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Warrior Women: Jill's Story

I'm a Realist.

Jill Wagner knew at some point in her life she would be diagnosed with breast cancer.

As a registered nurse, her feeling began in 2013 when there was something suspicious happening with her right breast, including some dimpling. To monitor the situation, she had to have a mammogram every six months for two years and at one point even had an MRI. In the second year, she had a screening mammogram and it picked up a mass.

Jill Wagner

“I’m a realist,” the Perkins Township resident said. “I felt like they were going to find something at some point.”

On February 19, 2015 she had a breast ultrasound and thoughts of her impending diagnosis flooded her mind.

“You are in a silent room and you just hear some music…things go through your head,” Jill said, adding that she also had a biopsy.

Near the end of February 2015, Jill’s official diagnosis came in – Stage 2 breast cancer.

“However, I count my diagnosis date as February 19 because I just knew,” she said. The date is also significant to Jill and her family as her brother unexpectedly passed away one year prior to the date at the young age of 48. Jill was 47 when she found out she had breast cancer. 

Jill had a lot of questions she needed answered so she first met with a medical oncologist from University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center at Firelands Regional Medical Center, then scheduled her surgery with general surgeon Dr. Fredric Itzkowitz who removed her tumor.

Testing was done on the tumor to analyze how active certain genes were. The activity level of these genes affects the behavior of the cancer, including how likely it is to grow and spread. Jill’s care team was expecting her activity level to be moderate; however, results showed she had a low activity level meaning that it was less likely her cancer would return. This also meant she did not need to have chemo. But because of her background in nursing, Jill did her research and found that having chemo reduced her chance of reoccurring cancer from 8% to 2%. She ended up having four round of chemo.

“If I didn’t do it, I would always wonder if it would have made a difference if the cancer did come back,” said Jill.

In March 2015, she had a mastectomy and an expander was put it, prepping her right breast for an implant. Unfortunately, she ended up with a staph infection – her expander was removed and her breast would fill with fluid. Finally, she was able to keep the infections at bay and in March 2016 she had reconstructive surgery. The surgery took 16 hours and included a diep flap in which skin, fat, and blood vessels from the stomach is used to reconstruct the breast. Four days later she ended up with another infection.

Jill remembered a conversation she had with Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Colleen Calvey in which the physician said taking Vitamin C and drinking three nutritional shakes a day can help heal an infection.

“I fully attribute me getting better to Dr. Calvey telling me that advice,” said Jill.

She continues to have follow up appointments to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back and last year she had a scare with the left breast so now she has to follow the same regime she did with her right breast.

“That was depressing,” she said of receiving the news.

And anyone who has met Jill knows she a larger than life personality – she always has a kind word to share, a laugh that is infectious, and is the type of person you feel comfortable confiding in. There’s always a smile on her face. She seems like the type of person who could just laugh in the face of adversity.

However, during her whole cancer journey, it wasn’t the constant infections or bilateral leg pain from chemo that got to her. The biggest hit came when she started to lose her hair. It was harder than she had anticipated, going on to say she’s typically not a vain person.

“I thought the most that would happen is that I would lose my breast and my hair. I was ok with that,” she said, noting that she was getting ready for an event and chunks of her hair kept falling out. After the event, she came home and asked her daughter to shave her head. “The anticipation of that was horrendous. It was way more emotional than I thought it would be.”

Jill continues, “Cancer takes so much from you. It really wasn’t me – it took a lot of who I am, visually. I have no breast, no hair, and I feel bad. It just takes so much from you. Everyone says you develop your new normal –you do with the fatigue, lack of energy, recuperation time. I never anticipated this. I thought when the chemo was done I’d be ok.”

She said her best advice to any woman out there going through breast cancer is just to just remember who you were before your diagnosis.

Jill Wagner

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