In October of 2013, Jen Waterman noticed a lump on her breast while breastfeeding her twins. Waterman, who was 33 at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 3 B breast cancer, starting a battle with …
In October of 2013, Jen Waterman noticed a lump on her breast while breastfeeding her twins. Waterman, who was 33 at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 3 B breast cancer, starting a battle with cancer that lasted through the following April.
As the ten-year anniversary of that diagnosis- and the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month- pass, Waterman, now a third-grade teacher at Edward S. Rhodes Elementary School in Cranston, is reflecting on her battle with cancer and how she’s worked to help others since.
Waterman is a member of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation’s Young Survivors, a group for women who were diagnosed with the disease under the age of 40.
This year, Waterman became Gloria Gemma’s top donor, after years of being in the top 10, raising upwards of $8,000 for the foundation. The money, according to Waterman was raised in part through a Facebook online auction and a good bit of help from the schools in Cranston that she’s worked at.
“I’m not the kind of person that shies away from this,” she said.
Along with her fundraising work, Waterman spoke at the State House in October of 2014, not too long after being declared cancer-free, and has walked as part of the Flames of Hope ceremony every year since then.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a change in mammography guidelines. The new guidelines recommend that women begin screening for mammograms at 40, down from previous guidelines saying that they should begin at 50.
Waterman said that those guidelines should come down even further, noting that she likely wouldn’t have noticed her cancer until it was too late if she wasn’t breastfeeding at the time, but lowering them is a “step in the right direction.”
“There’s so many of us Young Survivors,” Waterman said. We take a photo of us every year at Flames of Hope. It started out with a small group of us, and now it’s huge.”
Waterman said that her perspective was forever changed by her experience with the disease, which included being too tired to do even simple tasks and dealing with the side effects of the prescription drugs that she had.
While it has been a decade since Waterman was diagnosed and nine years since she was declared cancer-free, it still affects her life in many ways today.
“I don’t think about it every day, like I did five years ago, but it’s still in the back of my mind,” Waterman said. “I’m more worried about how this is going to affect my kids- is this going to happen to them?”
Adding to those worries is that Waterman has a BRCA gene mutation, which put her at significant risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Waterman’s mother passed away of ovarian cancer in 2001, and her grandmother and great-aunt passed away of breast and ovarian cancer, respectively.
Since dealing with the disease, Waterman has had a double mastectomy, as well as having a complete hysterectomy as a preventative measure.
“A lot of people don’t listen to their bodies when they don’t feel right,” Waterman said. “At least I went and got checked.”
Waterman said that more and more people she knows have gotten a mammogram in recent years, and many of them let her know about it.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1,000 women in Rhode Island will be diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of the year, with approximately 130 dying from it.
For anyone dealing with the disease today, Waterman said to get checked out if anything feels off, and make sure not to push away support.
“It was really hard for me to accept help,” Waterman said. “I was the caregiver, I’m the one that checks on my friends, I bring the meal to them. If somebody wants to give you help, let them help you.”
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