[00:00:00] Adam Walker: This program is supported by Amgen. Amgen strives to serve patients by transforming the promise of science and biotechnology into therapies for patients with serious illnesses. Learn more at Amgen.com.
From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
A breast cancer diagnosis can often make it feel as if you have lost control. You may want to troubleshoot it, to find the root cause and implement a solution. Today’s guest was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2019, two days before she ran the Boston Marathon. She tried to outrun the process because she was scared to sit idle and lose. But as she discovered, sometimes there is no root cause or viable fix and you have no option but to hope, be patient and trust in the process. Here to share her story and what she learned about herself along the way is Jennifer Sinkwitts.
Jennifer, welcome to the show!
[00:01:09] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Hi there, thanks for having me.
[00:01:10] Adam Walker: I’m kind of excited to talk to you about this. This is kind of a fascinating story. So let’s start with your story, right. I understand that the timing of the diagnosis was pretty significant. Tell us what was going on in your life at the time and about that timing of the diagnosis.
[00:01:26] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Okay. Yeah, it was, you know, looking back, it’s been a couple years now, it’s really strange to me how everything unfolded at the time that it did. And it turns out you know, I’m able to you know, I understand this now, I see now how lucky I am that I found my tumor right before I ran the Boston Marathon.
And I’ll explain how that happened. But, you know I’m a marathon runner. I’m training for my fifth marathon right now and I, you know, when you’re training so hard for something for several months you lose a little bit of weight, right? So I was pretty thin and it was due to being on the thinner side that I felt a nine millimeter tumor and otherwise I probably wouldn’t felt that. So I am pretty fortunate.
But yeah, I felt that tumor probably in February, I had woken up in the middle of the night from a Charlie horse or a leg cramp. You know, I had run, I don’t know, 10 to 12 miles tje day before. And I’ve had some breast health issues in the past. Not cancer. But I have dense breasts and I had a lumpectomy several years before that was benign.
But so I always, I was trained to, to self-check my breasts often. And I was doing that one night and felt a tiny spot and it ended up being cancer.
[00:02:53] Adam Walker: So, alright so you found out, I think you said you got the diagnosis two days before the Boston Marathon, which is a big deal. Right?
[00:03:02] Jennifer Sinkwitts: It was, yeah.
[00:03:04] Adam Walker: Tell us about that and how and why you made the decision to do the race.
[00:03:10] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Yeah. So \i, you know, I found the tumor early on. And you know, once you find a spot, it takes months, right? You go to, you have mammograms, and ultrasounds, and MRIs. All these tests. So it was they, one of the last tests I did was a needle biopsy and that was to determine if something was there and that was done a couple of days before the marathon and when I went in there for that biopsy, the radiologist found two other spots and he said, Gosh, I’m kind of more concerned about these two other spots, and but you’ve got three spots.
And so this was, the Boston Marathon was on a Monday, and my appointment with this radiologist was on a Wednesday. And I remember thinking, oh my gosh, you know what, like, are you, do you really think that one of these spots is cancerous? I kind of wasn’t sure, you know I had breast health issues before, so in the back of my mind, I’m thinking this is probably dense breast tissue, you know, and it’s probably not going to be anything.
But he told me, the radiologist said, if I were you, I wouldn’t run the Boston Marathon. And I said, Oh my gosh, well, I qualified for the Boston Marathon and that’s been on my bucket list to run. I’ve been a runner for so long and I finally qualified. Like, I can’t just not do it because I’d have to requalify, which means I have to train all over again.
So it was, that was probably that appointment with that radiologist, and there was a nurse there too, and she hugged me and said, I am so sorry this is happening to you and it wasn’t confirmed yet because they hadn’t done the biopsy. But at that moment, I’m like I have cancer and I am, you know, I’m scheduled to fly out on Saturday a few days later.
