Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've Never Been So Elated to be Negative!!!

Today I received some of the best, most relieving news of my life: I am negative for the breast cancer gene!!!!

During the last 10 years, I asked every OBGYN I saw if I should be tested for BRCA, and to my surprise, all said no. Not long after Jon and I married, I read a beautiful memoir about breast cancer called Pretty is What Changes, which I was compelled to purchase after seeing the author, Jessica Queller, interviewed about genetic testing on Nightline. As I read the book, I decided I absolutely should be tested. Jon and I met with a genetic counselor, but I realized I wasn't yet ready to go through with the test, which would yield potentially life-altering results.

Two years later, I consulted my dear cousin and family oncologist, David Ellison, who strongly agreed that I should be tested. When I went for my annual OBGYN appointment, my doctor set up the test, despite her obvious disbelief that it was necessary.

I scheduled my test for when Jon would be out of town because it is my body, my blood, my family history, and I didn't want him to share my anxiety about the test day in person. He shares a plethora of other difficult days with me each year (for example, the whole month of May: Mother's Day, which often falls on my Mom's birthday, followed by the anniversary of her death, all wrapped up into one long month), so I wanted to give him a pass that day.

I told my Dad and a few friends that I was having the test "in the fall," in case I tested positive and needed time to process the information alone first. But, when I woke with a major bout of anxiety last Wednesday, I quickly called my Dad. He calmed me with Dad-like facts about breast cancer genetics, and kindness and support. He and I both have a touch of ESP, and he expressed that he had a strong feeling, beyond just a hope, that my results would be negative, which is exactly what Jon and I felt.

That afternoon, I paced up and down the waiting room at the Oschner Breast Cancer Center for 45 minutes that felt like a full day. (Dad, while I don't wear a pedometer like you, getting extra steps in each day is always on my mind thanks to you!). Finally, I proceeded to an exam room where a nurse practitioner took down my family history. (Yes, I'm an Ashkenazi Jew. Yes, I know that increases my odds. Yes, my Mom is the only documented family member with breast cancer. Yes, I know that decreases my odds. Yes, I've researched and thought a lot about this and I definitely want the test. Yes, I'm prepared to consider a double mastectomy depending on the outcome. )

To my surprise and relief since I bruise badly at even the sight of a needle, no blood was involved. I was given two small cups of mouthwash, and told to swish each for 30 seconds and spit into a vial to collect a DNA sample. Next, I ran my tongue over my gum, mouth roof, and teeth, and gathered with gusto the remaining, minty saliva to add to the vial. I left the Center with, if not a fresh attitude, then at least a fresh mouth.

I was told I'd receive a call with the results in two to three weeks. I told Jon and my Dad six: for this high-anxiety waiting game, I wanted no pressure. 

The good news came today, less than a week later, on August 17, which is the 9 1/2 year anniversary of the day Jon and I met. I sobbed happily while the nurse practitioner told me I should begin yearly mammograms at 34 (I began at 30 due to David's informed advice) and continue self-checks and regular OBGYN exams.

As I write, I'm sipping a glass of Veuve Cliquot, which I purchased a few weeks ago in nervous anticipation of this very moment. I''ll sign off now to toast myself, and, as always, my Mom.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Galas, Anniversaries and Donations

Though Jon and I ended up being unable to attend the Roper Hospital Donor Gala after all, I heard from a very reliable source that it was quite lovely. Here's an article from the Charleston paper about it. I wish I could report first-hand -- maybe next year.

I always get very sentimental this time of year, as Jon and I near our "first date" anniversary. It's number eight! Our 1-year wedding anniversary falls just two weeks later, so that makes it even more sweet and exciting.

We'll soon make a donation to my Mom's Fund in honor of our wedding anniversary, and will make one each year around this time, to continue to help underfunded breast cancer patients at the hospital that helped my Mom.

As always, thank you,
Jennifer & Jon

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Roper Xavier Society Annual Donor Recognition Gala

In January, Jon and I will attend the Roper Xavier Society Annual Donor Recognition Gala in Charleston, with special guest Tom Brokaw. We're so proud and honored to be invited.

Jon and I have been married eight months, now -- sometimes it feels like we've just met and are falling in love all over again, while other times it feels like we've been married for decades.

I look forward to taking part in such a special evening at Roper. Our donors, and my Mom, will be very much on our minds on that January evening.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wedding Dress Donation

August 8 and 9 is the annual Brides Against Breast Cancer event in Charleston. Though I haven't seen my dress since the day after Jon's and my wedding, I decided to go ahead and ask my Dad to donate it back instead of shipping it to their headquarters or waiting until next year. I hope that another Charleston bride wears it and finds the happiness I've found in my first five months of marriage.

Brides Against Breast Cancer is a great organization, and I would definitely recommend it, though I do have some tips and suggestions for wedding dress seekers. Feel free to contact me if you are considering shopping for a dress at one of their events.

