My name is Jennifer Pollock. I am 45 years old and have been married for 17 years. I am a mom of 2 beautiful girls, one of whom is special needs with type 1 diabetes. I am a very passionate momma to my girls and have been so lucky to be home with them for the last 14 years. I am the play date, PTA, carpooling mom, who can count the carbs in any food and inject insulin without batting an eye. Just this year I also started to work a few hours at a local elementary school, helping kids who are behind in reading. Besides doing stuff with my kids, I love to be healthy and feel very lucky, as it has served me well. I enjoy cooking, exercising, doing outdoor stuff with my husband (he is a camper), and doing just about anything that my girls will include me in. Actually, I am just happy to be here.
My cancer story goes WAY back. When my youngest daughter was born, my hair started shedding when she was about 6 months old. This was not weird, and had happened with my other daughter. What WAS weird, was that it never stopped. I really didn’t worry about it, until she was 3. At this point my hair looked awful! I went to the Dr. and asked for blood work, and they didn’t find anything. When my little one turned 4, my hair continued to fall, and I started to have diarrhea on a daily basis. After about 6 months of this, I went to a GI. (In the meantime I had been to my GP 3 or 4 times to run blood work regarding my hair, and a general feeling of unwellness. I had also seen a dermatologist, and an acupuncturist. No one thought anything was wrong with me.) The GI said I was too young for a colonoscopy, and to change my diet. I am quite horrified to tell you that I did not return to another GI for 2 years. I had become embarrassed, as no one ever found anything wrong, and also my older daughter had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during this time, and things had been very hard. Finally, I thought I saw blood in my stool, and knew then that something was horribly wrong. It was about 2 weeks later that I was FINALLY diagnosed with colon cancer. I was 41 years old.
My initial response to the diagnosis was that I knew, without a doubt, that I would die. I knew that I had, had this cancer for at least 4 years. Also, I lost my older brother to melanoma about 10 years earlier and this was eerily similar to how that had unfolded. I had to take a sedative the night I found out, because I was absolutely hysterical. I had my CT the next day, which I sobbed through. They read my CT on the spot, and told me that there was no metastasis. It was seriously a miracle.
I was told that I need surgery ASAP, and could not be staged until after the surgery. I had a foot of my colon removed, in a colon resection. I was in the hospital for 5 days, but was extremely fortunate not to have a colostomy bag. My surgeon is still one of my biggest heroes. My happiness was short lived when I got the call that 7 lymph nodes had tested positive for cancer cells. This staged me at 3C. This was just barely caught before being stage 4, and meant that I needed chemo. It was at this point that I learned exactly how imperative it is to have a good medical team. My surgeon and oncologist gave me so much hope that I could beat this diagnosis, that it gave me the strength I needed to get through chemo.
I was scheduled to have my port put in on Valentine’s Day, which everyone kindly rescheduled to the 15th. I healed for about 3 days, and then started my 6 months of chemo. I infused for 4 days a week, every other week, for 6 months.
I think the most humbling thing I have ever done, is to allow people to help me during this time. I hate getting help. For real. But I could not do chemo, and take care of my girls, without help. My mom actually flew into town for every single chemo treatment, to help me with the kids. We also accepted meals, which our daughter’s elementary school arranged on a calendar, with all the teachers cooking for us. It was absolutely amazing how many people helped us, and from unlikely sources. It turned out that a mom from our dance studio had a son with diabetes and put herself on emergency lists for my daughter. Someone I barely knew gave me a hand knit prayer shawl, which her mother had sent from the East coast.
Without a doubt, it was my family that gave me the strength to persevere. As a child who lost her dad at a very early age, I know how hard it is to grow up missing a parent. There was nothing I would not do, or try, in order to stay here for my girls. My husband remained very positive that I would be ok, which also helped me keep a positive mindset. I did not want the girls to have a huge disruption in their lives, so I kept things as normal as I could, and I think it also helped keep my spirits up. I went to all their performances (sometimes with chemo in a fanny pack!), took them to Disneyland for one of their birthdays, (I could barely walk at that point, but they were able to take my disability pass and skip lines, while I sat and relaxed!) and basically stayed active and involved.
Cancer took a lot from me. It took my security, my faith in my body, a huge part of my colon and a bunch of lymph nodes, and monopolized almost a year of my life. But I think I got more than was taken. I used to take things for granted, and really sweat the small stuff. I was somewhat of a perfectionist. I have really thrown all of that out the window. I have a love of life now that I don’t think you can have if you take life for granted. I don’t have a bad day anymore. I have a bad moment, but am able to quickly remind myself how great it is to be here to HAVE that moment. I am careful with how I spend my time. I know what is important, and what I don’t want to waste time on anymore. And I have a new circle of friends that I would not have had without cancer.
I think anyone who has fought this disease is a warrior. Win or lose, it is a tough fight and I think everyone qualifies. I think the message I want people to take from my story is: Trust your instincts! Always! And live with gratitude.
Thank you for listening to my story! In January, I will have been cancer free for 4 years.