So I don’t know what to do. So the radiologist said he would expedite the results and he would let me know by Friday what happened. And in my mind I promised, I told myself, Okay, if I have three cancerous spots I’m not going to run it because the chances of me being really sick are greater. But if I had one cancerous spot, then I go to Boston and run and that’s what ended up happening that Friday. He called me to see end of the day I was at work and I got a call and they said, you have cancer in one of those spots.
And so, I actually, I left my office, I went to Lululemon and I bought,, I spent way too much money on clothes because I was like, This may be the last time I run a race. You know, I don’t know I was, it was a very emotionally fueled day. But that’s why I, that’s how I made my decision to run it.
[00:05:55] Adam Walker: Okay, and so, so take me to race day. Were you able to compartmentalize during the race and enjoy it? Or were you just constantly thinking about the diagnosis? I mean, what was that experience like for you emotionally?
[00:06:07] Jennifer Sinkwitts: You know, I did both. I think there were moments where I, there were a couple of times I broke down.
Yeah, there were a couple of times I stopped and I just wept. But then there were other times that I truly enjoyed it. So it was a roller coaster of an experience. I felt so weak at some times, and then sometimes I felt so strong. So I don’t know. You know, it, it was just one, probably one of the, probably the most emotional day of my life.
I am so proud of myself that I showed up and I did it. But, you know I had a lot of visions. You know, I have two children and you know when you’re alone in your thoughts for 26 miles, you got to think, you think about a lot of things. So, you know I thought of losing my hair and I thought of, you know, my son walking down the aisle and me being, you know, deceased.
And so, you know, your mind does, can take you to dark places. But I don’t know, for the most part it was a magnificent day, despite what I just said. You know, I crossed that finish line. I didn’t give up and I felt really strong at the end and I was ready to go home and beat cancer, I guess. When I felt really tired and weak, and just from the whole experience that knowing that I finished Boston and did it and, know, knocked that off my bucket list made me feel pretty proud. So, yeah.
[00:07:48] Adam Walker: Wow, and so I know that the Boston Marathon for a lot of runners is kind of like one of those big bucket list items. It’s really hard to get into and it’s hard to qualify for and still like, it’s like, like I’m not a runner. I would never qualify. But I I’ve run enough to know how remarkably difficult it is just to get in. And so for you to do that and then run it, having just had that diagnosis is just remarkable and I would imagine it takes a lot of just intensity and a lot of dedication, a lot of just grit to do that, and so I’m kind of curious how that intensity and grit played into your personality. Is that kind of always been a part of who you are? And how did that relate to your cancer and going through that process?
[00:08:35] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Yeah you know, running has been my drug for anxiety and stress. So I think it’s just been part of my personality to exercise hard, especially when things are feeling out of control. And you know, I haven’t had an out of control life. I’ve been very fortunate. I have beautiful children and, you know, a husband, and friends.
But life can be hard sometimes, you know, and work stresses can be hard, and my older son was a very sick child and I ran a lot during those years because it just helps stable me out. I think I can be high strung and so it kind of put things in perspective and I think this cancer diagnosis helped me sort through my feelings and my fears and running is really the only thing that’s helped me do that.
Now I probably, there are other ways, you know, you know, and these psychologists, or, you know, healthcare professional would probably say you probably shouldn’t run so much. You know, there’s meditation and I’ve used other methods. But at that time, that was my go-to. So. And yeah, it just it got out some of that emotion without having to cry it out. You can just sweat it out.
[00:09:59] Adam Walker: Yeah. No, that’s great. That’s great. Wow. That’s amazing. Well, all right. So, so you ran the Boston Marathon. What came next? What was treatment like? Kind of walk us through that.
[00:10:10] Jennifer Sinkwitts: So when I returned from the Boston Marathon you know, a few days later I had an appointment. A nurse navigator actually called me while I was running the race.
