About 4 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. occur in women under 40. Our guest today was only 25 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was newly married and life had yet to really begin for her and her husband, yet they immediately found themselves dealing with issues of treatment, recovery and survivorship as top priorities.
Jennifer Humphries was first diagnosed with Stage 3 infiltrating Ductal carcinoma the very week she turned 25 in May of 2002. While teaching elementary school in January of 2005 the cancer came back. She continued to teach for 14 years during which she and her husband adopted their sons in September of 2006 and April of 2008. She now stays home and gets her middle school aged boys where they need to be and enjoys working out, time at her family’s farm in Georgia and all time spent with close friends and family. She has been cancer free since finishing treatment at the end of 2005.
About 4% of all breast cancers diagnosed in the US occur in women under 40. Our guest today was only 25 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was newly married in life. Had not yet really begun for her and her husband yet immediately. They found themselves dealing with issues of treatment, recovery and survivorship as top priorities here today to share how her breast cancer journey changed the course of her plans and how that was ultimately one of life’s greatest blessings is Jennifer Humphreys. Jennifer, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I appreciate you having me.
I’m excited to talk to you and really gain some of your unique perspective. So let’s just start out. Tell us a little bit about your breast cancer journey. How old were you when you were diagnosed and what your treatment looked like?
I was only 24 when I found the lump. I wasn’t paying any attention to my health. My husband was in law school. We had just been married one year, just wasn’t paying any attention to my health at all. We were happy. He was busy getting back and forth to school. I was working full time and if it wasn’t for the cancer actually deformed it inverted my left nipple. And I knew, well, that’s weird. That’s not right. So I still wasn’t thinking about cancer, but I did make my way to a doctor at 24 years old. It took a few months at that age. It’s about 20 years ago. I don’t know if they took it as serious as they need to, but anyways, it took a few months and I actually was diagnosed the week. I turned 25, three days after I turned 25 in may of 2002.
Wow. Wow. That’s that’s wild. And then what was your treatment like?
I had it was only three weeks and I had a double mastectomy. The doctor at the time, my surgeon decided that that was my young age. The chance of it coming back in the other breast was pretty high just as years would be going on. So they took both breasts. When I recovered from that, I had six months of chemotherapy. It was pretty intense. I like in between there, I had to spend a week in the hospital because all of my white blood cell dissipated down to nothing. So there were some difficulties with the treatment. Some of the chemos had to be postponed, but anyways, I ultimately got through it and it was positive that we were done. I had reconstruction as well about a year and a half after our was positive. I was finished with treatment and life was moving on lymph node in my neck on the left side that was swollen and just really hard.
And I was surrounded with teachers that were saying, you know, you’re with first and second graders all day and it’s gonna just be a virus. We’re all sick all the time and don’t worry about it. But anyways, it didn’t go down. I don’t remember the exact timeframe, but I go back to the doctor. They biopsy the lymph node out of my neck and it’s cancer. So I had the recurrence when I was 27 years old. And that treatment was, Oh, a pet scan showed cancer in my neck, my underarms and my ovaries. They sent me to another oncologist who was a surgeon as well. I had the hysterectomy and after I recovered from that, I started a different regimen of chemo for six more months. And then did seven weeks of radiation, five times a week. Wow. That was it. That ended in 2005. And I’ve been doing well ever since.
So how did getting cancer at such a young age change your perspective about, about life, about your view of building a family means all those sorts of things.
I kind of feel fortunate. It happened to me so young that I was filled with nothing, but you know, kind of excitement about life and that my husband, I had finished my degree, my husband Kevin was in law school. We knew he would finish soon. We knew we would have kids and start a family. We knew we would buy her first house. So we were just really excited about life. And I think that just stayed with me. Obviously it was hard. It was very hard everything we went through, but I’ve kept a positive attitude about everything. The situation that we went through together happened very unexpectedly and very quickly. So we just kind of rolled with it kind of took a route of doing whatever the doctor said to do because we knew we had a lot of living left to do. And yeah, I did everything they said to do. And just to this day, you know, keep a positive attitude about everything.
That’s great. I mean, I know, I know you just said you’re keeping a positive attitude, but I’m also up to ask, was there a grieving process when you realize that you were not able to carry a child? And if so, like how did you go through that process?
For me there wasn’t a specific grieving process about carrying a child. I did have some friends that were excited growing up to be pregnant or to carry a child. And I, I don’t remember ever having those feelings. I just didn’t care. I wanted to be a mom. I knew I would be a mom. I also didn’t grow up thinking about adoption either to be honest. I just knew I would have a family, so I hadn’t really planned exactly how it would look. I just knew it would happen when, you know, I had to have the hysterectomy and life happens. Then we figured out what we would do to make ourselves be parents and have that family.
So, yeah. So you adopted to tell me about, you know, your decision to adopt and what that process was like emotionally for you.
