Chesapeake, Ohio, resident Jennifer Eaves was pregnant when she first discovered
the lump under her left arm. She thought it unusual, but then, pregnancy
does all kinds of strange things to a woman’s body.
In all the excitement of pregnancy, it wasn’t hard to put the lump
out of her mind. Samuel arrived in October 2012 and the pace of life accelerated.
In March 2013, Jennifer’s brother was hospitalized at the University
of Kentucky. Jennifer was spending a lot of time with him, sleeping over
in the room as he struggled to get well. She missed her regular appointment
with ob/gyn Tony Dotson, D.O.
Sleeping in a hospital room is never comfortable, but Jennifer realized
she was having a lot of pain in her left breast, especially when she lay
on that side. A red area had appeared above the breast.
She called Dr. Dotson and got in for an exam. Jennifer was just 31 years
old, not at the age yet for an annual mammogram. She had only a sketchy
history of cancer in her family: a grandmother and great-grandmother had
died of kidney cancer; two half sisters somewhere on her grandfather’s
side had had breast cancer.
It was a Thursday when Jennifer had a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound
and a needle biopsy. The following Monday, her doctor’s office called
her in to share the results. She knew it couldn’t be good news.
It wasn’t: She had two tumors in her left breast and one in her
The diagnosis was Stage III breast cancer. Testing revealed she had a type
of cancer referred to as “triple negative.” Only about 15
to 20 percent of breast cancers are this type. Triple negative means the
cancer cells tested negative for three receptors usually found on breast
cancer cells: the estrogen receptor (ER), the progesterone receptor (PR)
and the human epidermal growth factor (HER-2). When this occurs, treatment
options are more limited.
Dr. Dotson referred Jennifer to a breast surgeon, but the tumors were too
large to operate. So Jennifer underwent eight cycles of chemotherapy,
beginning in September, to shrink their size. After chemo, she had a double
mastectomy and then radiation therapy. Later, she had a hysterectomy.
“This was a very difficult time for all of my family,” Jennifer
recalls. “My brother was in the hospital at UK with a rare pneumonia.
It was very touch-and-go and he really needed a lung transplant.”
After 50 days at UK, he passed away.
“The same month he passed away, I had to tell my parents I had breast
cancer. You can imagine how hard that was. They totally lost it. Sam was
just six months old.” Jennifer completed her radiation treatments
in early 2014.
After the diagnosis, both Jennifer’s mother and aunt were diagnosed
with breast cancer. “By the time they found my aunt’s cancer,
it was in her spine. She only lived six months after that.” Her
cousins both had genetic testing and were found to have the breast cancer
gene. Both are taking steps to reduce their risk.
It would be nice to share that Jennifer’s breast cancer journey ends
here. It does not.
Last fall, Jennifer, her husband Brad and 4-year-old Sam went to Disney
World. One night, as she was soothing Sam for bed, he began to rub her
neck. She realized it was sore. The next day she found two lumps. “When
you have cancer one time, you are scared to death about everything,”
Jennifer says, “You instantly think O Lord, is it back?”
This time the cancer was not triple negative. “This was actually
fortunate,” she says, “because it gave us more treatment options.”
Since October, Jennifer has been on a variety of chemotherapy regimens,
moving from one to another as each stopped working.
This April, she enrolled in a PARP Inhibitor clinical trial. Now on her
seventh cycle of treatment, scans in July showed no new tumors and that
existing tumors in her hips, rib and pelvis have shrunk. “It seems
to be working,” she says, “and the doctors say they believe
PARP is going to become the standard of care for breast cancer.”
While Jennifer is thankful to be in the trial, she wishes she had known
she was at risk before her diagnosis. She advocates genetic testing and
preventive surgery for those carrying the breast cancer gene. “If
I had known I was at risk, I would have taken the measures. Knowing gives
you options,” she says.
“Once you are diagnosed, you lose all of those options.”