Meet our 2020 Virtual Walks for Cancer Ambassadors- Jessica Storm and Jerry Hebert
Jessica Storm, 33, of West Milwaukee, was relieved as she neared the end of her second trimester. After two miscarriages, the pregnancy that she and her husband, David, had hoped for was going well.
When she began experiencing pain in her breast, she thought it might be a clogged milk duct. Then she felt a lump. Breast cancer is part of her family‘s medical history, and she had a feeling the lump might be something serious.
Jessica’s obstetrician ordered an ultrasound of her breast. The results led to a biopsy and a diagnosis of breast cancer. It was May 9, 2018, and Jessica was 28 weeks pregnant.
“I will never forget that day,” Jessica said. “I was home alone and I got the call from the radiologist. I thought, my world will never be the same.”
Babies born at 40 weeks’ gestation are full term. Babies born before 37 weeks are considered to be premature and often require neonatal care. The best thing for the Storms’ baby would be to stay in utero for nine to 12 more weeks. The best thing for Jessica would be to start treatment to stop the cancer.
“I was in shock,” she said. “The pregnancy was already emotionally difficult.”
The day after her diagnosis, Jessica met with surgeon Kelli Pettit, MD; maternal fetal medicine specialist Randall Kuhlmann, MD; and medical oncologist and hematologist Christopher Hake, MD. Oncology nurse Michelle Willman became her nurse navigator for the duration of her cancer journey.
Jessica was told she would need 16 rounds of chemotherapy at the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care in Pewaukee – the first four treatments every other week during her pregnancy, and then 12 weekly treatments after the baby’s birth.
Jessica and the team kept two dates in mind: July 10, when her baby would reach 38 weeks and Jessica’s bloodwork would begin to return to a normal level, and July 18, when she was scheduled to be induced and give birth.
“I celebrated every week,” Jessica said. “I was able to see my fetal medicine specialist every week. It was a joy to hear my baby’s heartbeat. I did everything I could to enjoy my pregnancy.”
Her chemotherapy side effects were manageable. She received fluids to combat dehydration but she lost her hair, which made people do a double take when they saw she was pregnant.
On June 26, Jessica received her fourth prenatal chemotherapy treatment. At 12:24 a.m. on July 1 she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Her baby was early, but she was born at an ideal window of time in her response to treatment.
“My daughter didn’t need neonatal intensive care, and her bloodwork showed she was as healthy as could be,” Jessica said.
Less than two weeks after the birth, Jessica began the fifth of what would be 15 total chemotherapy treatments, one fewer than originally planned. In November 2018, she had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.
Life was on an upswing. Jessica had spent 12 weeks away from work, experiencing every moment with her new baby. When she returned to the office, she was able to work a flexible schedule.
The following summer, however, she made an appointment with a dermatologist at Dr. Hake’s suggestion. A spot on her back was biopsied, Jessica was diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma, and the spot was removed in the doctor’s office.
Shortly after that, a series of headaches led to some imaging, a biopsy and surgery to remove a tumor in Jessica’s brain. An analysis of the tumor confirmed that the breast cancer had spread to her brain and advanced to the most serious form of cancer.
After Jessica recovered from brain surgery, she completed five sessions of highly targeted radiation and received an oral chemotherapy medication.
Recent scans have shown no signs of disease.
Jessica is now appreciating life moment by moment, enjoying everything she possibly can. She said there are times she forgets that she is a cancer patient and feels very excited about life.
“I have a career and I’m also a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter,” Jessica said. “I’m also a cancer patient. I’ve had to learn to balance these roles.”
She has also helped inspire many women she has met along her cancer journey. She said she tells them to take one day at a time, follow their treatment plans and celebrate large and small milestones along the way.
Get to know more about Jessica through her Ambassador Videos:
- On what it means to be a part of this year's Walks
- On why you should join her for the Virtual Walks
- On the impact ProHealth Care's cancer team has had on her
- On the message she'd like to share with the community
Jerry Hebert noticed a lump in his underarm in July 2018. The 62-year-old from Oconomowoc was perplexed but not alarmed. He decided to check the area again later.
After a couple of weeks went by, the lump was still there. That gave Jerry pause, so he reached out to his primary care physician.
Jerry’s doctor ordered blood tests, which came back normal. Then a biopsy and ultrasound were performed. Jerry learned that he had follicular lymphoma, a non-aggressive, slow-growing form of lymphoma. He met with ProHealth Medical Group hematologist Tim Wassenaar, MD, to determine the best course of treatment.
Dr. Wassenaar prescribed a six-cycle treatment plan that included chemotherapy and immunotherapy provided by the team at the ProHealth Cancer Center in Oconomowoc and the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care in Pewaukee. Jerry started treatment in late September 2018 and completed it by February 2019.
“It was during this time that I was exposed to so many other people who also had cancer – many who were in a worse situation than me,” Jerry said. “What stood out to me most was what they were willing to go through to fight that battle – to continue on. That was quite an inspiration.”
In spring 2019, a PET scan and bone marrow biopsy indicated that Jerry’s lymphoma was in remission. Since then, Jerry has been completing regular medical checkups.
He said he’s aware that there is no cure for his type of cancer. He may be in remission for the rest of his life, needing no active treatment. Even so, he may never learn that he is cancer-free.
Jerry took a practical approach to his diagnosis and treatment, even as he was experiencing personal thoughts and emotions about the news and the care he was receiving. He looked to the future and followed his treatment plan. He believed that the earlier the lymphoma could be treated, the sooner his life could move forward. He also attended cancer patient support group meetings at the Pewaukee cancer center
“One of my biggest concerns, now that I’ve completed treatment, is the worry that ‘will it come back?’ ” Jerry said. “So I took advantage of some of the ProHealth Care support groups to meet other people, talk to them, and listen to what they do to help them with those thoughts.”
Jerry feels fortunate that he responded well to cancer treatment. He knows that every cancer patient has a unique experience and that cancer diagnosis and treatment can be heartrending. He hopes others see his story as one of hope – that for some patients, a cancer journey can be easier to manage than it might seem at the time of diagnosis.
Jerry credits a healthy lifestyle with getting back on track. He does not have chronic health conditions, so he and his care team could focus solely on treating the lymphoma. He put his trust in his ProHealth Care medical team, not on information found on the internet, he said.
“As techy as I am, I didn’t Google anything,” Jerry said. “I normally love doing that stuff, but I just listened to my care team. I read what they told me to read, I followed their suggestions, and that kept me really focused on the end goal of beating this.”
Jerry reflected on his journey with his ProHealth team as he passed the one-year mark of completing chemotherapy.
“Every one of them made me feel like I was their only priority at each of my visits,” he said. “As busy as they all are, I never felt like they were in a rush to do something else. The compassion of that whole staff, it’s incredible.”
Get to know more about Jerry through his Ambassador Videos: