Jennifer Coleman’s cancer journey began in 2005 at age 41. She was a busy wife and mother and had been working at The Racquet Club Pro Shop as an assistant buyer and manager.
“Baptist Women’s Center called me about my mammogram, and I was busy. I told them I’d have to call them back, but they said they would hold,” Jennifer recalls. “They wanted me to come back in. I figured they saw shadows on mammograms all the time.” She had an ultrasound performed followed by a biopsy done that same day. A lumpectomy and radiation were soon to follow.
The diagnosis came while her family was planning a move to Oxford, Miss. Jennifer completed her treatment after the move and eventually found a new job in Oxford as Chapter Executive for the Red Cross.
All was well until 2013 when a second diagnosis led to the mastectomy of her left breast. “I want to emphasize,” Jennifer says. “That both cancers were found on mammograms. Mammograms saved my life.”
Having tested negative for the BRCA, the gene that prompted actress Angelina Jolie to have preventative mastectomies, Jennifer’s oncologist then ordered further genetic testing. Jennifer was found to have the rare tumor-suppressing genetic condition called CHEK2 mutation. “One of my brothers had both melanoma and prostate cancer. It turns out he has the CHEK2 mutation as well.”
Once her genetic condition was discovered, the trajectory of her care plan was modified to include more frequent and thorough screenings. “If I get it again,” she says, with calm, matter-of-factness. “They’ll catch it early.”
Jennifer explains her ability to cope: “I’ve come to realize this isn’t that big a deal in the overall scheme of things. I pray about everything, and I know that God is going to work it out the way He wants it to be worked out. Throughout my life, He has put me in various places for a reason. I’m in my job at Baptist Women’s Health Center for a reason. I can help women who have been through, or are going through breast cancer because I have walked the walk.”
Jennifer strives to support other women with breast cancer in a variety of meaningful ways. “I talk about my journey. I tell women who are getting mastectomies about things that can help them from having a nightgown that buttons down the front to sharing what resources are available.”
Jennifer also lends her support by working as a fundraiser for the Susan B. Komen Foundation, which awards grants to community programs that offer breast health services. Baptist Women’s Center has a mobile mammography unit that brings screening mammograms to the community. It will be downtown at Race for the Cure on Saturday, Oct. 27.
Baptist also offers a weekly Breast Cancer Education and Support Group that includes everyone from women who are newly diagnosed to those who are now cancer-free. The meetings have no charge and are open to everyone, regardless of where they are getting treatment.
Jennifer says, “I’m not the type of person who says “Why me?’ I’m the type of person who says ‘Why not me?’ I’m no different from anyone else. That first cancer diagnosis was a blow, but now I see it as nothing more than a bump in the road. I’ve come full circle. I’m back where I got my first diagnosis, working in a position where I can help other women.”
Breast Cancer Education and Support Group
Meetings are the 3rd Wednesdays every month from 12–1:30 pm at Baptist Cancer Center, 80 Humphreys Center Drive, Suite 340. Admission is free. RSVP is requested. 901.226.3585.
By Caroline Sposto
Photo by Tindall Stephens