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Advice from Jaclyn Jensen: On Previving Cancer & Getting a Double Mastectomy

Last month I held an IG giveaway contest with BoobiButter, and the lovely Jaclyn Jensen was one of the winners. Her story intrigued me, and I am so thrilled to share it with all of you! Jaclyn, you're incredible...and I hope we can meet one day!

Hey Jaclyn! Tell us a little about you. What do you for work? For Fun? I live in Chicago with my husband. I recently left my job in the financial industry to focus full-time on my health and passions for theatre/acting and breast cancer support. My husband and I love anything scary, so we love to go on haunted tours of Chicago or any city we visit. And for a night in, we’re usually watching a scary movie! I love the Chicago storefront theatre scene, and have had the chance to work with several companies in my years here. I’m looking forward to dedicating more time to that and hopefully also branching out into on-camera work. And of course, I love planning and hosting events for the Chicago Breasties!

Can you tell us a little bit about your situation as previvor? How has this experience been for you thus far? My health issues are related to HBOC (hereditary breast and ovarian cancer) Syndrome. I have a BRCA2 mutation, putting me at high risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers. Because I have never been diagnosed with cancer, I identify as a previvor. Because of this, I had a preventative double mastectomy. In the future, I plan to have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent ovarian cancer. And my husband and I are also currently going through IVF to test (and then freeze) embryos to screen for my genetic mutation.

Do you recall the moment that you found out you had the BRCA2 mutation? What was that experience like for you? I always knew I was at risk for cancer, due to a strong family history. In 2005, when I was a senior in college, I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, and confirmed my high-risk status. Initially, I was very split about the news of testing positive. On the one hand, it only confirmed a long held suspicion, based on my family history. It was empowering to have this information, so that I could act on it. But on the other hand, I now had to face the reality of my risk, and it was terrifying. Even though I was young and healthy, I felt as though I had been sentenced to be diagnosed with cancer. That it wasn’t a matter of IF I would get cancer, it was only a matter of WHEN.

Photo Credit: Greg Inda | @greg_inda

Have you ever been able to combine your passions for art + cancer advocacy? If so, in what capacity was the project, event, or situation? I’ve loved theatre and performing since I can remember. The memorizing, rehearsing, all of it. I have never personally acted in any projects related to cancer, but seeing plays about people fighting cancer or mourning loss from cancer can be very cathartic.

Unrelated to theatre, I have been involved in groups that advocate for genetic testing and to support young women who have been diagnosed or are at high risk. My most recent role is as a Breastie Babe for Chicago, planning and hosting meet-ups for young women affected by cancer.

What has been most challenging aspect of your situation so far?

At this point in my journey, the hardest aspect was going through with my preventative surgery. I opted for surveillance for 10+ years before finally going through with my double mastectomy. I had to consider so many factors: I would lose feeling in my breasts, I would never be able to breast feed, would I be comfortable with reconstructed breasts, what if I would never even get breast cancer anyway…

What has been a rewarding aspect of experiencing this journey?

Preventing cancer. Being able to take control of something that hung over me for most of my life. I carried that weight of fear for so long, it became a part of me that I didn’t even notice most of the time. When it was lifted, it was life changing.

What is one piece of advice you would give to others your age who have just been diagnosed?

I would make sure they know they are not alone. For people who test positive for a mutation, there is no right or wrong way to be a previvor. You have choices, and whatever you choose will be the right choice for you.

What is one piece of advice you would give to others your age whose parent has just been diagnosed?

I have never personally been through that experience, but I would be there to listen. My advice would be to lean on your support system to help you and your parent. We are so eager to help when we find out a loved one is in need, but when we are in need, we may be afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask for any help you need.

Is there a time of year, date, or holiday that you find the most challenging? How do you handle this?

October can be challenging for me. It’s frustrating to see some companies exploit breast cancer awareness without contributing to organizations that actually make an impact. So I try to promote the organizations that I know are doing good work. Also I try to focus on my favorite holiday, Halloween! October has so many great things to immerse yourself in, if you need to escape the pink ribbons.

What book, film, or podcast would you recommend to others? (Perhaps it relates to illness, or just inspired you in another way.) I normally read and watch the trendy stuff (Harry Potter, etc) or scary stuff (Stephen King, etc), haha. So I’ll stick to something previvor related. I know there have been several books out more recently about being high risk, and I want to get to them! But shortly after I got my BRCA results, I read Pretty is What Changes by Jessica Queller. It was the first book/movie that I could relate to about being high risk.

Amazing. I haven't heard of it! Will need to check that out. Last but not least, what keeps you inspired?

My friends and family! I have such ambitions friends and family that never cease to amaze me in how they chase their dreams. Just looking around and seeing their ideas become reality makes me realize anything is possible. And being a part of the previvor/thriver/survivor community, I am constantly in awe of women summoning strength in the face of a diagnosis or being high risk.

You can connect with Jaclyn on IG @jaclynrenae or on FB here.

Photo Credit "Scars Are Sexy" | Greg Inda | @greg_inda

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