Jocelyn Alfandre, Cranford, NJ
What brought me here? Cancer brought me here.
So let’s start with that. I think I’m pretty smart. I went to school, worked hard, saved money, and took good care of myself.
I thought I had all my bases covered – and I still missed doing everything I could have to help prevent or even detect cancer early.
No – I’m not a doctor but I’m the daughter of one and my father – lost his battle with Leukemia in his late 40s. I was 16.
I’m not a teacher, but my mother was a teacher. And she celebrated her defeat of vaginal cancer in 2012.
I’m not an artist – but my little sister was, and she lost her battle with breast cancer 10 years ago. She was 37 and left behind a husband and 4 year old daughter.
I’m not an interior designer – but my oldest sister is and she won her battle with cervical cancer by catching it in pre-stage 1 in 2012.
I’m not a real estate mogul, dog walker, or antique dealer, but my middle sister is and she defeated cancer by becoming very educated, getting the gene test and having a preventative ovarectomy in 2010.
No…I’m none of those. But what I am is a daughter, a sister, a mom, a cousin, a friend, and a business woman. I’m in sales & business development which means I ask a lot of questions for a living…and talk to all kinds of people….and get exposure to all kinds of industries – including the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
After my sister died-I decided to be even “smarter” and set out on a mission to interview OB-GYNs to find the one that would take the best care of me given my family history. See – I thought I was pretty smart.
I picked a great doctor who helped me to get into a high risk breast cancer program to get extra testing every year. I felt my odds were pretty good that I would prevent breast cancer through early detection. I was urged by my mother to get a gene test, that would provide me my pre-disposition to certain types of cancers, but I didn’t think it necessary because I was being really careful and getting breast exams every 6 months instead of every 12. I thought I had it covered.
The doctor that I hand-picked – never mentioned the link between breast cancer and other types of cancers – so I focused only on preventing or catching breast cancer only.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that the 3-week discomfort and bloating I was having with my stomach was late stage (3C) ovarian cancer – for which there is no cure. Telling my son that his mommy had cancer-was one of the worst days of my life. The decision was not to tell him just how difficult this fight might be.
The next 6 months were a blur. I underwent major surgery, 8 week of recovery followed by 6 rounds of chemo, the loss of my hair, lots of complications that put me in the hospital for 5 weeks, and I was fed through a line (no food or water) for 3 months. I chose during that time to only see my son (who was 10 at the time) when I was well enough so he would not have to be scared or haunted by the visuals of his weak and sick mommy. I missed him so much but knew it was the right thing to do for him.
I worked hard to get my strength back after completing my treatment by taking long walks with my dogs, and I enjoyed 18 months remission. At the 1 year remission mark, my incredible gynecological oncologist and surgeon, Dr. Brian Slomovitz-who we entrusted to treat me, my mom, and my two sisters, for whom I trust with my life and the lives of my family, from the Atlantic Health System in Morristown, NJ, strongly urged me to get a preventative double mastectomy – driving down my chances of getting breast cancer from 93% to less than 10%. It was a no-brainer.
I think most of us have recently heard about Angelina Joli’s announcement this week about undergoing a double mastectomy – as a preventative measure from getting breast and ovarian cancer – which runs in her family. Although I’m no “star-chaser”- her very public announcement got such a buzz going in the media, which opened up the door to talk openly and publically about options for those with family histories and the availability of gene testing.
2 months after my 2nd breast surgery (the reconstruction), I found out my ovarian cancer recurred and I went through another 8 rounds of chemo and once again lost my hair. The blessing this time was that I had no complications and responded very well to the chemo.
I also learned about how new treatments are tested and participated in a clinical trial that lasted 2 years (from January 2011-January 2013). I went for 204 weekly infusions over that two year period to get the trial drug and was watched very closely by my oncologist. I was doing very well and truly-truly believed I was on some type of miracle drug that would help other ovarian cancer patients get longer remission periods.
It gave me hope for new treatments for all cancers. Unfortunately, I was informed just this past January that the drug did not meet its endpoints and the trial was terminated immediately.
This may be hard for most of you to understand, but to me, it was like losing my best friend – I believed that drug was giving me longer time in remission. It gave me hope. I was devastated….scared, confused, even angry, but have since re-grouped and I’m not done believing and in the words of my dear friend Mike-a very special young man that lost his battle with brain cancer earlier this year, having hope, faith and courage.
On June 14th – I will celebrate 2 years remission which is pretty much unheard of for late stage ovarian cancer. 2 YEARS! Sometimes I don’t feel hope and sometimes I feel very scared and many times it’s hard to believe in the future…
This site and the advocacy it provides for ovarian cancer gives me hope that one day – there will be a cure for ovarian cancer that will give me and so many others a chance at a wonderful, disease free life.
Please help us find new treatments and ultimately a cure for this deadly disease.