Share Your Story: Jean Zadilsky

A Survival Story...Twice

Wow! Where to begin? In 1994, at the age of 31, I found a small lump in my breast and went to my doctor. She couldn’t feel the lump and said it probably was nothing; keep an eye on it. I went away feeling good that I had done what I was supposed to do. I got it checked out and it was nothing. I tried to forget about it, but every once in awhile I’d feel the lump again and get this knot in my stomach. But, I’d quickly put it aside again, thinking, I had it checked and it’s nothing. Exactly one year later, I was at the doctor about something else and decided to ask her once again to check my breast. This time she agreed, she could feel a lump. I was scheduled for a mammogram and ultrasound and within a month, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had 2 young children and this turned my life upside down! I underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and 5 years of tamoxifen. I had tram-flap reconstruction 3 years later.

Life eventually returned to “normal.” I became a peer support volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society as a way to help others. Fifteen years ago people just didn’t talk about breast cancer like they do today and there were little resources available. I didn’t want other women to have to feel as alone as I had been going through this. I found the interactions with other women therapeutic for me, to be able to listen to and encourage other women, as well as giving me the opportunity to meet many other women, literally hundreds, who have been touched by this horrible disease.

Fifteen years later, in February 2009, I went for my routine mammogram and ultrasound and once again my world was turned upside down when the ultrasound technician suspected something. A needle biopsy then and there led to a 2nd cancer diagnosis 5 days later. It was the other breast and a completely different type of breast cancer. Initially I had a lumpectomy and was scheduled to begin radiation. It just didn’t sit well with me. I opted for a mastectomy this past September, with immediate reconstruction. Fortunately I did not have to have chemotherapy this time as there were no lymph nodes involved and little benefit of having chemotherapy. In July 2009, I had to have my ovaries removed to put me into menopause and shut down the raging estrogen levels that were possibly connected to both my cancers.  I began taking Femara, a hormonal treatment, which I will take for the next 5 years.  Just in April of 2010 I had the second stage of the reconstructive surgery and am doing really well! My prognosis is excellent and I feel wonderful with my new “look.” I now feel like I can carry on living my life and pray that this is behind me forever.

People always comment how strong I’ve been through all of this.  My strength just comes naturally. I have God and my parents to thank for that. After the initial shock, I just buckled down and said “this is what I have to do” and set out to do it. You just do what you have to do. I know there are always people dealing with worse situations. It might sound crazy, but I really feel like I got off “lucky.” It could be so much worse!

I think the most prominent thing I’ve learned through all of this is to trust my “gut instinct.” I believe we have those instincts for a reason and if something isn’t sitting right with you, or keeps nagging away at you, there’s likely a reason for that! Don’t ignore it. “Follow your gut feeling” is what I tell people.

I walked in The Weekend to End Breast Cancer in 2006, to celebrate 10 years cancer-free. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 I worked as a Crew Member to give back to this life-changing event. Wow, what an impact this Weekend has had on my life! This coming September, I’m gearing up to walk the 60kms again to celebrate what would’ve been 15 years cancer-free and now is 1 year cancer-free again!

Big Hugs,

Jean Zadilsky



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