By Amber Wadovic
Those unfamiliar might believe cancer treatment to be a one time process: receive the diagnosis, undergo treatment, and it either succeeds or it does not. For many cancer patients, however, it can be a lengthy, ongoing process, complete with all the emotional ups and downs and successes and failures the rest of their lives have.
Bartlett resident Jill Siefert was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, a form of breast cancer, after a check-up in October of 2018.
“My cancer was thought to be behaving like Triple Negative Breast Cancer and was presented to the tumor board at West Cancer to determine a plan of action,” Siefert said.
From there, she underwent chemotherapy, cycling between three different medications. She said the one of the biggest challenges early on in a diagnosis is parsing all the clinical information relating to the cancer, including treatment options, medications, the cancer itself, and more.
“The amount of information given and discovered can be very overwhelming,” Siefert said. “Always have someone with you at major appointments to help you understand and comprehend what is being told to you.”
A common side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss, and Siefert said she was not immune. Rather than just waiting for it to fallout in the first few weeks, however, she decided to dye it bright purple right before she started.
“I decided to have a little fun and do something I would have never done otherwise,” she said.
Her chemotherapy treatments finished in March of 2019, and a lumpectomy (a surgery to remove cancerous breast tissue) on her right breast in April. The doctors told her the treatment was finished at that point, and she then joined a clinical study for the drug Ribociclib, a breast cancer treatment drug, until July of last year.
July was when Siefert discovered another lump, and a subsequent scan revealed the cancer was back. Deciding she wanted a second opinion, Siefert went to Baptist Cancer Center, who took her case to Vanderbilt and formed another treatment plan. The second round of chemotherapy started in August in 2020 and finished at the tail end of December.
This time, her treatment required a complete mastectomy of her right breast.
Despite the emotional, psychological and physical stress, she said she found strength in her loved ones throughout the process.
“Family and friends, that close circle around you is what keeps you going,” Siefert said. “The day after my mastectomy, I was at the ballfield from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m. watching my girls play softball. If you were going to sit in a chair recovering from surgery, why not sit in the sunshine with friends doing something you love?”
That state of mind and enjoyment of life is what Siefert said was crucial to helping her keep pushing every day.
“ It is also very important to remember that being diagnosed with cancer is not a death sentence,” she said. “Your mental state plays a huge role in your treatments.”
She said the closer a patient gets to living a normal life, the better off they will be throughout the process. Patients can allow themselves a day in bed if they need it, as long as they pick themselves up after that and keep moving forward.
“Just remember to never give up and always keep fighting with all you have,” she said.
Siefert’s fight is still ongoing. Though her chemotherapy ended in December, a scan in June of 2021 revealed the cancer had potentially spread to her lung. She received radiation therapy and is looking forward to a follow-up scan in November.
“We have high hopes that the treatment worked,” she said.
Siefert said she wants others in similar situations to remember they are not responsible for their illness, and that while shame is understandable, it is unnecessary.
“Do not constantly feel sorry for yourself,” she said. “You were dealt a crappy hand, but just take it one day at a time.”
Above all, she said she is proud of the successes she has had in her treatments despite the setbacks along the way.
“Never be ashamed of the process,” Siefert said. “I have lost all my hair, eye lashes, eye brows, have scars and only one breast, but be proud of it because you are still standing.”