist followed up with her later that evening, and a biopsy was scheduled in two days.
“The biopsy technician laid me back on the exam table, handed me tissues in one hand while her assistant held the other, and she began to speak. The technician told me what they already knew, even before the biopsy began, and what my future would hold for me as I fight this battle,” Jackie said.
The technician laid out the treatment plan: chemotherapy to shrink the size of the tumors as much as possible -followed by a mastectomy, possibly a double if Jackie choose – because there were enough fibroid cysts in her left breast to create concern. All of this would be followed by reconstruction and then radiation.
“Her lips kept moving, but my ears filled with ringing, my head began swirling, andI was glad I was already lying down,” Jackie recalled. She saw her mother, who was at the end of the table, fighting back tears, and her head fell back. Tears began flowing, Jackie gathered herself and then the biopsy began.
“Once it was over, I clutched my cell phone tight as I broke the news to my closest friend through more tears. And I sent my kids (Dakota, 20 and Lauren, 17) a text that we needed to have a family meeting,” Jackie said. Jackie was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. She turned to her mother, collapsed into her arms and sobbed.
As Jackie’s son (a Marine based in Jacksonville, N.C.) drove home to see his mother, she bought a book about cancer basics and Robin Roberts’ Everybody’s Got Something, to give her focus and inspiration from a real survivor’s story.
Between the day of the biopsy (May 22) until Jackie’s first chemotherapy treatment in June, she had another mammogram, an MRI, an EKG, a PET scan and a surgery to implant a port for chemotherapy. She visited her breast surgeon three times and had two appointments with her chemo doctor.
Jackie didn’t let the bad news and litany of medical procedures get her down. She continued to work at her 40-plus hour a week advertising job, worked out three days a week, and helped plan and direct her son’s wedding.
During the surgery to insert a port for chemo, the doctor removed two lymph nodes from under her right arm. They tested positive for cancer, and her chemotherapy doctor ordered a PET scan to ensure the cancer wasn’t in any other part of her body. The bad news was those tests came back positive for thyroid cancer. The good news was it was Stage 1 thyroid cancer, which is easily treated. She just had to wait until the breast cancer was removed before she could begin that treatment.
Jackie’s firstchemotherapytreatmentwasonher birthday, June 20. Friends andfamilyshowedup and madethe most ofthesituation. “I thought, ‘What better gift to give myself!’ ” In all, Jackie endured 16 chemotherapy treatments. Her last session was during the Thanksgiving holidays. Jackie was grateful for family, friends and the professional and comforting care she received from the staff at Piedmont Henry.
“I wasn’t treated like I was a patient,” she said. “I was always treated like I was a person!” Jackie believes that surrounding herself with a supportsystem of friends andfamily helped her keep a positive attitude and helped her pushforwardthroughchemo.
“I love it when people say, ‘You don’t look like you have cancer,’ because I want to show people that it’s not the end of the world, like you first imagine it will be.” Jackie believes, “Everyone’s different, every chemo received is different but, you can always make the most of your situation, and not let it defeat you. It can knock you down for a bit, but don’t let it control your life. My courage and conviction come from having a strong mother, and I hope to pass that onto my daughter.”
“They’ve both been there for me during and after surgery and treatments, break downs and celebrations. They remind me that cancer is just a phase in my life, which will not define me, but make me stronger. There are bigger problems in the world and life must goon,” Jackie said.
Jackie’s experience has made her keenly aware of the value of mammograms and early detection. “A mammogram is a simple test that only takes a half-hour to complete, yet it can save your life,” she said. “I cannot imagine a reason good enough to not have it done. It’s a critical part of your medical records for your doctor and can give you peace of mind to confirm you’re okay, or detect a lump early. If you don’t have it done out of fear, keep in mind, as the fear grows, so can the cancer!”
Jackie is doing well and advises other women to get checked so they can get on with life, one way or the other, and inhale life deeply.
By Annette M. Higdon