And so the next day I called her back and you know, they scheduled all of these appointments right. At that point, you know nothing. And, you know, I knew that, you know, that day I learned I had invasive ductal carcinoma. So that was my diagnosis on marathon day. And that was, the word invasive, that’s what I kept thinking that entire race. You know, I didn’t really, I know what the word invasive means and do most of our listeners, but there’s so many different types of cancer.
And so once you, before having breast cancer, you just thought everyone had the same breast cancer. You don’t really even think about it all that much. Right? So. Anyways, I, there I was, I returned home. I met with my surgeon. I learned a little bit about what my cancer was and then it was just, day, every day, there was a different appointments.
You know I met with, you know, I had BRCA testing, you know, I had another MRI, A CT scan, more ultrasounds. I don’t even remember how many appointments. It just seems like they were daily. And so you go through, because they want to know if it’s spread. You know, they won’t tell you what stage you are until they can get in there and actually assess the tumor.
And, you know, they want to test the lymph nodes. And so it was, you know, I think the hardest part was just that period of knowing where you are in that process. Are you, is it in your lymph nodes? Am I going to need chemo? You know what’s going to happen next? Yeah, a good month to figure that out. So I came home to start that whole race of appointments and and then eventually learned that my tumor had not, it had spread through, at one point they thought that I needed radiation and a lumpectomy.
And then I had my CT scan or an MRI, I can’t remember which one it was, but they had discovered through that appointment that my margins weren’t clear. There was, it had, there was like three inches of tissue that had been affected. So my whole breast had to be removed. So and then during the mastectomy, they actually biopsy your tumor while you are on the surgical table. And so they, biopsy it there, and it came back clear. So they put implants, they did my reconstruction there, but then they, after that, they send your tumor to a lab and then that is your final result. And that came back negative. So I did not need chemotherapy, but it took a couple months to figure that out.
[00:13:04] Adam Walker: Okay and you may have just alluded to this, but I do understand that things didn’t quite go the way you planned or quite the way the doctors had described to you. Can you tell us a little bit about that and why it’s important for us to know that?
[00:13:17] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Yeah. Do you know things did get a little crazy after my mastectomy and you know, I think people think you get a mastectomy, you get implants and you’re good to go.
And a lot of times you are unfortunately, I had some problems with breast infection. And I got a pretty bad infection several weeks after my mastectomy, and ended up in the hospital, in fact I ended up in the hospital on IV antibiotics, maybe three or four times with infections. The first one I think it was over Memorial Weekend, I was there for a week.
They think it was red breast syndrome. Which is, you know, my implants replaced above the muscle. I didn’t have expanders, which was, I believe a fairly new process. But my they to hold my implants, they make cadaver tissue pockets. They were, it was pockets made out of cadaver tissue.
My body did not like those. So I think it was fighting that material and so it just got ugly. So I was on an IV for quite some time and then a couple of months later we ended up, maybe it was a couple of weeks, I don’t know, I should’ve written this all down because you do tend to forget some of the fine details, but they did end up removing those implants, putting new ones in, rinsing out the cadaver tissue and you know, it just.
Yeah, it just, wasn’t what I expected. And then I continued to get other infections. I was prone to cellulitis at that point. So every time I had a little tiny scratch, something would go a little crazy and I’d end up in the hospital. And it got to the point where my doctor said, if you have a temperature over 99, just come to the hospital.
[00:15:11] Adam Walker: Wow.
[00:15:14] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Okay. So we did that. We did that for several months. And I think the last time I was admitted to the hospital with that, I’m guessing it was January of 2020, and then COVID happened.
[00:15:31] Adam Walker: Wow. You’ve been through a lot. I mean, I mean, not just cancer, but just all of the stuff after that, you know? And not only that, but also just even the endurance that you’ve built in your training and everything else. And so I’m just curious, like, what are some of the things that you’ve learned about yourself that you feel would be helpful to share with our listeners?
