Jennifer Frazier: Breast Cancer

Jennifer Frazier: Breast Cancer

I don’t want to be writing this, because it means I had cancer.  But I get to write this today, because I am alive, surviving, and thriving.   I am a breast cancer survivor!

“I don’t want to, but I get to. Because some folks don’t get to.”, This is a quote from my pal, Jes. 

I don’t want to be writing this, because it means I had cancer.  But I get to write this today, because I am alive, surviving, and thriving.   I am a breast cancer survivor!

My cancer story starts with losing my dad to lung cancer in 2016.  Then in 2020, I turned 40 and went for my first mammogram. They saw something suspicious. I went for the follow-up ultrasound and biopsy and everything came out clear!  I was so relieved.  Then in 2021 my next mammogram came out clear, but that same year I lost my grandma to lung cancer.  I was supposed to get my next mammogram in August of 2022, but my job as a 2nd grade teacher was getting ready to start for the school year, and I did what teachers do….I put it off because of school.  So I went in January of 2023 over winter break.  Again, they saw something suspicious and I went for a follow up ultrasound and biopsy with Dr. Nicholsen in Munster. This time the news wasn’t what I had hoped for.  I had Breast Cancer.  The dreaded words you never want to hear.  And with my family’s history with cancer, my emotions were all over the place.

After my breast MRI, the tumor was larger than they saw in the other scans and the plan was then to do 6 rounds of chemo, then a lumpectomy, and then radiation, and then some more doses of chemo.   Due to finding residual cancer cells in the tumor they removed in July of 2023, the plan changed and I had to add an additional 14 rounds of treatment, which meant my treatment was going to be way longer than I had expected.  Due to how my liver reacted to that chemo we stopped at 9 treatments.  So as of March of this year, I was finished with active cancer treatments.  Currently, I am on monthly injections and a daily pill to block the estrogen and prevent the cancer from returning. I had my first mammogram since being diagnosed and it came back clear!  My bloodwork is coming back clear!  Instead of calling myself a cancer patient, I am calling myself a cancer survivor now.  I just keep telling myself, “I don’t want to keep going to all these appointments, but I get to keep doing all of these appointments.”  

I tell you all of that history so you can get a bit of a picture of the ups and downs. Things changed often throughout this journey and I have learned that is true for so many going through it.  You have to expect the unexpected.

Now how do we as survivors move forward with all these unknowns? Everyone’s path is unknown, but I rely on some F-Words on a daily basis!

 No….not bad words…lol.  Let me clarify….those F words are faith, family , and friends.  So many people have said that I stayed positive throughout this journey (which was inspiring to them) and I go back to my 3 F words. 


First: Faith:  I leaned on my faith more than I had ever done so before.   My Suncrest Church community lifted me up in prayer.

I lead a faith group at my school and the teachers in that group would pray around my desk every day that I had chemo and send me a picture to let me know they were with me.   For a person of faith, devotionals and prayer time were a great way for me to refocus.  Even in my worst moments, I wasn’t alone.  

The next F Word was family. I am single and live alone.  Some of my first thoughts were “How am I going to do this all by myself?”  The good news for me is that I never really felt like I did this journey all on my own. My family was there.  As soon as I was diagnosed my sister, who is in the army, got on a plane and came home to be with me for my initial appointments and again later in the process when the chemo was getting harder..  My mom has gone to countless appointments with me.   My brother came with me when I had to shave my head because my hair was falling out. One of my favorite pictures is of him putting his hand on my shoulder as my head was being shaved.  It showed a moment of true compassion in the midst of a hard moment.

The final F Word is Friends… both old and those I made on my treatment journey. up in ways that I didn’t deserve.  The day I was diagnosed, my friend Jill came and sat with me on the couch and just let me cry.  She listened and that is just what I needed in that moment.  She didn’t ask…she just showed up and I was so grateful for that. My friends had to force me a bit to accept help in the beginning.  My coworkers/friends in the Lake Central school system created an Amazon wishlist for me and people from all of my friend groups were sending me care packages, giftcards, etc.  Our gym teacher, whose own family has been affected by male breast cancer, created a t-shirt fundraiser for two of us in our school building battling cancer at the time (and later a third would be diagnosed as well).  A retired coworker, Sue, went to all of my long chemo appointments with me.  Friends showed up to help me choose a wig and they were there when I shaved my head.  MY friend and co-worker Joanne made me laugh and helped with sub teacher plans when I just couldn’t get to work.

We don’t have to do big gestures to help someone else.  It is those small moments that sometimes make the biggest difference.  Just show up.  Just be there.  Just listen.

In my first year as a teacher at Bibich, I met the grandparents of one of my students.  Over the years, we had always stayed in touch here and there.  After being diagnosed, they started sending me cards with encouraging notes regularly.  They have been doing that for over a year now.  I love getting mail that isn’t a bill; It makes me really think about the importance of just reaching out and letting someone know that you care.

The infusion nurses at Northwest Cancer Centers also become my friends.  You spend so much time with them and there isn’t a more special group of people on this earth.  One of my former students even works there and it is always a treat to get to see her.  They become part of your support community.  They get to know you.  My amazing oncologist, Dr. Ramadas, has cheered me on or gave me hugs depending on the day.  She knows me.  We talk about my treatment plan, but we also talk about books we are reading, school, and most importantly…coffee…lol..   My radiation team (Dr. Aguirre and all the techs, nurses, etc.) make you smile when you are there.  From playing fun music and dancing to telling jokes.   Dr. Ann Dempsey, my surgeon, and her team did such an amazing job of explaining things and putting my fears at ease. 

I had never even had an IV before all of this started.  So everything scared me. All of my doctors communicated with one another to make sure I was getting the right treatment plan for me.  If you are providing care for cancer patients….thank you.  I am sure there are days you don’t want to, but we are glad that you get to. Going through cancer is scary and having a team that you understand and trust takes some of the worst moments and make them less scary. 

The final group of friends I’ve made on this journey are my fellow survivors! One day at chemo, I could hear a young girl talking to the infusion nurses a couple of seats down from me and I could tell she was scared.  My heart broke for her because I remember how scared I was on my first day of chemo.  You just don’t know what to expect which makes it even harder.  On my way out that day, I stopped at her chair and just said a few brief words of encouragement and that it would get better.  I didn’t even catch her name.  Would you believe that I ran into her again at the surgeon’s office waiting room one day.  It took a minute, but we figured out how we knew each other.  We hugged and made a bit of a commotion in the waiting room.   The staff came out to see what all the fuss was about.  Haha!  Anyway, we kept in touch on Facebook after that and went through this journey together and encouraged each other.  The next visit to the surgeon’s office, the staff tells me that the story continues because Adeline, the young lady I met, helped to console another new patient of theirs who was struggling with the beginning of this process.  She had paid kindness forward and I loved hearing that.  I thought that was the end of that story.  Nope, it turns out that I had also connected with the person Adelline encouraged through my dear friend Suelene who introduced us (all because she was wearing a National Cancer Survivor’s Day shirt from an event we attended last year).  Now the three of us are going through this journey together.  We have connected in a way that has created a lifelong friendship.  They have become “my people” in this crazy time.  We don’t want to, but we get to.  And it is easier together.

Everyone’s path is different, but I implore you to find the F Words that help you on your journey.   Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help (which can be so hard). Be honest with others about how you are really doing, they want to know the truth. 

 If you are going through cancer, treating patients going through cancer, or caretaking for someone going through this….find your community.  Find your people.  ... And remember the phrase, “I don’t want to, but I get to.