Jennifer Yong, 33 was diagnosed with Stage IIB Breast Cancer in 2011 and is currently awaiting full reconstruction surgery scheduled for the Spring of 2013. A graduate of Emerson College in Boston, MA with a BA in Visual Arts Jen loves good jazz, hip hop, art in all forms, being crafty, eating good food and random makeover and reality television shows. You can learn more about how Jen is learning to navigate her “new normal” by visiting her blog. Jen will be attending C4YW 2013 at the end of February.
I had literally just gotten laid off from work. It was all of a sudden and without any type of warning. Just BAM! Goodbye job of 5 years. That was the first big major shock I had back in October/November of 2011. I had come from working at a local Art Museum for a few years to working at a local Art college and haven’t skipped a beat in between all my life so now the thought of not having a stable job was going to be a big adjustment. But it was okay. It would be a nice break. I justified that it would be a great time to find myself again and rediscover my passions. I could deal with living off of unemployment humbly for a couple of months and then maybe find something I was really passionate about and wanted to pursue. In my head I was pretty excited for the upcoming changes. I had also worked part time at a group home simultaneously for about 3 years and played with the idea of going back to school and maybe getting masters in art therapy (the applications were all already half filled out) and now I would have the time to maybe pursue that route. But of course, life had a different plan for me. And one I was definitely not prepared for at all.
I knew there was a weird lump around my left breast months ago. Even before the summer. I always thought it was nothing and it felt a bit hard and abnormal around the nipple area but the thought of getting it checked out never crossed my mind. Even though Cancer runs in my family- my grandmother (whom I affectionately called her “yan yan”) on my dad’s side was diagnosed with both breast cancer and ovarian cancer later on in her life and eventually passed away from various complications with treatments and her body shutting down and the cancer coming back. Even as all of this unfolded before me, I still never thought it would ever happen to me and that it would affect me in any way. I was oblivious. As my grandmother was going through her treatment I somehow blocked it and never dealt with her sickness. That was my way of coping with the pain of seeing what she was going through, I just chose to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t happening until it was too late. I didn’t even understand at that age what chemo really meant and how weak it made my grandmother. I just remembered she still cooked us fantastic dinners at her place despite her weakness. This is something that affects me every day of my life and I grew to accept and understand much better in my adult life.
I remember the phone call pretty clearly. I happened to be away in NY for the day with a friend to just get out of town and to have some fun. New York has always been my mini escape from everything and everyone. I am a total city girl and the art and music and just the pure adrenaline of the city itself has always enticed me and helped me to get out of my own mind. It was a short bus ride away from Boston and just being there and getting lost in the sea of colors and people is wonderful! It just replenishes my soul and makes me feel alive again. So it’s ironic that NYC has been a part of my journey. It was sort of warm out and I remember I had my first official NY hot dog from a street vendor that day despite the fact I’ve been there more times than I could count! Funny how you remember the most random things when something traumatic is about to happen. A couple of days earlier I had gone for my annual physical. It was mainly because I was curious about the lump and also because I needed to use up my health insurance before it ran out by the end of the year. I told my doctor about the area around my breast and she took a quick look at it and given my age told me I had nothing to worry about and that it was probably just a cyst that needed to be drained. I was relieved at the news but she told me she would schedule a mammogram just in case. Long story short I went in for the mammogram and it was the most awkward exam I had to deal with! After a lot of poking and prodding they told me they saw something but couldn’t tell what it was. I started to feel some dread creep in. They then asked if I would do a biopsy while I was there so they could take some samples out to see what was wrong. I agreed and with a fine point needle I had to wince in pain as they stuck the needle in my left breast and then underneath my left arm so they could get some of the lymph nodes. I was in pain and discomfort the day after but I hoped for the best. I figured it would be a few days before I got the results and sure enough, the very morning I got back from NY- I was back to my apt and had just sat on my bed when my phone rang.
I immediately knew in that very moment, my life would be forever different. I just knew.
Jen’s story continues next week. Can’t wait? Then be sure to follow her personal blog to learn more about this amazing woman’s journey beyond her diagnosis. If you’re coming to C4YW, the Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer, be sure to say “hi” to this truly inspirational woman. For conference details, visit C4YW.org.