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Breast Cancer Patient Story

Jackie VandeLinde

Jackie VandeLinde, a breast cancer survivor who underwent treatment at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital, shares her story with cancer patients in Sentara’s “Who Am I Now?” group, a free educational program for people with any type of cancer.

“Many people with cancer have questions and don’t know where to go,” the 58-year-old Virginia Beach homemaker explains. “This program offers answers and hope.” VandeLinde, who attended the first meeting when she was diagnosed three years ago, now visits as a guest speaker to tell others about her experience.

“No one knows what to expect, and they are afraid. I share what I went through to help them,” she says.

Her Story Begins: Unexpected Timing
VandeLinde’s breast cancer diagnosis came when she was feeling better than she had in years. She had recently lost 32 pounds after joining Weight Watchers and walked three to five miles a day.

Not one to perform regular breast self-exams, she kept annual mammogram appointments, especially since her mother died from breast cancer when VandeLinde was 13. In October 2003, a mammogram showed a small (2 centimeters) but deep cancer in her right breast.

“The doctors told me it was an aggressive cancer, and they were surprised it had already spread to six of 12 lymph nodes,” she explains. Her treatment would need to match the aggressiveness of the tumor.

Facing a Difficult Diagnosis
The night she received her diagnosis, she decided to keep life as normal as possible. She and her husband Tom were on their second family, she says, having raised four daughters, three of them now in their 30s. Their youngest daughter had died in a car accident 10 years ago, two weeks before her son’s first birthday. VandeLinde and her husband adopted that baby, and in addition to another grandson they had adopted earlier, are raising the boys, Tommy and Cody — now 15 and 10 — as their own sons.

“Tom and I were honest with them; we told them I had cancer and explained what was going to happen,” she says. “Tommy asked if I was going to die. I said absolutely not.”

The Treatment Journey: Keeping Life Normal
Physicians performed surgery (a lumpectomy) to remove the cancer. In early 2004, she started chemotherapy every two weeks for three months. On the in-between weeks, she received immunotherapy shots.

Throughout her treatment, VandeLinde continued her normal life, which consisted of taking care of her boys: school parties, sports practices, wrestling meets and football games.

Friends seemed to pop out of the woodwork, VandeLinde says.

“The tremendous support I received from not only my closest friends and family but the entire community was overwhelming,” she says, citing the times people brought her food so she wouldn’t have to cook.

Even her dog Rascal lent support, she claims. VandeLinde didn’t suffer many bouts of nausea commonly associated with chemotherapy, but she did have days that were better than others. She continued getting her kids to school every morning, but one day she just couldn’t manage it, she recalls.

“I stayed in bed all morning. Rascal, who normally isn’t allowed in the bedrooms, kept coming by to check on me,” she says, smiling. “He knew.”

Minimal Side Effects
Short-term side effects for VandeLinde were minimal. She shaved her head as soon as her hair began falling out. Happy with wigs just as well as without, she says she generally wore them for her family’s benefit. She suffered one chest pain episode that resulted in a lower dose of the immunotherapy. A separate asthma condition resulted in a week stint in the hospital. Long-term side effects include neuropathy (a decline in the nervous system) primarily in her toes, for which she takes medicine.

Chemotherapy ended in May of 2004; then she started a six-week course of daily radiation therapy, which ended in July. There were no side effects from the radiation.

Today VandeLinde says she feels great. “All my checkups have been good,” she adds. She visits her oncologist every four months for follow-up and her surgeon every six months.

One Day at a Time
VandeLinde took the advice, “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.”

“I realize how important it is to eat well and exercise,” she says. Being healthy is imperative, VandeLinde says, because she does want to take care of others. In addition to raising her family and speaking to the “Who Am I Now?” group, she started volunteering two days a week at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) more than a year ago.

Throughout her treatment, VandeLinde wrote in a journal and had Reiki therapy through the difficult times. Now, she offers that advice to patients in the “Who Am I Now?” program, as well as recommending the program itself. “I tell everyone I know who has been diagnosed with cancer about the group,” she says. “I learn something new every time I go.”

Finally, VandeLinde advises, take one day at a time. “I don’t need to worry about the small stuff, because it is just not important. I live day to day and enjoy my time with friends and family.”

About the “Who Am I Now?” Program for Cancer
Sentara offers a free educational program called “Who Am I Now?” to help newly diagnosed cancer patients cope with their diagnosis and treatment. The free monthly program is held at the Coastal Cancer Center at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital and at the Lake Wright Cancer Center in Norfolk. The group is open to anyone in the area diagnosed with any type of cancer; you do not need to be a Sentara patient. For more information call (757) 395-8686.

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