Dancing at Evan’s Wedding

Dancing at Evan’s Wedding

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Dancing at Evan’s Wedding

Health is the first and greatest of all blessings.

Lord Chesterfield

In the fall of 1996, I was enjoying the good life . . . the mother of three young sons and happily married to a man I had loved and trusted since college. We lived in a beautiful home in a small Indiana town where I was a social and community leader and my husband a successful businessman. I was a former Seventeen magazine model and a teacher at Plymouth High School. I was to receive a grant from the Lilly Foundation, recognizing my accomplishments as family and consumer services teacher. “They used to call it home ec,” the woman said. By any name, it was a major accolade for my professional career and a proud moment.

It didn’t last.

Fate was about to deal severe blows that would leave me personally devastated and fighting for my life. First, my husband of twenty-one years left me.

Five months later, I felt a tingling and drawing sensation in my right breast. I was knowledgeable about body changes; for ten years I had taught my students about breast and testicular cancer. The material was part of the curriculum, and though there is no history of breast cancer in my family, I had regular mammograms and faithfully did breast self-exams (BSEs). I didn’t smoke or drink caffeine, only had a glass of wine occasionally, and took no drugs of any kind, except hormone replacement therapy. I was forty-three.

I had nursed my babies, which is a plus for women not to get breast cancer—besides that, it’s the right thing to do, for many reasons. It had been a little more than a year since my last mammogram, and I had no reason to suspect anything. My doctor found nothing unusual at my appointment. A month later, I woke up to find extremely swollen lymph nodes in my right armpit . . . like a bunch of grapes. They weren’t painful, but I knew something was seriously wrong.

I made an emergency appointment with the doctor; he ordered another mammogram immediately. It showed a small, definite change in breast tissue. A needle biopsy discovered a one-centimeter tumor that was infiltrating, so the surgeon removed four lymph glands for analysis.

All the tests were positive: a fast-growing malignant tumor, “worrisome and serious,” according to the doctors. Four days later, I had a radical mastectomy and removal of eight of twelve nodes, also positive. Six months of chemo reduced me from a size twelve to a size six.

At first, when I started losing hair, I was brokenhearted. My youngest son, Evan, saw me crying and said, “Mommy, don’t cry. Chas, Matt and I will take care of you.” Then he went to the bedroom, got my wig out of the drawer and brought it to me.

“Put this on, Mommy. It’ll make you feel better.” And it did.

I lost the hair on my head and my eyebrows. As it began to fall out, I imagined that every follicle that died was now a dead cancer cell, so the balder I got, the more cancer was being destroyed. I shaved off the rest.

Evan went with me for my radiation treatments, an eighty-minute round trip. The doctors let him push the radiation buttons, and he believed he was truly helping me get well. I minimized the pain from the burn by holding on to one dream: I wanted desperately to dance at Evan’s wedding—whenever that would be.

Nine months later, every method of testing for cancer proved negative, and six months later I underwent a seven-and-a-half-hour reconstructive surgery to form a new breast.

My dream of dancing at Evan’s wedding is going to come true! I believe in angels, and, after all, I live on Angel Street, in Plymouth, Indiana.

Nancy Jaynes as told to Ida Chipman

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