I was 28 years old when my world was turned upside down. I was also 28 when everything was falling into place. In the spring I had completed my degree and convocated from university after attending part time for several years while balancing family life. In the fall I accepted my first full time permanent position and was ecstatic. To top things off, Oct. 1st marked the 1st day of my own mortgage. I was so excited about the future and so happy with life. It all changed so suddenly in November when I found out I had breast cancer. None of it made sense. I thought I was too young for breast cancer.

I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage IIIb. I had a lump in my breast and the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes under my arm. I had a lumpectomy and axillary node dissection, then later, after genetic testing, had a bilateral mastectomy. I completed six rounds of chemotherapy and twenty-five rounds of radiation therapy. After a few months of healing and recovery, I began the transition back to work. I had only been back at work for two months, my hair had just started to grow back, and I was about to apply for a management position. Being back at work hadn’t been easy. I struggled with a lot of pain in my neck, shoulders, and back. My neck, though, was a particular area of concern. I went for an MRI and it revealed “something” on my spine. I was in a lot of pain on the bad days, but I didn’t think it was a recurrence. I didn’t think cancer caused that type of pain. To investigate further, I was sent for a bone scan and a CT scan. I dreaded all the testing, but knew it was the right thing to do. Then I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It was May 2015. The breast cancer had returned to my spine, liver, and bones.

Jessica’s Story

I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I was beyond devastated. I didn’t want to tell my children that I had cancer again. I didn’t want to go through chemotherapy again. I didn’t want to be too tired to go to their activities, games, and school events. I didn’t want to stop working. Regardless of what I wanted, the cancer was back, and I had to deal with it. After meeting with my oncologist, it was determined I would start chemotherapy again. The breast cancer I have is triple negative, meaning there is no hormone involvement and therefore no targeted therapy available for treating the disease. My only option is chemotherapy.

I am a part of the committee for Inpower, a support group that meets monthly to educate, empower, and strengthen young women with breast cancer. The women I have met through this group have been a tremendous source of strength and inspiration to me since my initial diagnosis. Never would I have thought that cancer would lead me to meet so many outstanding and remarkable people. These women have changed my life. These women are the reason I have been able to navigate this diagnosis without completely falling apart. Often people remark that they think I am doing so well, or that I am so strong. The truth is, I am only as strong as the people who are behind me, supporting me, every day; including my family, friends, and the Inpower girls. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, once again, the group was there to support me. One afternoon when we met as a committee to do some planning, my friend Chantel proposed a question to me. She wondered if she could she submit an application on my behalf to the Shine On Foundation for me and my kids to go on a trip? Applying for a trip had never occurred to me! The support and thoughtfulness of Chantel and others inspired the application process for me.

There is no way I could afford to take my children anywhere. I had been off work for the past two years, since my initial diagnosis. Prior to that, I had only been working full time and permanent for a few months. I had only completed my university degree half a year before I was diagnosed. Although I had wanted to continue working, the side effects of chemotherapy made it too difficult. Now, with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, the future was limited, constrained by treatments, and unpredictable. The truth is, when you have metastatic breast cancer, every day, every decision, is followed by a question mark. Would I ever be able to take my kids on a trip? Would I ever get the chance to make those special memories with them? Will the chemotherapy work? Chantel assured me that she would complete the paperwork, and all I had to do was think about where I would want to go.

I was so excited when I received the phone call that the Shine On Foundation was willing to send my children and I on a trip. The news kept getting better. The foundation would also send a support person to help me. I couldn’t believe it. When Blair asked if I had looked into any of the details of where or when I wanted to travel, I was speechless. The foundation was willing to send us whenever and wherever and all I had to do was pick! I thought I would get a budget or an outline of expenses, or at least a window of when it was acceptable. But instead I was reassured, time and time again, that it was about what I wanted to make the most special memories for my family. From the first phone call Blair emphasized that the decision was mine to make and the foundation was there to support me. It was so unbelievable. The kindness and generosity extended by Shine On is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I believe it is a testament to the life of Chantelle that is now carried on through the wonderful work of the foundation. The gift they have given me and my family cannot be put into words, it can only be captured by the memories and feelings we now share. Without the assistance of Shine On, I would never have been able to create these memories with my family.

When I shared with my parents and siblings that the Shine On Foundation had approved my application, I was surprised by their responses. My parents, my sister and her daughter, and my brother, his wife, and their two children, all wanted to come along on the trip! Now my dream vacation had really become a dream come true! We planned to tell all the children together with little surprise bags. On Aug. 22, 2015, we left Regina to begin our Disney cruise vacation. All 11 of us travelled to Port Canaveral, Orlando and boarded the Disney cruise ship, the Fantasy, for our 7 night western Caribbean cruise.

The cruise was absolutely magical. Everything from the stateroom to dining, including the customer service, the performances, activities, and the ports of call, far exceeded my expectations. At night we would look out over the verandah and see the vast ocean, and then the next morning we would open the curtains and we would be someplace new! It was unbelievable. One morning my daughter woke me up and very excitedly urged me to get up because we were at “an island of trees!” (Jamaica). At the end of our first day in Mexico, my 10-year-old son shared that it had been the best day ever. We had spent the day on the beach at Playa Mia beach club in Cozumel. The next day we were in Grand Cayman, and we went aboard a semi-submarine for a tour. At the end of the day, he once again said that it had been the best day ever! Well, the next day we were in Jamaica, and he went to see the dolphins and climb the Dunn waterfall with my sister. While there, he confided in her—“Don’t tell Mom, but this was the best day ever!” I think that pretty much sums up how the whole trip was; you wouldn’t think it could get any better, but every day it did.

I began living with a breast cancer diagnosis almost 2 full years ago. My life abruptly took a different path, and never would I have imagined I would be where I am today. Things don’t always work out according to our own agendas. My life now follows the whim of some crazy rapidly dividing cancer cells. However, I also never thought I would be able to take my kids to experience the magic and wonder of Disney. I am so grateful and appreciative for the experience we were given by the Shine On Foundation. Shine On provided me with the opportunity to enrich my children’s lives with special memories we can share forever. When life throws you a curveball like cancer, everything feels out of control. Cancer dictates treatment schedules, which in turn affects all other commitment and plans in one’s life. But for that one week, I had nothing about cancer. I had no blood work, treatments, doctor visits, phone calls, or messages. I was able to share an extraordinary family vacation, not only with my children, but also with my siblings and their families, and my parents. There are no words that can adequately express how thankful we all are for this gift that the Shine On foundation gave so freely. Thank you.