Written By Robin Warshaw, Contributing Writer
It’s hard for Jessica “Jess” Ordway Young to slow down. As a business analyst, co-owner and instructor at a fitness bootcamp, and mother of a young son, she’s accustomed to going fast. So Jess didn’t pause when, at age 32, she was told she had stage I breast cancer.
While her family was distressed, sad and concerned about her diagnosis, Jess was focused on next steps.
“You get into that fight-or-flight mode. You do what you need to do to get it done,” she says. Jess describes herself at that time as strong and emotionally stable. “I was very ‘boom-boom-boom, what’s next?’”
While considering her treatment options, she had genetic testing for the BRCA gene mutation that increases breast cancer risk. When the tests came back negative, the Natick, Massachusetts, woman chose to get a single mastectomy. She led bootcamp classes until she had surgery and returned to teaching the high-energy fitness sessions as quickly as possible. Soon after, she underwent reconstructive surgery.
“It was early for reconstruction, but I wanted to get back to bootcamp life and trying to have another kid,” Jess says. “I just couldn’t sit and rest.”
Emotions Set In
Jess’s doctors gave her the okay to try for a pregnancy soon after reconstruction and wait until after the baby’s arrival to begin taking tamoxifen, a hormonal medicine that cannot be used while pregnant.
As life returned to normal, Jess didn’t. “When everything settled down and I realized what had just happened…the emotions smack you in the head. I broke down. I became very sad,” she says. “No one prepares you for the emotions afterwards.”
That sadness lasted a few months. Jess tried unsuccessfully for six months to become pregnant. She then used acupuncture to reduce anxiety and because a nurse had told her it helped women who had trouble getting pregnant. She became pregnant one month later, but miscarried soon after. Since then, for about five months, she’s been having acupuncture and trying to get pregnant again.
“Now when I get my period every month, I’m sad,” she says.
Jess turns 35 at the end of 2014. Fear of a breast cancer recurrence lurks in her mind. She might go on tamoxifen after her birthday.
“I have a timeline looming and it’s hard.”
A Tradition Turns Personal
Four years ago, before her diagnosis, Jess and her three bootcamp partners decided to hold a special class on Thanksgiving morning. The purpose: to raise money for young women and families in the Natick/Framingham area who are affected by breast cancer.
That event has been repeated every Thanksgiving since. Bootcamp members and community residents attend, raising funds and giving much-needed support to women in treatment or coping with its aftermath.
After Jess was diagnosed, the partners decided to create a charitable arm of their business. In June 2013, after Jess had completed reconstruction, they held their first annual Pink Ball. About 100 people attended.
The 2014 event was even more successful: it drew 200 people and raised about $15,000. Funds will go to three young women affected by breast cancer who have financial burdens resulting from treatment.
“Sometimes the women are hesitant (about accepting the donations),” Jess says. “We’ve found that a lot of women have a hard time taking help.”
Adjusting to Uncertainty
Jess also finds it difficult to seek support. Although the cancer center where she was treated has a group for young women, she has not attended any sessions.
“I didn’t have the experience (chemotherapy or radiation) everyone else did…[so I think] I can’t feel sorry for myself, or I shouldn’t feel a certain way,” she says. “There’s a part of me that thinks, ‘How can you need support?….I’ve had it easy compared to other people’s stories I’ve heard.”
Her support has come from closer to home: her husband, sister, parents, friends and bootcamp customers.
Jess shares the same anxiety many women have about breast cancer recurrence and uses relaxation techniques she learned from her acupuncturist. There was a scare a few months ago, when she had pain and doctors found four lumps. A biopsy showed everything was fine.
“It’s always in the back of your head, every day,” she says.
This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.