Jennifer Howard

First post: Jul 20, 2020 Latest post: Apr 27, 2021
Dear family and friends, 

As many of you already know, I was recently diagnosed with cancer. It was a difficult decision for me to make my diagnosis more public, and with treatments looming, I realize that I need to communicate with those who care. If you've found yourself here, you're obviously in that camp. Thank you for caring and sharing in my journey as I work to restore my health. 

On Friday afternoon, June 19, my doctor called to inform me that pathology from a biopsy taken just two days prior revealed a malignancy that was diagnosed as an adenocarcinoma tumor. I knew that meant cancer. 

After a sleepless night and sharing the news with our family and close friends, I decided to reach out to Mikey's doctor (who's been championing for us since the day he was born). She kicked things into high gear, reached out to the President of the Levine Cancer Institute, and on Tuesday, I found myself walking into the hospital to meet with my oncologist. On Wednesday, I had an MRI, and on Friday (which was sadly Mikey's 18th birthday), I had an exploratory surgery in an effort to confirm my diagnosis and stage. The following Tuesday, I had a PET/CT scan, and by the end of the week, they'd confirmed that I had a more invasive tumor than initially reported. Additionally, one of the stains from my biopsy showed intestinal differentiation, so the following week, I underwent an endoscopy/colonoscopy to determine whether my tumor was a metastasis. (Adenocarcinomas are glandular and usually start in the lung, colon or pancreas, so there was an extensive amount of testing/diagnostics needed to confirm the origin of my cancer.) Fortunately, my tumor is contained, and none of the tests run have shown any indication of metastasis. My doctor conservatively diagnosed me at Stage II and determined my treatment plan will consist of both radiation and chemotherapy. I met my radiation oncologist last week for another CT scan (to simulate my radiation), and molds were made for my treatment which will begin next Tuesday.

My radiation will be daily, M-F for five weeks at Atrium Pineville (closer to home). Every Tuesday, I'll go uptown (Charlotte) to the Levine Cancer Institute for my chemo (Cisplatin) infusion. My chemo coordinator said that my infusions will take at least six hours to administer. (Kicking this cancer to the curb is my new full-time job.) Before my chemo infusions, they'll run saline/magnesium along with intravenous anti-nausea medications. In addition, I'll take two oral anti-nausea medications, along with a steroid. The coordinator said that patients are usually nauseous/sick for five of of the seven days following chemo (which I'll receive every Tuesday for six weeks).  After the five weeks of radiation, I'll be re-examined, and they'll start a more intensive type of radiation that will be administered daily over two weeks. My total treatment time should be seven weeks.

To say I'm scared would be an understatement, but at the same time, I'm anxious to begin treatments. It's very challenging to mentally prepare for radiation/chemo, as I don't have any perspective on how it will affect me. Not to mention, getting diagnosed with cancer during a pandemic is no picnic. I've had to go to every test and appointment since this all began alone. As often as possible, I Zoom Mike into my doctor appointments and record appointments, but in most instances, he's not even allowed to enter the facility with me. That said, he never fails to drive me to my appointments where he sits in the car and patiently waits. The drive home usually requires a stop at a local watering hole, if you know what I mean. 

As for our kids, Mikey, 18, Lilly, 13 and Harper 8, we decided to tell them right away, and I'm glad we did. I'll never forget that moment - or the sadness of it all - but they've been incredibly strong and supportive. The hugs and displays of affection are more frequent - which I know any parent of teenagers would welcome. They understand that I'm going to have to endure treatment, but they also know that I'm going to be cured. 

Writing is therapy for me, so it feels good to just let it out. As I start treatment, I'll do my best to keep those who are following my journey up-to-date. The support and encouragement already from family, friends, colleagues and neighbors has been nothing short of amazing. I'm grateful and aware of all that is good in my life, and I have everything to fight for. Thank you for rooting for me along the way. 

Love, Jennifer     

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