One year ago, Jaynette Brown was enjoying 10 mile bike rides and daily walks with her yellow lab, Belle. Staying active and being outdoors was how she wanted to spend her time – not at a routine medical test when she was feeling fine.
“I had four or five mammogram appointments scheduled over a span of three years, but I kept rescheduling them so that I could be on the bike trail. But then I noticed when I laid on my stomach, it would hurt on my left breast. I felt a lump. That’s when I found my mammogram order from two months before and scheduled a test.
Two days after her mammogram, she got a call from the doctor’s office and an ultrasound was scheduled for her the next day. “The doctor was at the test and came out to the waiting room to talk to my husband, Randy, and me. He said he thought it was cancer,” she said.
A biopsy performed a few days later confirmed that it was stage III breast cancer. Jaynette underwent a modified radical mastectomy and the removal of 26 affected lymph nodes. Over the course of the next eight months, she would endure 16 chemo and 36 radiation treatments.
This was the beginning of a journey that would test her stamina and strengthen her faith.
Part of the care Jaynette would have as a cancer patient at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC is access to a patient navigator who would connect her with support services. “I got a call one day from navigator Marlene asking me, “What can we do to help you get through therapy?’
“I recalled a story I read about a woman who wore a different red dress to each of her chemo treatments. I was inspired by that and wanted to have something that I’d also have with me at each visit.
Jaynette’s faith was important to her so she asked the navigator for prayers to be said for her before every treatment. And because her own dog offered her so much comfort, she also requested to have a pet therapy dog with her during treatments.
That’s when a special group of people and a Golden Retriever named Luca came into her life.
“Before chemo and radiation treatments, tests, and doctor visits at Magee, I was met by hospital ministry staff members who took turns praying for me and with me in the treatment room, hallway, or wherever I was.
There was always someone there to lift me up in prayer and this gave me strength, hope, and peace,” she said. These people included the hospital chaplain, a priest, a protestant minister, two seminary students, and two Sisters of St. Joseph-Baden, Sr. Colette as well as Sr. Pat, who administers the “Pets with Heart” program.
Sr. Pat introduced Jaynette to Luca, a therapy dog who became an important part of her care in helping her to stay positive. “She was with me for part of every treatment, sitting by my side. I would pet her and just smile. She made me forget that I was getting chemotherapy,” she said.
By the time Jaynette was to have her fifth chemo treatment, the side effects were taking their toll. She was in the waiting room at her physician’s office when she was called in to see the doctor.
“I was feeling weak and sick and when I got into the room I just started to cry. The nurse closed the door and left and when she opened the door again, there was Sister Pat with Luca! I jumped off of the exam table to pet Luca. She stretched out on the floor, taking up most of the space, while I was enjoying another great conversation with Sister Pat. The doctor walked in and said, ‘I see we have some visitors’!
That I was able to have a therapy dog in my physician’s exam room when I needed her most – It was the best day for chemo I had,” she said.
After finishing her round of chemo treatments, Jaynette underwent 36 radiation treatments during a seven week period. She was able to stay at Family House, a temporary residence for patients having treatment. Her stay there was financed through the generosity of The Nicholson Cancer Fund, along with financial support by the Patient’s Assistance Fund at Magee and a family friend in Louisiana.
“It made all the difference that I could stay at Family House during the week and not have to commute more than one hour back and forth to the hospital for radiation. It was a wonderful experience to be with so many other people from all over who were also either having treatment or surgery. Luca was able to be with me here sometimes too,” she commented.
Faith and Friendship
Through all of her treatments, testing, and doctor’s appointments, Jaynette said a little statue of St. Peregrine – a symbol of her faith and devotion to this saint – never left her side. She commented, “Even when I had to be in isolation for seven days because of a low white blood count, I never felt alone because I knew God and St. Peregrine were with me.
It was because of my faith and Luca and all of the people praying for me, that I was able to stay positive and to keep smiling through my treatments.”
Jaynette is now finished with her cancer treatments and is getting therapy for some residual effects of the chemo and radiation. She looks forward to getting stronger so that she can get back to walking and biking again.
Regular cancer screenings will become part of her routine. “My biggest hope”, she said, “is that my story could save other women from going through what I did by just getting a routine mammogram.”