There wasn’t really any debate because we wanted to be parents. So there’s only some can only happen so many ways. So we, for us, we got an attorney and did it privately. I just, for me, I didn’t think I could go through the foster care program and have a child taken away from me, but I respect and admire the people that do that, you know, more than anyone they are needed very, very needed, but it was emotional. It was taxing. There’s a lot of paperwork. You just kind of have to go through the motions, do the paperwork, not get, not give up, not get, you know, upset about how much it is while you’re working full time. The cost are high for us. They were Dan. We had to know that the, the benefit, you know, of way waiting all of this out and taking all of these risks would wipe all of that away.
You know, when we did become parents, but we had, we were filled with anxiety. I actually worked with and went to appointments for my oldest son’s biological mom. It was, it was awkward, but I did it. It was her desire. And you know, you have to pay all of this money and you just pray that she’s going to follow through with what she says she’s going to do. And I just stayed helpful and it’s all you can do. You know, we kept, kept doing everything until we were approved. You know, they come into your home, they inspect your home. They inspect every little thing you can dream of. And I know now kind of silly, you know, they’re not looking at dust on your shelves. Cause we, I cleaned topped rid of stuff. I want to show them whoever’s coming. The social worker that I have this perfect house and yeah, with age, I understand better that that’s not really what they were looking for.
Yeah. Well, I love that you chose that path. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever shared it on the show before, but my wife and I are adoptive parents. We’ve, we’ve been adopted internationally and are actually in the process of adopting internationally again which COVID has put a hold on, but that’s another story for another day, but adoption is a beautiful thing. Yeah, it’s a, it’s a, it really is. It’s a beautiful thing. So so I understand, you know, related to adoption that your story has impacted friends that have not had cancer, but were, were actually unable to carry babies. You tell me a little bit more about that.
I love these stories. One of my very best friends in 2006, when my son was born, we lived in a different neighbor and my oldest son and a neighbor across the street, her and her husband are from a country in South America. And she told me that her husband’s views or kind of just cultural, you know, not to be offended by them or anything, but he was just against adoption. And he didn’t, he was raised believing, you know, if a child is not of your blood, then you don’t race them. So anyways, September 1st, 2006, her son is born. He comes home the next day, our friends live right across the street and they get to know our son and they bond with him and they watch us bond with them. And something clicks in his head, my neighbor, that just how beautiful this is and how real it is.
So he basically, he kind of had to go against his family. That’s still in South America and just go with his heart on what’s best for them. And they went a different route than us, but they adopted from birth and their son think he’s eight years old today. So when she tells me she’s very active in her church, that she uses this story of watching our, you know, adoption story, turn into her adoption story after it opened her husband’s heart. So that’s really neat. A second one there’s more than two, but these two really close to the people. It was a neighbor of my mom’s when she was new to her neighborhood years ago she had my boys out playing and the neighbor right next door said, you know, they’re so cute. They’re so fun, but I can’t become a mom. I would love to, it just can’t happen for me. And my mom looked at her and she’s like, well, what do you mean these, these kids right here are adopted. You can adopt. And I actually had never met her at that time, but it flourished into this, you know, relationship where we’re talking all the time and then they get excited about it. And her and her husband adopt and their son in this past school year in August started kindergarten. Oh, wow. Yeah. That’s really, really neat.
That’s great. Yeah. I think once people realize that adoption is a viable option, that it really changes their perspective on it quite a bit. So it’s wonderful. You’ve been able to be that source of encouragement for so many people. I’m really excited about that for you.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
So last question. Do you have any advice for listeners that might find themselves in a similar situation like yours that are facing a breast cancer diagnosis at a young age and having to navigate the fact that their life might look different than what they had expected?
I do would say allow the pain. There was a lot of really physical pain and of course that leads to mental pain. You know, it’s real everything that you have to go through on your getting surgery after surgery and possibly hospitalization and you know, all the chemo inside of you, there’s, it’s difficult to get through. And then if somebody, you know, is of a different mindset than me, and wasn’t just really excited and open to adoption, hopefully listening to this will help them. Don’t get sad about growing old or don’t be negative about growing old. It’s a privilege to deny to many, I might be saying that wrong, but I’m really have taken that to heart, especially in my forties. Now just be happy that you are alive. Be happy that you are, you know, able body to be a parent, to be happy and grateful that you’re just here and able to do, do these beautiful things.
You know, like be a parent it’s wonderful, regardless of how it comes. Some people don’t understand it, but I definitely say for me, cancer was a perfect blessing because I have a son that will start high school, you know, in August. And we’ve had them from day one. I was in the delivery room and he’s ours. You know, I wouldn’t want any other child. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Our other son, they’re only 19 months apart. He’s perfectly ours as well. And they wouldn’t want any other children. So this was it might’ve been hard to get here, but it was worth it every step of the way. And I would do it over and over again.
Wow. Well, that’s really wonderful. And I love to see the love that you have for your kids. So it’s really fantastic, Jennifer. Thank you so much. Thank you for inspiring us and thank you for your time on the show today.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
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