Featured Hero: Jackie Liantonio Ventrudo - Mother, Wife of a Firefighter, Breast Cancer Survivor
At age 34, you're still young and in love, thinking nothing of living life vicariously, but sometimes life has other plans...
As 2013 rolled around, it brought a lot of change to Jackie's life. "I was refocusing my energy on my family and making a lot of personal transformations when I discovered something strange [on my body]," Jackie begins. "I felt it and couldn't ignore it, so I confronted my husband and asked his opinion. Right away he urged me to go to the doctor. Even if it was nothing, he wanted me to put myself first, something that mothers rarely do. He put it in plain terms: if it was for one of our kids, I would rush to the doctor's office. He was right. After that initial visit, everything became a whirlwind: a mammo, an ultrasound, a biopsy and then the results; my world came crashing down."
There is no easy way to say you have cancer, and that’s all I heard. I wanted to throw something, scream and tell them to test again, but all I did was sit there and let the tears run down my face as my husband held me and cried too.Jackie with her two sons
"I didn’t say much to my children. My youngest is only one, and my four-and-a-half year old (who should be 30) is also still really small to understand. Until I had answers to his questions, it just wasn’t a conversation I was going to have with him. Phone calls were held in another room, visits were just that - aunts, uncles, and cousins stopping by to say hi and play. But the worst part has been putting my boys to sleep at night and wondering: Am I going to watch them grow? Will I be here next year to see my oldest graduate kindergarten? Will I see my little one ride a bike?
I've cried to my husband whom, to this day, tells me, "You are going to be here to see all that - and then some! Jackie, always remember this is curable if we go about it the right way. You will be a survivor - we caught this early!"
Within a week, Jackie and her husband were on their way to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City to meet with Jackie's breast surgeon to discuss her options. While there, she found out that the cancer was not hormone-related, something she thought may have been brought on by her last pregnancy, which would have led to treatment that would have been a bit easier on her body. Instead, she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma leaving her with only two options: four months of chemotherapy followed by surgery, or surgery and then the chemo.Jackie and her family in Disney World
"I decided to go with the first option - chemo then surgery, figuring I'd just bought myself four extra months to do what I wanted: to take my children to Disney World and have some normalcy before their lives were turned upside down; to enjoy a vacation where I had no worries and to enjoy my Mother’s Day this year with my husband, boys, mom, dad, mother in-law and aunt. So that's what I did.
As I sit down and tell you this, I am halfway through my chemo. I've lost my hair and I'm constantly tired, but to watch my baby look up and kiss Mickey Mouse for the first time, it was worth all that I endured to this point."
Jackie's oncologist says that she is doing great, the most aggressive of the drugs are over and she "kicked that out of the ball park." Her PET scans and MRIs only show the cancer as a tumor, which is great as it was caught early. She has seven more weeks of chemotherapy and then it’s a break for a few weeks before her surgery.
I have elected to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. I need to be there for my family, for my husband and for my kids. I need to live and by doing this, I have a greater chance. Two years from now I don’t want to hear that they found it in the other breast. I do not want to constantly be looking over my shoulder or be crossing fingers every time I have a mammo. On the brighter side of things, I get new boobs….hey, you still have to maintain a sense of humor to get through life.
To join Jackie's fight against breast cancer, please visit:
2013 Komen Greater NYC Race for the Cure
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