Jenn Puhle is in the thick of her cancer battle. Nearly a year ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and a mere few weeks later received a double mastectomy. While her mother had breast cancer in her 70s, Jenn had no family history and was BRCA negative. Her MRI was just precautionary, as she had dense breast tissue. When the doctor came back with the results, all Jenn remembers is her saying, “you’re not going to die from this.”
The journey has not been easy. As a divorced mom of two, Jenn has learned a lot about the support around her: “It all happened very fast and I was floored by who showed up for me and who didn’t.” Breast cancer, she states, has made her re-examine relationships with those around her. For those who did show up, Jenn remains immensely thankful. Her church created a meal train, which was essential for Jenn because she couldn’t cook or shop after surgery. With a 17 year old at home, the generosity, mostly from those in the congregation she didn’t know that well, meant the world.
Her diagnosis proved difficult for her two children, as well. At a time when a high schooler is applying to colleges and letting the thrills of senior year seep in, her son was coming home to a mother who was sick and suffering. In an attempt to normalize his life, she hired a cleaning service and relied on friends for food shopping and other basic needs.
Jenn notes that while she has seen some people bounce back right after surgery, the same cannot be said about her experience. Physically, Jenn has had a myriad of side effects from the medications and surgery. She remains in PT for her shoulder (a side effect from surgery) and continues to battle ligament stiffness and body aches and pains. Additionally, she recently had a cyst and fibroids removed from her uterus, most likely caused by Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat hormone-receptor positive breast cancer. It is these physical changes since diagnosis that have led to the greatest mental and emotional distress. Jenn often feels like she is scraping for the feeling of womanhood again saying, “losing my nipples was the most devastating. I don’t feel like a woman.” For now, she just wants to give her body a minute to rest and heal from the intense medications running through it and the invasive surgeries. She has one more surgery coming up this winter to tweak her previous reconstruction. Until then, she remains dedicated to picking out dresses, heels, and doing her hair to achieve a semblance of control over the womanhood she once felt.
Despite the intensity of her past year, Jenn is still able to find the positives. She is grateful for flexible work so that she can continue to heal, while also having an outlet to focus on something non cancer related. She also has learned how to be patient with herself and her personal journey. Indeed, to those newly diagnosed her advice is, “Don’t hide. You almost become a person you don’t recognize during treatment, but you have to be patient with the process.”