If resilience in the face of setback is the secret weapon of cancer survivors, Jessica Storm,34, is a master. After two miscarriages, she was ecstatic to be pregnant. But during her second trimester, she noticed a large lump on top of her breast. “I assumed it was a clogged milk duct,” she told SurvivorNet.Read More
Kelly Shanahan has metastatic breast cancer and she is a doctor – but she doesn’t live by the statistics. Neither does Jessica Storm.
pregnant, she was diagnosed with stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer. She underwent four rounds of oral chemo before her baby, Josslyn arrived in July of 2018, “completely healthy.” After the birth, she resumed chemo for 11 weeks.
She came up with a mantra for chemo: “Every time I take the chemo, I say: ‘I am strong. I am cancer-free.'” I say it out loud, twice a day. It’s like a visualization and I am truly
Chemotherapy combined with the immunotherapy drug, atezolizumab, can have a significant survival benefit for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer, says Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a breast oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
learning to believe it.” By November, she’d learned she had the BRCA1 gene mutation and underwent a double mastectomy.
Have You Had Your Skin Checked?
After the surgery, she was declared “NED” — no evidence of disease. “Then my doctor mentioned that some studies linked BRCA1 with skin cancer — she said I might want to see a dermatologist for a skin check,” Storm recalls. By then, she says, she’d had 252 doctor visits in the past year. Could she add one more? “I’m surprised I actually followed through on it but I thought,
‘I should just go and get it over with.'” Storm says. The dermatologist found a spot on her back. “It was so small and, sure enough, it came back stage 1 melanoma,” she says, cheerfully. “Thank God it didn’t involve further treatment — they did a biopsy and surgery in the doctor’s office. The chances of it coming back are slim,’ she notes, adding “but I don’t do statistics.”
Storm says she was a lifeguard in her teens and early twenties. “I was in the generation that went to tanning booths. I’ve influenced a lot of people my age to get their skin checked.”
Headaches: Another Diagnosis
Shortly after that, Storm started getting the kind of headaches that ibuprophin didn’t help. “That’s when I started worrying,” she said. “My [oncology] team said any pain for two weeks you need to call. I wasn’t showing any other symptoms but the amazing nurse suggested I get a head MRI.
Then I got the call an hour or two later, my oncologist was letting me know that hey had found a golf-ball sized tumor in my head.” Her stage 3 breast cancer was now stage 4.
It had caused the tumor in her brain. “When I found out that I was stage 4, I was appalled….who me? I was feeling fine, I just had these minor headaches,” she recalls.
Storm says while she couldn’t choose her circumstances, she could choose her response: “Jocelyn was just over a year old, so I don’t have a lot of time – I just have to keep going. Life doesn’t stop just because you have cancer.”
Call Me With A Plan
Storm could handle the difficult news but, she told her doctor, “I need you to call me with a plan. The hardest part is when you’re told information and then you don’t have a plan. That gap of time when your waiting — that’s the hardest time.” The plan included oral chemo and cyberknife surgery to remove the tumor. “They were able to pop the tumor right out.”
Miraculously, a follow-up scan came up clean.
Attitude is Everything
Through it all, Storm has taken charge of her attitude. “I always tell people who are recently diagnosed. Never give up hope,” she says. And limit your time on the internet, she adds: “It’s super easy to go down the rabbit hole. If you have to scratch that itch, give yourself 10 minutes and focus on finding uplifting stories,” she notes. “That’s how I found SurvivorNet.” (No, we didn’t ask her to say that — but she did.)
Other rules for this cancer conquerer: “Never cancel any plans unless you really need to. I have a big family and lots of friends. If I’m not feeling well, I’ll call them. I have a lot more good days than bad days. If I had a limited amount of time on earth I don’t want to spend it in my bed, unless I really have to.”
When the coronavirus hit, she skipped one month of blood work. But now she’s back on schedule. “There’s barely anybody in the cancer center — they take all the precautions. I’ll go in for blood work or fluids. If I feel flat, I know I need fluids.” Now, with clear scans every six months, she says, “I’m getting my life back.”
She continues to love her work, her family, her friends and her life. Cancer doesn’t define her: “I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I have a great career, and — oh by the way — I have breast cancer.”