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Jessica is a Jewish married mom of two teenagers and a trained social worker at a local nonprofit and on an acute rehab unit at the local hospital. In August 2022, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. “At the colonoscopy, they determined that I had cancer as soon as the procedure was done. I was totally shocked.”

Her treatment involved an intense surgery that required a five-night stay in the hospital. Jessica’s support system helped her through recovery, including someone the same age as her also diagnosed with colon cancer. “We were big supports for each other. We texted every day, even just seeing, did you make it to your door? Did you make it to the stairs? Did you make it to the driveway? Pushing, but also being okay with the bad days.”

Jessica also received chemotherapy as part of her treatment. She faced side effects from chemotherapy such as red, itchy and burning feet in addition to recovering from surgery. “It greatly impacted me physically. I had to think twice about social activities. Going out to dinner or walking around a city was impossible and I couldn’t exercise for a long time just because of the straining, the pulling, the stretching."

As a parent, Jessica prioritized open communication with her children about her diagnosis. “We felt it was important to tell them because I believe that family secrets are just secrets and there was no reason to hide this,” she shared. “We didn’t want to put expectations on them, but we wanted them to know what was happening.”

The media can often depict cancer in an overly negative light. As a result, Jessica decided to stop watching TV shows and reading books with characters who were diagnosed with cancer. “They never show someone getting treatment and healing. I think it’s terrible for patients and families to see this repeatedly portrayed as a negative outcome because it feels so hopeless.”

Terms for cancer such as “warrior” or “battle” can also misrepresent the reality of people who are diagnosed with cancer and Jessica prefers to avoid using these terms. “These are dangerous terms that are aggressive in nature. You’re treating an illness.”

From her experience as a social worker, Jessica had a toolbox of coping techniques. “I’m familiar with a lot of breathing techniques, like box breathing. I would try to integrate that into my daily activity. Journaling, worry journaling, mindfulness, all these things that you talk to clients about.”

Jessica discovered CancerCare’s services through a list of resources from her hospital. “I reached out and thank goodness I was able to get a wonderful therapist who I met with on a monthly basis, going over support and coping skills within that therapy.”

Family members and friends showed up in different ways to provide support. “It seems obvious, but it is so important to have a strong support network,” Jessica said. “It can be a really terrifying and lonely experience and just to have someone you can rely on or call or see who cares means a lot.”

Jessica has words of wisdom for others coping with a cancer diagnosis. “You have to remember you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It can be an anxiety-provoking thought but it’s really the truth for everyone. Some things I’ve learned from this is you should not wait to tell someone how you feel about them if it’s positive and you should do activities that sound fun.”

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