The Strength of a Survivor : The Full Story
Below is an extended version of Jayne Dean’s Cancer Survivor story from our October 2015 Pink Issue.
CANCER, the 6 letter word that no one wants to hear. We’re all affected by it because if we aren’t a survivor ourselves, we all have friends or family members that have been affected by this disease. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and one family in our cheer family graciously offered to shared their story.
Cheer Mag: Jayne and Andrew, thanks for offering to share your story with us. Jayne, you mentioned that you are just a couple months away from celebrating 10 years of Survivorship of Breast Cancer. Congratulations!
Jayne: I am truly blessed to be a breast cancer survivor! I was diagnosed on December 1st, 2005 and will indeed be celebrating 10 years of survivorship on December 1 of this year.
I know you might be thinking that the dates don’t add up, but it’s important to point out that the day you’re diagnosed with cancer is the first day that you are a survivor.
Cheer Mag: Jayne & Andrew, thanks for offering to share your story with us. First, tell us about your connection to Cheerleading.
Jayne: I found an interest in cheerleading as a mother of a high school son that tried out for a team at a private gym in Omaha. When he made the team, his dad and I were thrown into a new world we had never experienced before. Andrew, our son, was a senior and went on to be the University of Louisville Cardinal Bird. Since then, he has his own photography company and travels all over the US to photograph Cheer and Dance.
Andrew: I’ve always been interested trying new things and my senior year I thought all star cheer seemed like the perfect place for me. I never believed cheerleading would play a huge role in my life, but I fell in love and have been very involved in the cheerleading world ever since. I’ve coached at the all star and college level for years and now run one of the largest cheer photography companies in the nation, Xtreme Shots Photography, providing photography services to gyms, event companies, media sources and affiliate companies.
Cheer Mag: Could you share with us about the time leading up to your diagnosis?
Jayne: Shortly after returning from an incredible trip to Italy with my husband, Bruce, during the Fall of 2005, he said to me, “Something is wrong with your right breast. We need to get it checked out.” I must admit, I wasn’t faithful when it came to Breast Self-Exams (commonly referred to as BSE). But, I had a mammogram with normal results in April of that year, so I didn’t understand how could I possibly have a problem now?
I checked and immediately realized that something was wrong, and phoned my gynecologist who saw me that same day. My initial ultrasound was inconclusive. We scheduled a diagnostic biopsy in the midst of Thanksgiving week, and met with a surgeon for the results on December 1st.
That was the day that the surgeon delivered the news, “Yes, you do have breast cancer.” He immediately started to list different options of surgery and treatment.
I was numb, and couldn’t even speak. Bruce asked questions as he held my hand tightly. We walked out of the office and drove home in silence, but all the while I just kept thinking, this just can’t be happening to me. I’m 51 years old with no family history of breast cancer. I’m a nurse and my job is caring for children, now I’m going to be the one needing to be cared for. And then something even bigger hit me. How are we going to tell our sons? At the time, Andrew was a junior in college. His brother, Michael, was a high school junior, and his best friend had just lost his grandmother to breast cancer. All of these things and more were running through my mind and weighing on me.
Andrew: I remember the conversation like it happened yesterday. My parents picked up my brother and I the day before Thanksgiving, and on the drive to our big annual family Thanksgiving party, my mom told us that she had seen the doctor earlier that week to have her breast looked at because she thought she found something weird, but that the doctor said it was probably no big deal and not to worry too much. So naturally, at the time, I never even imagined my mom could have breast cancer.
About a week later, my mom called while I was running practice for the college team I coached at the time. Practice was close to being done so I let the phone turn over to voicemail and finished practice. When I got to my car, I listened to her voicemail: “Hi Andrew, just call me back when you have a minute. Love you.” But, I could tell by the tone of her voice something wasn’t right, and figured this was a conversation that I probably needed to hear in person, so I drove home and saw my mom sitting in front of the fire place with an expression I had never seen before.
I sat down, and she told me that she she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. For once in my life I was speechless. All I could do was give her a big hug and tell her that I loved her. I was at a loss for anything else that I could do! I tried to be strong so I fought back tears as thousands of thoughts rushed through my head.
After leaving our house, I called a few of my closest friends and broke down crying all the way home. I was filled with fear, afraid of losing my mom! I always thought my family was invincible Throughout that night and the rest of the weekend I had to attend a cheer competition for a couple of the all star teams I coached, and I kept the news to myself. Everyone could tell something was wrong, I wasn’t the bubbly and smiling guy that I usually am. When we got back to the gym from competition, I told my coworkers about my mom’s diagnosis.
