An Amazing Story of Breast Cancer Survival
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Urban Housecall Magazine wanted to bring an inspiring story of survival to you. We interviewed Jenna Hatton-Cobb, a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 31 years old, and went on to beat the odds in an amazing way. Her triumphant story of survival will absolutely move you.
UHM: Tell our readers a little bit about how you came to know you had breast cancer. Were you symptomatic or was this an incidental finding?
JHC: At the age of 19, I started seeing an OB/GYN, and I took one of those self-breast exam shower cards. I started to perform self-exams on a regular basis and I found a lump. That lump turned out to be a benign mass, but I continued to do self-exams over the years and got familiar with my “normal” before finding this lump.
UHM: Did you feel that your doctors were apprehensive about making this diagnosis because you were so young and didn’t fit the “typical” breast cancer patient profile?
JHC: Not at all! I went in to see my family physician for my regular physical and pointed the lump out to her. She ordered a mammogram that was scheduled within a week of that visit. Because of the position of the lump, the mammogram wasn’t the best diagnostic tool. At the visit for the mammogram, the physician performed an ultrasound. Based on those results, I was sent to a surgeon who performed a biopsy in her office. It was that biopsy that confirmed that I had breast cancer.
UHM: Was this a particularly long process? How long did it take for a formal breast cancer diagnosis to be made?
JHC: From the visit to my family physician to the diagnosis was about 2-3 weeks. Biopsy to diagnosis was 2 days (I think).
UHM: What treatments were you offered and what factors helped you to decide which treatment option to choose?
JHC: I was offered aggressive chemotherapy (8 rounds, 4 of adriamycin and cytoxan followed by 4 of taxol), surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy, I chose the former) and radiation (~35 cycles). I wasn’t given much choice in the type or frequency of chemotherapy and radiation.
I was told that it was aggressive therapy and since I was young and otherwise healthy, they believed that it was the best course of action…I agreed. I briefly considered opting for a bi-lateral mastectomy out of fear or recurrence, but I chose to have a lumpectomy and wait for the outcome. If I went with the radical surgery and reconstruction unnecessarily, there was no turning back. By going the conservative route, if the results of the lumpectomy weren’t ideal, I could always proceed with the more radical surgery.
UHM: Many people think you can only develop breast cancer if you have a family history of breast cancer. Do you have a family history of breast cancer?
JHC: No, I do not have a family history of breast cancer.
UHM: How did your diagnosis impact you physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, and professionally?
JHC: I jokingly say that the physical impact only amounted to be being bald and tired. I was never really sick; no vomiting, nausea or inability to continue enjoying life.
I discovered that my mental resolve was stronger than I would have guessed it to be. I refused to be treated like a ‘sick person’, I wouldn’t feel sorry for myself and I
refused to wonder, “Why me?”
My cancer diagnosis brought me face to face with my spirituality and my faith. My faith was strengthened when what I believed and said I believed had to become real. I decided that the sovereign God that I claimed to have faith in, couldn’t suddenly become too small to deal with my problem. He doesn’t change based on our circumstances. God is sovereign in the midst of our issues; big or small.
My life was only mildly impacted socially. I continued to live and do as much as my body and time allowed me to. Generally speaking, I maintained my social life. Illness, like funerals and weddings, brings out the best and the worst in many people. I was able to see friends and associates for who they really were.
Professionally, I didn’t experience a great impact. At the time of my diagnosis, I had a job with supportive and understanding management and colleagues. I also had wonderful benefits, so fortunately, I was able to take time off when I needed it for treatments, post-operative recovery and exhaustion. I did, however, delay making a career change because of the diagnosis. I was originally in the pharmaceutical sales industry and I was looking to get into the medical device industry. I thought it would be in my best interest to stay where I was until I completed my treatment regimen.
UHM: Have you now decided to pursue that career move since you have beat the odds, and are now breast cancer survivor?
JHC: I left the pharmaceutical sales industry a year after my treatment was completed, and I am now in the medical device industry.
UHM: During your journey, what resources did you find helpful especially as a young, black woman?
JHC: I relied on healing scriptures that someone gave to me. There were 40 scriptures that referenced healing, God as a healer and what God says about what He desires for our health and well-being. I didn’t participate in any support groups, blogs, etc. I was afraid of being exposed to people who weren’t in a positive space during their journey. I didn’t have room for self-pity, negativity or fear. I’m sure that those are great
resources for some people, but that is not what I needed at the time. I had friends and family that supported me from beginning to end in every way necessary.
UHM: What was the hardest part about your journey?
JHC: The hardest part of dealing with breast cancer treatment is feeling like life is interrupted. The best way to describe it is to liken it to a speed bump in the road or too many connecting flights to get to your final destination. The incessant appointments,
the tiredness and the recuperation time after surgery all seemed to get in the
way of my life. I’m used to flying by the seat of my pants, living life to the fullest and playing hard. Cancer interrupted some of that…but I did what I could to continue to live my life fully.
The only thing that rivaled interruption of life was the peripheral neuropathy that is a side effect of the Taxol. That was miserable!
UHM: What was the most surprising?
JHC: The most surprising part of the journey was watching myself go through it with strength, dignity and courage. Prior to my diagnosis, I would have thought that I would be a blubbering mess, balled up in the corner. Thankfully, I proved myself wrong!
UHM: How has your life changed now that you are a breast cancer survivor?
JHC: I have learned to take my happiness and joy into my own hands. I am not afraid to remove myself from toxic environments or relationships. I have little to no patience for situations that aren’t uplifting, edifying or positive.
Also, I have become somewhat of a one-woman-support group. Since my diagnosis, there have been several young women that I have been connected with that have also been diagnosed with breast cancer. I share my experiences and words of encouragement with them.
UHC: What would you like to tell young, Black women about the importance of breast health and breast cancer screening?
JHC: Find a physician that will take it seriously regardless of your age, your family history or your overall health/well-being. Demand a baseline mammogram and don’t accept, “Oh, it’s probably nothing,” as a diagnosis. You’re not too young to start being concerned with your breast health. Become familiar with your normal breast tissue by doing self-breast exams. Take your health into your own hands…literally!!!