Since being diagnosed with breast cancer almost one year ago, Stephenville resident Jody Henneke is on the road to recovery and sat down with the E-T to talk about her journey and offer advice to other women.
Cancer is something that has devastated the Henneke family, and in 2013 Jody lost her husband, sister and mother all to cancer.
“We were just beginning to do what I would call ‘get our feet back on the ground’ when my cancer was found in a routine screening mammogram,” Henneke said. “(The tumor) was caught very early but was known as estrogen sensitive, so we automatically knew that I would have to do both chemo and radiation.”
The cancer was aggressive and Henneke underwent surgery in January of this year to remove the tumor and began her once a week chemo for 12 weeks.
“One of the things that I am profoundly grateful for is Brianna’s (her daughter) employers let her go with me every week, so Stephenville ISD gets a big hug and thank you from me,” Henneke said. “You physically cannot do it by yourself, you have to have somebody get you there. So she got to go with me every week and it obviously made me feel more comfortable, but it made her feel more comfortable and I will forever be grateful for that.”
Because Henneke would be going through some changes from the affects of chemotherapy, it was decided that her two grandchildren needed to know what was going on - something Brianna explained to them in terms they understood without frightening them.
Henneke recalled a moment that was special to her after her two grandchildren saw her without hair for the first time.
“They decided that the best thing they could do was rub lotion on my head. So I’m sitting in a recliner and the seven-year-old is behind me and the four-year-old is sitting in my lap facing me and they’re rubbing lotion on my head and I could tell they were processing,” she said. “(My grandson) finally said, ‘Jo Jo, your voice is the same and your eyes are the same,’ and then the little one facing me said, ‘And Jo Jo, your heart is the same.’ That’s a Hallmark card moment there.”
After chemotherapy Henneke began radiation five days a week for six weeks.
“I really thought that once I got done with chemo it was a downhill slide. Radiation really is what kicked me,” Henneke said. “The treatment itself is like five minutes, but the coming and going was a true beat down. And then the effects of radiation is cumulative so by the time I was getting close to the end I was just exhausted.”
Henneke is now doing non-chemo infusions once every three weeks, which inactivates any estrogen in her body, and will then begin taking an anti-estrogen pill once a day for five years starting in February.
“This pretty much turns out to be a year process,” Henneke said. “You do begin to feel that you’re a walking pharmacy.”
She will continue to get mammograms more frequently - the last one coming back clear during the summer.
Through all the ups and downs, Henneke has witnessed the kindness of strangers throughout her journey.
“When you’re a woman and you lose your hair people automatically assume it’s breast cancer and I’ve had hugs from men, from women, from little kids and just really kind, sweet stuff that reinforces to me that people really want to be nice when they can,” she said. “It’s been challenging, but interesting.”
Henneke offers advice to other women reminding them to get those mammograms done - don’t skip even one year - and if breast cancer runs in your family, start getting them early before the recommended age of 40.
She also adds that trying to stay positive when going through cancer can be helpful.
“If you can maintain some positivity most of the time it’s helpful,” she said. “It is one of those things that medically may not make a damn, but it does make it easier for you to get through the day.”
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Henneke was asked by a local woman what something she and her friends could do to help make a difference.
“Buy a couple of mammograms for somebody,” Henneke told the woman. “There are a lot of people in this town who don’t have medical insurance, so pay for some mammograms. It’s probably the most meaningful thing you can do.”