Cheer Mag: What a life changing series of events. Would you mind sharing some details about the type of Cancer you were diagnosed with, treatments you went through, etc?
Jayne: My breast cancer was stage 3 as I had lobular and ductal carcinoma along with 10 of 14 lymph nodes that were positive for cancer. They were going to be very aggressive in treating me. I was scheduled for a right mastectomy December 15, 2015. I was treated with chemotherapy every other week for 17 weeks starting in January, and a month after completion of chemo I had 6 weeks of daily radiation treatments. In September of 2006 I had reconstructive surgery.
Andrew: Treatment began pretty fast after she was diagnosed with a mastectomy of her right breast being the first step. After this her chemotherapy began and during that time she began to lose her hair, her appetite began to change and I could definitely see the strength of the chemotherapy by looking at my mom and seeing how she felt and how her body looked. That was a tough time for all of us, to see how little energy she had was a really weird experience for me.
Once her chemotherapy treatments were complete, radiation therapy was a totally different beast. I don’t remember a lot from this process other than the deep and painful burns it left on her skin. I remember it being a pretty uncomfortable and painful time for her, but it was something that had to be done.
Cheer Mag: Could you tell us about the journey from diagnosis to remission?
Jayne: I must say, one of the most integral parts of making it through the journey was the overwhelming support that not only I, but the entire Dean family received.
We were blessed to have support in so many forms, from so many people in our lives: our extended family, neighbors, work cohorts, college friends and past friends from places we had lived before Omaha. The Iowa City contingent went so far as to make sure I had a letter in the snail mail box daily! My sister would travel to Omaha from Sioux Falls, SD to help me when Bruce had to be out of town for work or sometimes just to visit and offer support. We had support from our church in the form of prayers, notes of encouragement, and meals delivered 3 times a week when the going was tough. The boys networked and got many, many words of kindness, encouragement and love from friends near and far. Even my employer delivered meals to help us through these days when I didn’t feel like eating.
All the while, I found an inner strength, because I KNEW that I HAD to get through this to live the full life I wanted: to see my boys graduate, to travel with my husband, to continue to work as a nurse and to retire and give back to the community. My faith increased and grew stronger and as I was faithful with reading daily devotions and scripture.
I knew I had to “trust the journey” in order to live. The verse I held to daily was from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me”. While it may seem simple, that verse got me through the CT scanners, the MRI machine, the bone scanner, the numerous blood draws, chemo, and all of the side effects that came with it. It was truly by the grace of God, the support of loved ones, and our boys right along beside us, we made it through this experience.
Andrew: The support system that formed around my mom was truly incredible. We’ve always believed in the power of prayer and just knowing that people are thinking about you, so my dad started a list of people who have reached out and promised to keep her and our family in their thoughts and prayers. It quickly grew from a fairly sizeable list of names on a single piece of paper to countless names a stack of pages stapled together, hanging on our refrigerator as a daily reminder. I truly believe just knowing that all of those people were thinking about her and praying for her, kept her positive even during the darkest of times.
When Mom began losing her hair in clumps, she and Dad made the decision to embrace it and shaved her head completely. I wanted to show my support so that week I had my hair stylist shave my head to match hers. That evening I put a hat on and headed to visit my mom. I kept the hat on during our visit until she looked at me with a grin, and asked me to take it off. She immediately embraced me began crying. It was an extremely emotional yet bonding moment for both of us, and I think, really helped pull through that trying time.
Cheer Mag: What message would you like to provide women in the community, especially young women that are a part of our readership?
Jayne: I strongly suggest to women and men of all ages, KNOW YOUR BODY. Do the self exams monthly and if something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out, don’t wait. I was lucky that Bruce first noticed that something was off – the truth is, my husband saved my life.
For any who are diagnosed with breast cancer, to find a physician you feel comfortable with. You have to be confident with your doctor before you’re undergoing treatment, because that confidence will continue throughout the process. Once you begin your treatment plan, you have to believe and trust the journey. There will be ups and downs, but you can get through them by seeing each as just a bump in the road. Have faith.
Andrew: Breast cancer is a horrible disease that doesn’t care how old you are and can happen at any time. What I want people to know, especially the young women that read this, is how important it is to know the symptoms of breast cancer. Like my mom said, knowing your body is extremely important, if something doesn’t feel right, get checked out by a doctor immediately. One of the best ways to beat breast cancer is early detection and knowing what to look for is a crucial step. Breast cancer is a deadly disease, but thanks to the amazing amount of research that has happened throughout the years it is also a disease that can be treated and can be beat! You have to trust the process, have faith in yourself and the team of medical professionals behind you and believe that it’ll work.
Cheer Mag: We know that both of you are actively involved with organizations that raise awareness, provide support programs, and work to find a cure for Cancer. If you could each pick one for those that want to support the fight, which would it be?
Jayne: Two weeks after my reconstructive surgery, I joined in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure with drainage tubes still attached! So, that organization holds a special place in my heart.
I think it’s important to mention that there’s been a lot of progress in treating breast cancer, mainly due to continued research, including treatment studies. I was lucky enough to qualify for a breast cancer vaccine study after my breast tissue was sent to UNMC for examination. So, in using my blood, I had vaccines made in Florida. I received them periodically during my journey. I believe this, along with other treatment and the estrogen blocker I take daily now have increased my survivorship. Hopefully, someday, that vaccine and other alternative treatment options will be available to Cancer survivors everywhere.
But these studies, and the research behind them must be funded. Many people are surprised to learn how underfunded cancer research is in general. Yes, there are grants, but they only go so far. So, any organization that helps to fund research would be wonderful to support.
Andrew: I have to echo my mom’s pick of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. When it comes to organizations that do an amazing job at supporting women who are or have been affected by this horrible disease, they consistently deliver an incredibly uplifting experience. It’s inspiring to see so many survivors who get together, share their stories, and you can physically see the amount of support they have behind them. The sight of 15,000 to 20,000 people all wearing pink is a powerful experience!
Jayne: The American Cancer Society has a program called Look Good, Feel Better. That was where I met one of my close “breast friends” and we remain friends today 10 years later. We put together a team for the Race for the Cure called “EMPTY BREASTERS TOO” and that name continues today for the RACE. I have 32 people on the team this year for the Omaha race October 3rd.
Everyone has different feelings of getting involved with cancer programs. It’s very individual and private. There are many opportunities and programs at the cancer centers & in communities, so it’s just whether or not you want to participate. The physicians in Omaha started a yearly brunch called Special Friends Celebration, bringing together breast cancer survivors from all over the metro. There was always a program, one that would bring joy and laughter to our hearts. BUT one of the neatest things that occurred during this brunch was the Survivor Recognition time. and there were 600-700 survivors present. They’d ask the 1 year survivors to stand to be recognized and would continue with 2 year, 5 year, 10 year, 15 year, 20, 25, 30 year survivors. It was SO special to see that yes, there are survivors making it to 30 years! Giving all of us great hope for a cancer free life.
Andrew: October may be the official breast cancer awareness month, but breast cancer is something that affects people year round. Just like anything else it’s important to show support for those affected by this horrible disease not just during October, but throughout the year.
During the month of October my company Xtreme Shots Photography and myself promote a campaign we call the 31 Days of PINK where I wear something pink throughout the entire month. I have been lucky to have a huge amount of support from the cheer community with gyms around the country donating shirts for me to wear, all of which are photographed and posted on my social media networks. I invite everyone to join me in wearing pink during october and using the hashtag #31DaysofPINK and #BreastCancerAwareness when doing so. In October we will also be holding an auction of a breast cancer awareness quilt that was made out of many of the shirts from the past couple years, to find out how to bid, follow Xtreme Shots Photography on social media.
Thanks to the support of so many people there are breakthroughs in medicine every year and the treatment process keeps getting better and better. It’s my hope that we will eventually be able to find a cure for this disease, but until then early detection and spreading information on what people need to look for is our best bet.
Thank you for sharing my family’s story with the world. It’s our hope that by sharing our story we will give others that are going through similar situations hope and know that they have a strong support ground standing behind them.
Jayne: Honestly, we could both go on about so many organizations and programs we believe in, but we would be here all day! Perhaps we could work with you guys to provide info on these others through the web and social media?
Cheer Mag: Now THAT is a wonderful idea that we can surely make happen! Thank you both for your insight!
For information on how you can support the Susan G. Komen foundation and the fight to end breast cancer, visit ww5.komen.org.