Marcia & Jennifer’s Story
“Who would have thought that we would eventually be equally thankful and grateful to have been diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2020 and to have battled breast cancer during a global pandemic?” – Marcia & Jen
Complete strangers, Marcia Lemon (Left) and Jennifer Fehr (Right), both received their diagnoses in January 2020 and began the breast cancer journeys that would ultimately lead them to each other.
Marcia started her cancer journey completely by chance. After a yoga class one chilly evening in early January, Marcia noticed a visible lump on her right breast. After having a rush mammogram and ultrasound, she was relieved when the radiologist said, “You came in for a lump in your right breast. Good news: it’s just a cyst.” But that relief was short lived. “The bad news: we’ve found a spiculated mass in your left breast.” Genetic testing showed that while her cancer was a low stage, it was aggressive and she carried the genetic mutation that increases her risk of breast cancer.
Marcia had a decision to make. With children living at home, there was a lot of parenting left to be done. She wanted the most aggressive treatment possible and opted for a bilateral mastectomy to reduce her risk of recurrence.
Meanwhile, Jennifer had cancer on her mind. Her mother had battled triple negative breast cancer all throughout 2019, so Jennifer was diligent about doing her self-examinations. While in the shower, she felt a small lump. Because of Jennifer’s family history of cancer, her doctor agreed to send her for a mammogram and ultrasound. In early January, the biopsy results confirmed that Jennifer did in fact have breast cancer.
Initially Jennifer was planning to undergo lumpectomy surgery. Unfortunately, due to the size of the tumour, she would need to remove her right breast and was hoping genetic testing would help her make the decision about her left breast. When the genetic testing came back showing no predisposition to cancer, the choice was hers whether to keep her left breast or not. In the end, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy.
Although bilateral mastectomies offered the best possible outcomes for both women, they were terrified. Not only were they scared of their diagnosis and the major surgery they faced, they had to undergo treatment alone due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But fate had other plans. After both of their surgeries were cancelled, the women ended up being rescheduled to have their surgeries on the same day – fourteen days after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.
When a mutual acquaintance realized both women had bilateral mastectomies on the same day, she felt it was important to make an introduction. Marcia didn’t expect anything from the conversation, but reached out to Jennifer anyway.
She and Jennifer spoke for the first time 10 days after their surgeries. They spoke for hours; they discussed their diagnosis, their operations, pain management, their families, fears and what treatment lay ahead for them. They spoke every single day after that first conversation.
The first time they met in person, was a few weeks later, at an appointment to have their tissue expanders filled which is a required step with immediate-delayed breast reconstruction. As they shared a plastic surgeon, amid the COVID restrictions they were allowed to attend the appointment together. Their friendship flourished over the weeks through text exchanges and phone conversations so much so that upon their first meeting, they felt comfortable enough to compare incisions. They comforted and distracted each other throughout their appointment, and their plastic surgeon agreed to schedule all of their future appointments together.
When no one else was allowed to be there because of the pandemic, Jennifer and Marcia had each other for support. They were able to be vulnerable with each other in a way they couldn’t with their families.
As luck would have it, Jennifer and Marcia’s chemotherapy infusions at the Saskatoon Cancer Centre were staggered, so that while one was feeling sick, the other was strong enough to offer support. Jennifer said, “If we didn’t have each other, I don’t know where we’d be. It saved me.”
“Jen is my family,” Marcia echoed.
Today, Marcia and Jennifer are in remission and remain the best of friends. Together, they have also created a not-for-profit organization to share their experiences, resources and offer a community for others diagnosed with breast cancer to find support – fittingly called My Cancer Breastie.
In true ‘breastie’ style, Jennifer & Marcia have shared their stories together at the C95 Radio Marathon for Breast Cancer Research. Beyond the care they received from staff of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, having the support of a friend made all the difference during their challenging times. Now Jennifer and Marcia want to be there for other young women facing similar diagnoses.
While they wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, Jennifer and Marcia are so grateful that it brought them together.
For information on the C95 Radio Marathon or to donate click here.