A Breast Cancer Warrior Shares Her Journey
- Dancing with the Stars and Little Women: LA alum and reality TV star Terra Jolé, 41, recently began sharing details about her ongoing breast cancer journey. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after finding a lump in her right breast.
- Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research, so there are many treatment options out there. Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives.
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
Jolé, best known for starring in the reality series Little Women: LA and placing fifth on season 23 of Dancing with the Stars, got news early this year that she was not expecting in the slightest: a breast cancer diagnosis. In her announcement on Instagram a few days ago, the mother of three married to actor Joe Gnoffo, 46, told her followers why she didn’t want to hide her diagnosis.
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“I have breast cancer,” she wrote in her caption. “I had two choices. 1. Hide and not share on social media. 2. Take you along the fight with me.
“Since our lives have been public for the last 10 years, it’s only fair we make this journey together . 🤟🏼 More soon…”
Dancing with the Star’s Terra Jolé Tells Her Mother
Her post included a snippet from a longer YouTube video showing the “hardest call [she’s] ever made” – the moment she told her mother, Isabel Odmark, about her diagnosis.
“I just want you to know that like you don’t need to worry like everything’s gonna be okay,” Jolé said on the phone with her mother. “And the only reason I didn’t tell you is ’cause I don’t want you to worry.”
She then went on to explain that her journey first began when she felt a lump in her breast, and doctors discovered she had breast cancer in January. She still doesn’t know exactly what stage she’s at, but she’ll find out when she has her lymph nodes removed and biopsied during an upcoming double mastectomy.
“Seven to 10 business days after surgery, I will know what stage I’m in,” she said. “But it’s stage one or two, I can fight this.”
Depending on what stage she’s at, she may or may not have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments that could take anywhere from 3 to 6 months. If she does not need the extra treatments, she’ll undergo implant surgery soon after her mastectomy. If she does need them, the implant operation will have to wait.
Odmark took the news of Jolé’s diagnosis well and was hopeful about what lay ahead for her daughter.
“I don’t think it’s gonna be a problem for you, I really don’t,” her mother said over the phone. “[I] really feel it deeply that you’ll be okay.”
The Dancing with the Stars Alum Makes the Most of Her Situation
Jolé was relieved by her mother’s response. And, thankfully, she’s had ample support from others as well. In a recent Instagram post, she shared that some of her close friends joined her for a “Bye Bye Boobies Celebration.”
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“Instead of being a depressing evening it was a moment of support and love,” she wrote in her caption. “Incredibly grateful to be able to call these women my warriors!
“This is about moving on to the next chapter instead of dwelling on what I could of done differently. It’s about being grateful for what my “boobies” did for my family, our 3 kids, and knowing they are no longer needed… Bye bye boobies, bye bye cancer, hello new life.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
The Importance of Screening
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.