You can read the story of my dress here.

Friday, July 25, 2008


About an hour after I posted the latest donation figure a very special, generous donor wrote that he was going to donate another $100 to make it an even $10,000.

When Jon and I started the Fund, our goal was to raise around $2,000. Thank you so much for helping us raise at least five times that amount!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

June Donations and Fund Update

As of last week, the Eve Coleman Memorial Fund has raised $9,900!

I recently spoke to Teresa Pischner, the Breast Care Navigator at Roper St. Francis Cancer Center, who has developed funding criteria to ensure that the Center continues to honor our intent for donations.

"The Eve Coleman Memorial Fund is making it possible for us to help our underfunded breast cancer patients at critical points in their care and we are most grateful for the generosity," says Teresa. She will continue to make sure that the Fund money directly meets the needs of patients and their families.

Teresa gave a few examples of how the money has been spent so far. Please see the entry below, or click here, for those patients' stories.

Jon and I will continue to update the site with donation information and further details on who and how the Fund has helped. We've been very proud to watch the Fund grow as we settle into married life, and will continue to remember my Mom by managing and donating to it for many years to come.

Thank you so much for your support,

Jennifer & Jon

Watermelon Women: Lila and Mary

A married mother of three (her youngest child is a year old), Lila is undergoing a heavy chemotherapy regimen for advanced breast disease. She doesn't have health insurance and couldn't afford the drugs that would ease her discomfort. The Fund allowed the Roper St. Francis Cancer Center to purchase anti-nausea medicine for her.

Mary had breast cancer as a 21-year-old medical student in Charleston. After recovering at home in Kentucky from a double mastectomy, she returned to the Center for breast reconstruction surgery. She and her mother could not afford the hotel stay in between her surgery discharge and follow up visit, so the Center used the Fund to provide three nights' lodging for them at a nearby hotel for a preferred patient rate.

Mary's mother, Gloria, wrote the following note:

"Thank you again for all of the wonderful things you did for my daughter and me. I know that God allowed us to go to Charleston for this surgery for more than one reason. He knew of the wonderful people that would do the work required to give us the comfort we needed during a difficult time. The stay was great at the Marriott. Thanks again for that blessing. It helped more than you will ever know."

Monday, June 9, 2008

New Address for Donations

The address for Fund donations recently changed. It is now:

Roper St. Francis Foundation
25 Doughty Street, Suite 790
Charleston, SC 29403
Attention Annette Shepard
Re: Eve Coleman Memorial Fund

May Donations

It's officially the season for watermelon now! As of May, the Fund has raised $8,562.

Statistics about the money's uses and its distribution should be available next month.

Thank you so much.

Friday, May 9, 2008

April Donations

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." -Winston Churchill

As of this month, the Eve Coleman Memorial Fund has raised $7,500. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

March Donations

Well, we're married now! Freshly returned from our honeymoon in New Zealand, and, our donation figure is now at at incredible $5,000. Next time I post I hope to have some statistics on how many people your donations have helped already.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thank you

Just wanted to thank everyone for their contributions. It means so much to us that our wedding (and beyond) will have a positive impact on these patients' lives, and also make a connection between our marriage and Jennifer's mom. It's really exceeded our expectations. Thank you again, and can't wait to celebrate soon!

February Donations

Only a few days until Jon and I get married, and we got the news today that our donation figure has now reached an unbelievable $4,400.

Thank you so very much.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

January Donations

Just three weeks now until our wedding, and we've raised over $3,000. Jon and I are so excited that something that makes us so happy (each other!) is also helping others.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Watermelon: A Glimmer of Hope

A Glimmer of Hope
by Eve Coleman, 1992

Okay, maybe,
Just maybe
I’ve been looking
at the shoes
all wrong.

Perhaps they’re
Not worn out.

Perhaps once more
I can replace the
Heavy woolen socks
With watermelon shoes.

So what if the shoes
Are a little worse for wear?
Fading semicircles
Are barely discernible
To the casual eye.

Few really look
Beneath to see
The worn out sole

And those who do
Are content to see
A hint of what once was--
Bright green rind
Cushioning hot pink fruit.

Those who do
Look beneath the surface
Celebrate the sole below
Replete with rends and tears.

It is for them,
Those who
Celebrate my soul,
That I will drag
The well worn shoes
Around on wobbly legs
Until the cobblers tell me
They have sewn their last stitch.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Watermelon Shards

Watermelon Shards
by Jennifer Coleman, March 1994

I remember joining your hands together at the beach.
I remember hiding under a desk when you fought, which was never very often.
I remember Space Mountain, when she was so scared that she hid her head in my lap.
We were always together, family and friends forever.
Watermelon summers and fall nights passed away into years.

