Written By: Paige Harootunian, Komen Central and South Jersey Communications Intern
Jeanne Harootunian is a two-time breast cancer survivor from Madison, NJ. She works full time and is a fitness instructor for both barre and spin. Jeanne is an amazing mother to her two daughters that are 20 and 21 years old, including me, Paige, and a husband named Shant.
Jeanne is now 5 years breast cancer free, and is a motivation to all. She shares about her experience fighting breast cancer and gives helpful tips for people going through treatment.
Paige: What was it like when you first discovered you had breast cancer?
Jeanne: I went to the breast center for a checkup. They found 2 spots on my right breast that needed testing. I needed a “needle core biopsy” for the nodule — I had no idea what that meant. I remember lying on the table waiting for the biopsy to begin, but I knew it was a false alarm — or so I thought. There was a team of clinicians busy preparing the lab for the test. One very nice fellow sat next to me and explained what they were going to do. The procedure was done quickly and I asked him what he thought my prognosis would be and he said the test would most likely be positive.
Paige: What went through your head once received this terrible news?
Jeanne: I asked myself and God ‘why me?’ I was young, I exercised, watched my weight and I had a beautiful family. This surely couldn’t be happening to me. I was concerned about telling my young children who were 10 and 8. I did not want to upset them but I knew it was the right thing to do.
Paige: What were the weeks leading up to you lumpectomy like?
Jeanne: The weeks leading up to the lumpectomy were the most difficult. It’s the waiting and wondering — what type of tumor do I have? What size? What is going to be my prognosis?
Paige: When did you start telling friends and family that you were diagnosed with breast cancer and what was the response?
Jeanne: Little by little I let family and friends know. At first I was embarrassed; I felt like damaged goods. But as I let people in, they enveloped me in their love and care. Family, friends and neighbors supported me with kind words, flowers, and, of course, the food train.
Having the love and support from those around me is what got me through this terrible time. The kindness didn’t stop until I was completely recovered. I felt the wind in my back pushing me forward teaching me lessons that I hadn’t known before.
Paige: What was it like when you discovered you had breast cancer for a second time?
Jeanne: Seven years went by. During that time I began eating healthy, exercising more than ever before and making sure to take care of myself. I went to the breast center for my annual checkup and it was negative. Upon a visit to my OBGYN a few weeks later, he found a lump in the same breast that had the lumpectomy. This time I was in a complete panic. I had another visit to the same place as before for the needle biopsy. I was shaking in the waiting room and holding back the tears. When I finally went in, again, the test was over quickly.
Paige: What was the difference between treatment the first time you had breast cancer and treatment the second time you had breast cancer?
Jeanne: When you have breast cancer a second time, the treatment is a lot more aggressive. This time I needed a bilateral mastectomy. Wrapping my head around what was about to happen was impossible. My experience the second time around was much more intense. More surgery, more drugs, and of course, chemotherapy.
Paige: What were your emotions throughout your second round of treatment and did you ever reach a full recovery?
Jeanne: The endless visits to the various doctors was daunting. I wanted to crawl into a hole and not come out until it was all done. But I had my family to live for and that is what got me through it all. My breast surgeon told me that breast cancer is very treatable and that she was going to make me all better. Those words rang in my ears and I held onto them throughout the journey.
After the surgery, I had even more emotional support from family, friends and neighbors. People from all over were supporting me in whatever way they could. I remember feeling overwhelmed by sadness and disappointment in life and then by the grace of God it was over. I made a full recovery in a short amount of time, again, because of the support I felt around me.
Jeanne is often asked about what helped her get through diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Here are some of the things that she found helpful, inspiring and motivating:
· Look for the silver lining even though it might be hard to find. There is a silver lining in everything; you just have to look for it.
· Count your blessings everyday. Give thanks for the little things — someone who may have been kind that day or for the roof over your head.
· Interview the doctors prior to receiving treatment. You will interact with your doctors more than anyone else over the next year so choose them carefully. Make sure you can ask questions and they take the time to answer them.
· Be sure that the hospital staff treats you like an individual with a brain and a heart — not just a body. Look for people who greet you with a smile and who are always willing to help and answer questions.
· Let people help you, even if they are just acquaintances. You will need to have a strong support system. Let others into your life and your heart.
· Make your life as stress-free as possible. Find your passion and people who share that passion. Live each day to its fullest.