For Jacquie (Jacquie1961), a business owner and entrepreneur from New Mexico, 2013 was the worst year of her life – she’d lost two beloved pets to old age and then was diagnosed with lung cancer, which soon turned into colon cancer. After rigorous chemotherapy and the adoption of a new dog, Roman, Jacquie joined PatientsLikeMe this past
September and has been sharing her positive, never-back-down attitude with the rest of the community. We took time to connect with her recently and this is what we learned…
Tell us a bit about your life.
After a long career of juggling my own real estate firm and landscaping company, I decided to obtain my esthetician’s license in 2011. In late 2012, I opened a spa for skincare. It was in 2013, as I was building up my new business, that I got my first diagnosis of lung cancer.
What I didn’t know was that I also had cancer in my colon that went unnoticed by the first oncologist I had. I was getting sicker by the day, losing more weight, but no one even did any blood work on me or examined me for five months. I asked about chemo and was told every month that my doctor hadn’t decided on that yet. After Christmas of 2013, my parents urged me to change oncologists.
Because I was severely anemic, I spent a month and a half getting blood weekly before I could have a colonoscopy under the care of my new oncologist. In March of 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung to colon cancer. My surgeon told me that there were only 12 documented cases of lung to colon cancer and the prognosis for life expectancy was not good. I had the colon surgery with resection and started a hellish year of chemo. It wasn’t until May that I closed my business because my job was now to save my life!
I have a new dog, a Boxer named Roman. He is my rock! He’s a rescue and came into my life at the right time. He gave me a reason to get up in the mornings, take short walks, laugh and have a constant companion as most of my time was spent in bed if I wasn’t at chemo or the hospital or a doctor’s office. I never had children so animals to me are my family. The only good part of 2013 was finding Roman.
How has your life changed since your diagnosis?
Wow, I have to say I am not the same person I was before I was diagnosed and gone through everything I did. I don’t think anyone can. I find myself less tolerant of people who complain about the smallest of things like burnt cookies because they don’t matter.
Material wealth means nothing to me anymore. I lived well, worked hard and made good money. Now that is not that important to me. I’ve had all that and lost it due to cancer. And anyone’s life can be changed on a dime. So cherish what you have now, enjoy life and create memories. And take care of your health.
I am also now in the process of starting a new business with my father – a pawn and antique shop. It’s coming along slowly, but we’ll get there soon to open.
Cancer is a mentally and physical life altering journey. Mine was pretty extensive, but I am sure there are a lot of other women and men who can identify with this. If you approach it with knowledge and a positive attitude the transitioning is much easier.
I lost all of my hair head to toe in the first few treatments of chemo, but I made it work with hats and an assortment of wigs. Cute hats, wigs, and learning ways to use makeup can make a huge difference in how you see yourself and how you feel about yourself. I still went to charity dinners, events, and I’ve done several fashion shows for cancer even on chemo. No one was the wiser that I was even wearing wigs. I never liked looking at myself in the mirror but accepted it as part of my “job.” My hair is growing back in and I’ve gone out in public. It’s not me at all, but it’s who I really am right now.
Now is the part where I pick up the pieces and put myself back together. How do I deal with the hair growing back? I let it breathe, use some cream to style it and a headband. I wear my wigs or a cute cap when I am running errands. I am trying to put together a monthly course to teach women how to apply makeup and wear scarves. I am lucky that I already have the experience, but it surprised me how many women do not know what to do with themselves so they stay home. Not right…Getting cancer is bad enough but having to feel ugly shouldn’t be part of it.
You mention that you had to be your own advocate with doctors. What would your advice be to others who must advocate for themselves?
As I explained above regarding my first oncologist, I learned from that experience that I better watch out for myself. I didn’t have anyone who had experience with cancer to tell me what to do. Having been through this and seen the mistakes made with my care, I’m adamant that if something is not right with me or I don’t feel right I talk to my doctors about it. I read every scan and I ask questions. Doctors are very busy and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Keep a file with all of your tests. Keep a journal of things you need to have done. I know every three months I have to have scans and a colonoscopy. I often have to remind my doctor that it’s time. Keep track of your scripts as well.
You’ve said in a recent forum post that you’re “a firm believer in keeping up a fight even in the face of adversity.” What keeps you going? And how would you encourage others in your situation to keep going?
I am not a quitter, I never have been. Even given a diagnosis I may not live very long, I was sure to prove the doctors wrong. And yes, I am still here. I was ready to start living life again and then recently hit another bump in the road with a diagnosis of coronary artery disease. My cardiologist will decide whether to put in stents or do bypass surgery. Okay, whatever it takes. And now, I’m also supporting father – my best friend – through his first experience of chemo. After a bout of bad health, I took him over to my doctor and she diagnosed him with non-hodgkins follicular lymphoma stage 4. Since I’ve been through this, he is now my patient.
Some days I think my world is falling apart, but I still keep going. I think there is more work for me to do on this earth and God picked me to do it. I’m not a religious fanatic by any means but I have had a world of prayers around me. Everyone is different in how they handle traumatic and life-changing events. I try to tell people to find strength within, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I see the beach at the end of mine and know I will get there someday soon. People need goals, baby steps – and remember that tomorrow is another day. Every morning and day is a gift that was not promised. Take that gift with gratitude. And spread it!
It doesn’t have to be a curse or a death sentence. It is an illness. You’ll have good days and bad days. If people find themselves depressed or anxious and unable to cope there is help. Find a support system, a therapist, a best friend, a forum like PatientsLikeMe. Surround yourself with positive people. You are a survivor and that is something to be very proud of. I have a group of friends and we call ourselves the Warrior Women. We are a tough group who’ve fought the beast and we are winning.
You’ve been very supportive to other members in the PatientsLikeMe forums. What has been your experience on PatientsLikeMe?
I’m very glad that my mother actually told me about this site. It makes me feel good to think that just maybe I can help someone else because of my experience. Or maybe I know of some way that their journey will be easier on them. I’ve enjoyed conversing with several other women. I’ve also learned more about lung cancer than I knew before through others’ experiences and how they are dealing with it now. I know it’s better and helpful to talk or converse with others who’ve experienced the same thing you have or similar. It’s hard with family and friends as I believe one can’t truly understand what you have been through unless they have gone through it themselves. PatientsLikeMe brings like-minded people together.
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