I remember the day, it wasn’t that far away,
When our glass world was shattered for the first time.
We cried together. He was my shelter--I had no other support that year.
We knew the time would pass, and summer came at last.

Watermelon days turned into fall nights, and we were, no, I was happy at last.
But she was in pain again, we didn’t know why.
I remember the day she couldn't get up, and all I could do was cry.
The glass shattered again, this time into tinier fragments.
The shards will never fit back together exactly the same.
I remember her state of shock the weekend the glass shattered,
But I was not near her.

We had separate plans, and to those we stuck.
She went one way and we went the other
I remember his support.
I never knew just how strong his shoulder was until
I had to lean on it to get through the day.
I remember how our words wrenched with sobs showed expression,
But the pictures from that weekend captured the moment.

Time moved on once again, and another Watermelon summer passed us by.
It was a golden summer, ironic that it should be so.
The questions we had we pushed into the back of our minds,
And she and I drank the Island’s fine wine.

Watermelon days turned into fall nights,
And we took our happiness where we could find it.
Winter settled upon us.
It has not been an easy one.
The shards of glass continue to break through her skin.

Will another Watermelon summer pass us by?
The shards are hidden, and we are uncertain where or when they will return.
Uncertain is an apt description of the newer lifestyles we have had to affect.
With the uncertainness in my step,
I seem to have prospered during these times of the shattered glass.

We take each day in stride,
And take chances,
And say I love you as if there will be no tomorrow.
Maybe there won’t be one.
If there isn’t, we have done everything right.
We have not held anything back, merely held on.
Winter days are fading into spring breezes,
Which will soon turn into Watermelon days,
And we are still holding strong.

Monday, December 31, 2007

December Donations

In December, the Fund reached almost $3,000 in donations. Every dollar raised will quickly help a breast cancer patient in need.

Thank you very much and have a happy and healthy 2008.
Love, Jennifer & Jon

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Little About Eve

Eve was born an only child in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1947 and grew up in Lepanto, Arkansas. She attended colleges in Missouri and Texas before transferring to the University of South Carolina to be near her husband-to-be, Alan. She and Alan married in 1969 and lived in Memphis, where Eve received a masters in education from Memphis State University.

Alan and Eve moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1971 following the death of his father. Eve taught English at St. Andrew's Parish High School, which Alan and Jennifer both attended, and also worked as the English coordinator of the Charleston County School district. Eve later taught at Charleston Southern University while pursuing her PhD from the University of South Carolina. Jennifer was born in 1978.

Eve was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1991, and passed away in May 1994. At that time, she was an associate professor of education at the College of Charleston. She was also a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and a former president of the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English.

The spirit with which she fought cancer and embraced her life was admired by and greatly affected her friends, colleagues, and family.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Brides Against Breast Cancer

My wedding dress cost $250 plus a $200 entry fee to the opening night fete of this year's Brides Against Breast Cancer event in New York, yet it feels like a million bucks. Or maybe two.

BABC is a traveling wedding dress bonanza that raises money for Making Memories, a non-profit organization that grants wishes to metastatic breast cancer patients. Some dresses are donated new, while others are gently (and hopefully merrily, lovingly, and memorably) worn.

Jen, a good friend and fellow journalist, sashayed down the aisle in an exquisite pre-worn gown in July, and she convinced me to try my luck at BABC. I was reluctant, as the idea of being one amongst a sea of New York brides nearly gave me hives. She mercifully offered to join the fray.

I knew I wanted a lace dress, and as occurs on many of my shopping expeditions, when I couldn't at first find what I was looking for, I wanted to run screaming out into the fall night. But once I tried on a handful of dresses and began to spot even better ones on other people's clothes racks and bodies, I rallied a little. We finished round one with a few almost-maybes, but found nothing in full lace.

After taking a cupcake and champagne break, Jen convinced me to go in for round two. She found a few more dresses, and right before I joined her in the fitting room, I grabbed a dress I'd tried on before after seeing it on the girl next to me. It was only partially lace, but the lace was high quality, and it had the A-line cut I wanted, a gorgeous train and bustle, a sweetheart neckline, and a low back. When I tried it on again, something in me clicked, and I knew it was my dress.

Today I'm going for my first post-alteration fitting, and I can't wait to see my dress again after a month apart! When I brought it home, I realized it really is the perfect one for me, for the way it makes me feel, and for the price and cause. I am proud of my dress, and pleased with how it gently, beautifully, reminds me of my Mom.

Though I know it will be hard to part with it, after the wedding I have every intention of donating it back to Brides Against Breast Cancer, to continue the cycle of giving, caring, and fighting.

November Donations

In November, the Eve Coleman Memorial Fund raised over $1,600, already surpassing our goals and hopes. Thank you very much for caring about us, my Mom, and the fight against cancer.

Jennifer & Jon