[00:15:57] Jennifer Sinkwitts: You know, I, this is going to sound so cliche, but I, I never knew I was as strong as I am. You know, I’m sure people say that all the time, you know, until you’re forced to have to go through something, you just don’t know how you’re going to handle it. Right. And I guess I always, I can be emotional, you probably, you know, I can cry at any time talking about the subject, but, you know, I really I didn’t feel I, you know, I, you know, I going through something this hard, I didn’t really feel the pain of it until now I’m processing, you know, now that it’s been a good year that you know, my last surgery was a little over a year ago and I’m able to sit back and reflect and go, Gosh, that was really hard. How did I do that? And I think I just buried myself into solving the problem and reacting and doing all the things I needed to do without feeling it. So I don’t know if that’s the right way to handle it. That’s being strong or if that’s just hiding your problems under a rock. I’m not sure.
[00:17:07] Adam Walker: It might be all of the . Above!
[00:17:12] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Should ask someone about that. But, so, and you know, another thing I think I really I had a positive mindset and I never realized that I would have that sort of a mindset. And now, I mean, there were times I was very fearful. Don’t get me wrong. But you know, I just felt like, okay, I’m going to get through this. God is going to help me get through this. You know, I wasn’t super religious at that point, but I began praying like no one’s business and I felt like it was going to be okay. And so that I just had faith and I don’t know where that came from, but I’m grateful.
[00:17:52] Adam Walker: That’s fantastic. So, final question. How has your outlook on life changed after your breast cancer experience? And is there anything that, you know now that you wish you had known that.
[00:18:08] Jennifer Sinkwitts: You know, I think life is so precious. And you know, when I tell people my story, especially when I’m, you know, sitting with my friends and stuff, I, you know, I’ve been a runner my whole life.
I eat and kale and exercise and spinach, and I have a good diet, I don’t smoke, you know, I am pretty healthy despite drinking wine which can lead to breast cancer, which that’s probably what did it for me. I don’t know. But you know, I, life can change in a second. I mean, you can be, you know, at the top of your game and then next be faced with a cancer diagnosis.
And so that’s just keeping those that you love close and living your life, knocking stuff off your bucket list, whether it’s the Boston Marathon, or going on a cruise around the world, I don’t know. Just making sure that you take the time to do the things that you love to do. And I didn’t always do that.
I dove into my work and you know, I would spend hours working so hard, and I still work hard, don’t get me wrong. But I think just gaining some perspective on what really matters in the end, making sure you have a circle of friends. And if you don’t, you need to go and find those circle of friends. Because I’ll tell you my friends were there for me and surrounded me with love and I’m so glad that I had them.
And I know that it’s very hard, you know, when you’re raising a family and working to maintain friendships. But you’ve got to make the time to do that because people need you and you need them and that’s my biggest takeaway.
[00:19:53] Adam Walker: That’s a good takeaway. Make the time for friendships. That’s incredibly important. Well, Jennifer, this has been great. Your story is inspirational and I’m profoundly impressed. You were able to run the Boston Marathon right after a diagnosis. So thank you for taking the time to share this with us.
[00:20:10] Jennifer Sinkwitts: Well, thank you for having me and I appreciate all that you do to bring stories like this, to the public. And one other thing, I mean that if I can share one, I mean, yes, making it, making sure you have a circle of friends. But being in charge of your healthcare. Getting your mammograms, especially now. There’s so many women I know, not to the fault of their own because of COVID, but miss their mammograms. And man, if I didn’t feel that little tumor that day, if I had not run the Boston Marathon, I would have found that a lot later and my situation would have ended up being a lot different. So take the time to take care of yourself.
[00:20:51] Adam Walker: That’s right. Take care of yourself. All right. Well, Jennifer, this is amazing. Again, thank you so much for that.
[00:20:56] Jennifer Sinkwitts: No, thanks for having me.
[00:20:58] Adam Walker: This program is supported by Amgen. Amgen strives to serve patients by transforming the promise of science and biotechnology into therapies for patients with serious illnesses, learn more at Amgen.com.
Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com.