B y Derek Liebig
Jennifer McDermott remembers the emotions: shock, disbelief and denial.
She was 35 years old and in the prime of her life. She ate right, was active and by all accounts, healthy. Which is why she was stunned when her doctor told her she had cancer.
The mother of three found a lump on her breast during a routine self-exam four years ago. Her doctor suggested a mammogram, and a subsequent biopsy revealed the diagnosis: breast cancer.
“I was shocked and in disbelief. I was a younger person with no family history (of cancer). I didn’t even think it was a possibility,” McDermott said.
She went through the typical grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.
“I went through all those stages,” McDermott said, “but then I kind of kicked into high gear. I told myself ‘I have to beat this.’ I have three young children and I want to live for a long time.”
For the next few months, the Wells, Vt., resident and Fair Haven graduate began the fight of her life.
She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, had a bilateral mastectomy and for five days a week for six weeks, received radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells.
Although she was declared cancer free, treatments continued for more than a year and in the fall of 2010, McDermott underwent reconstructive therapy.
Even now, more than four years later, her blood is tested every six months to ensure the cancerous cells haven’t returned and she is and will be on a drug routine “for many, many years.”
But that routine has become, well, routine, and earlier this month on the four-year anniversary of her being declared cancer-free, the day came and went like any other.
“I didn’t event think about it this year,” said McDermott, who works for the United States Postal Service in Fair Haven and sells real estate for Coldwell Banker.
That’s doesn’t mean, however, that McDermott has stopped thinking about breast cancer.
She is the volunteer event chair for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Rutland County, a four-mile fundraising walk that will be held on Sunday, Oct. 6, at Castleton State College.
McDermott has participated in the event in the past, even serving on the committee last year, but took on a more active role this year to aid the organization in raising awareness of breast cancer and the treatments and services available to victims.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in women behind only skin cancer. About one in eight, or 12 percent, of women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer during their lives. The disease is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.
The death rate, however, has steadily declined since 1989, due primarily to earlier detection and increased awareness.
“One in two people who are diagnosed reach out to the American Cancer Society. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to raise awareness for others who might want to,” she said.
Following McDermott’s diagnosis and the subsequent treatment, it was the emotional aspects, not the physical, that were the most difficult to bear.
“Physically, I went through everything well. The emotional support I had with my family was a give-in, but I definitely could have used a therapist,” McDermott said. “Your emotional well-being is as important as your physical well-being.
“There’s a lot of help out there if you need it.”
The slogan for next weekend’s event is “Let’s Finish the Fight.” Anyone who would like to participate can fill out a registration form on the American Cancer Society’s website, cancer.org.
Last year’s event raised $71,000, and McDermott said organizers are shooting for $75,000 this year. But the money is second to solidarity.
“It’s about camaraderie and letting people who are going through the same thing know there is support out there,” McDermott said.
It’s about replacing shock, disbelief and denial with hope, perseverance and joy.