By Nancy Gay
Jennifer Cain never imagined saying the words, “Now I look like daddy,” or that her husband wouldn’t be alive when she uttered that phrase to their young daughter, Evangeline, as a way to explain her newly bald head, courtesy of chemotherapy. It was only two months earlier that long, dark, locks spilled from beneath Jennifer’s wedding veil as she said, “I do,” to the love of her life.
She and her husband grew up in the same town in Pennsylvania, but went to different high schools. They’d see each other at the mall or the pool and Jennifer had a crush on him, but never said anything. Years later, after he relocated to Tampa and had a son, and she moved to Orlando, they reconnected on Facebook through a mutual friend. A simple, “Happy Birthday,” message led to a phone call then a date and eventually an engagement.
Jennifer was on top of the world as she looked forward to getting married and becoming a stepmother, but a phone call on the day she was supposed to pick up her wedding dress stopped her in her tracks. She instinctively knew the news on the other end of the phone would not be good because a few weeks earlier she felt a lump on her breast while in the shower.
Jennifer had a mammogram three years earlier at the age of 39. There were two areas that needed to be biopsied and both were benign. A year later she was pregnant with her daughter and then breastfeeding, so she didn’t have a mammogram. She felt the lump three weeks before her wedding. Doctors diagnosed her with stage 3A breast cancer and recommended a modified radical mastectomy. However, they advised her not to do anything until after her wedding because they wanted her to enjoy the day and not think about cancer.
Just weeks after the ceremony, Jennifer had her left breast removed along with 25 lymph nodes. Two of the lymph nodes were cancerous. She was surprised to learn she would need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation following the surgery. Jennifer made an appointment for January 17 with her oncologist. When scheduling the appointment, she had no idea cancer treatment was about to become the last thing on her mind.
On January 14, Jennifer’s husband of less than three months died in a car accident. She was devastated. In an instant she went from a newlywed to a single mother battling breast cancer.
Her first chemotherapy infusion was less than two weeks after the accident. Seventeen days later, she began losing her hair. Jennifer made an appointment with her late husband’s barber and shaved her head. Though her daughter doesn’t ask about her bald head, she does like to rub her hand over it.
Jennifer says her toddler is the reason she gets out of bed every day. Despite, grief, pain and fatigue, she has no choice, but to make sure her daughter is clean, fed and comforted.
Jennifer’s completed chemotherapy and radiation and is on hormonal therapy. She needs to decide whether she wants to take hormonal therapies or have her ovaries removed because she has an estrogen-based cancer.
Jennifer’s advice to newly diagnosed patients is to prepare yourself for a long road ahead; stay positive as much as possible and let people help you. She adds, “There’s a reason I have cancer and there’s a reason I lost my husband at the same time.” She acknowledges that it’s really hard some days, but she believes by sharing her story something good will come out of this tragedy.