Janielle’s cancer journey
Janielle Blenman lives fearlessly.
Whether she’s walking into her doctor’s office for her usual six-month check-up or holding the hand of a friend through the scary journey of cancer, she has an undeniable zest for life.
“I’m living life, and certain things that I took for granted, I don’t take for granted any more,” she says with a smile.
That’s simply because this six-year cancer survivor knows all too well that life can change in a matter of seconds, particularly when your doctor stares you in face, at the prime age of 24, and gives you a dreaded diagnosis.
In 2008, life stopped just for a moment for this fun-loving, happy young woman when she discovered a lump in her right breast.
After delaying the inevitable doctor visit for a little while, Janielle, who does have a family history of cancer, went in search of an expert opinion –– and it was all wrong.
“I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which is a very aggressive form of breast cancer.
“When I first found the lump, as much as it [cancer] was always a possibility, at 24 you are not thinking that it actually is breast cancer; so when the doctor delivered the diagnosis, I was a bit numb, until I actually had to repeat it; because if you repeat it, you have to digest it.”
Just as it was devastating for Janielle, it crushed her husband Deccal and other close family members. But repeating the grim news inspired a new beginning for Janielle who determined that she would defeat the dreaded disease.
Her doctor wasted no time and treatment began almost immediately.
“Honestly, those next few days were blurry, because it was rushed –– the type of cancer it was; my age. The doctor’s idea was to get it out, get it treated as quickly as possible.
“When I went into the hospital, at that point in time I was already comfortable with my surgeon. I had met with him on more than one occasion and he had actually been instrumental in linking me with the oncologist. There was still a little fear lying down on the table; but I was comfortable.”
Her breast was removed, but the treatment was successful. Like most cancer patients, the journey was anything but easy. Janielle lost her beautiful hair and recovery was sometimes slow and painful. Still, she never allowed the thought of death to kill her will to live.
“The possibility that I might die was there; but my faith in God and my faith in purpose and those kinds of things turned it around for me, and allowed me to realize that it was not a death sentence. It didn’t have to be and it wasn’t.”
Her battle with cancer would however continue for another a year. Her left breast too was removed. She admits losing both breasts was challenging but quickly came to terms with it.
“They are certain things that we look at that define you as a woman; so initially it was challenging; but I was able to realize it didn’t define me as woman.”
In fact, Janielle eagerly shares that she’s a better and stronger person after her experience.
“There are definitely things that I know now and things that I appreciate that I would not have, if I did not have the cancer experience. That’s for sure. If I could have the mindset and everything that I have now, without having to walk that walk definitely, because it was not an easy walk, I would not trade who I am now, what I know and how I feel to avoid the couple months of pain that I endured.
“I lost my fear of public speaking. My perception that certain things were important –– you come to realize that a lot of the things that we dwell on, or harp on, are insignificant. The best job and the best house –– all of those things are not important. Make time to speak to people and let people know how you care about them. Make time for yourself rather than try to get everything done.
“So it was not a just a physical but a psychological shift as well.”
She also made a number of other life changes, the most significant, she says, becoming a vegetarian.
“Honestly, my eating habits before were trash. I ate a lot of junk food –– anything greasy. I didn’t eat vegetables or fruits. I was horrible. So that was the biggest change. So now I am a vegetarian and I have to get in the servings of vegetables and fruits and drink a lot of water. I don’t use soft drinks.
“I make time for myself. The exercise routine had to be implemented because I didn’t exercise before. And my hair? I try to stay away from certain chemicals.”
Janielle is a picture of health, with a full head of natural hair. Remarkably, she’s not worried that the cancer will return.
“It is not going to return. That is based on faith. Not because the doctors will say Janielle your cancer can’t come back because doctors will tell you that it can and the type of cancer that I had some of them will tell you that it will. But my faith is such that I don’t fear it. It doesn’t take precedence in my life.
“I believe that journey has ended, and, yes, I still do my screening and stuff. I am not going to be foolish with my faith, but I am confident whenever I go to get my blood test and so on. I am confident and comfortable with the outcome.”
With her new sense of purpose, Janielle gave into a nagging feeling to share her story and launched her Life After Breast Cancer campaign to raise awareness about the challenges cancer survivors face after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
“Often in our minds, once treatment is over we think we can get back to our lives. There is no going back to your life; you have to find your new normal. You have to find a way to adjust to your new limitations and your new perceptions, and so on.
“There are a lot of things from the financial to the psychological that have changed as a result of these processes; so this campaign is basically to offer support for these women in various areas, based on my experience and the experience of other breast cancer survivors.”
Janielle is heartened by the support so far, but regrets that most women though willing to share their experiences are reluctant to reveal their identity.
Still she believes the stories are powerful for women gripped in fear after discovering some abnormality, and even more so for survivors.
“To the first group –– you don’t know that it is cancer; so waiting to hear that it is and then finding out it is at stage four when you could have been diagnosed at stage two really doesn’t make any sense. I understand the fear, but it is something that you can get through. So it is better to know early detection is your best protection. Regardless of your age if you feel the lump, go to the doctor.
“To those who are actually journeying through, there is an end. It is not an easy road, but there is an end. You do get to the light that you are seeing so far down the tunnel; and when you get to the end of the tunnel, realize that your life is different. Do not try to go back to the way things were.
“There are psychological and physical challenges and consequences to trying to be who you were. You are not the same person; so you need to realize that and embrace the change and go forward from there. Cancer is not a death sentence.”