Life has a way of throwing curveballs
Jennifer Bonenfant, a successful businesswoman and loving mother of three, did not have plans for breast cancer, but life has a way of throwing curveballs.
At age 40, Bonenfant dutifully had her first mammogram, and passed with flying colors. Ages 41 and 42 came around, but she felt she was “too busy” to take time for the exam.
But at 43, she felt a lump in her breast tissue. “I felt it in June of that year, but didn’t get it checked out until November,” she explains. “I thought it was going to go away on its own.”
Bonenfant and her husband, David, had relocated their family from Charlottesville, Virginia to Bloomington, Illinois that year, and she quickly became busy with her new consulting job. But by October, the lump had not gone away, and she started seeing information about Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“It really increased my awareness, and so I decided I needed to do something,” she says. “It was my secret that I had been keeping.”
She scheduled a mammogram appointment at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “I was nervous and anxious, but I knew that it was the right thing to do,” she says.
After her examination, a biopsy was recommended for the next morning.
The biopsy revealed that Bonenfant had breast cancer.
“Finding out is much worse than the actual treatment,” she says, tearing up. “I had to figure out how to tell my husband and my children. How to figure out how to manage it in a new community. We had to find our way.”
Not wishing to let the cancer control their lives, the family kept up their regular routine every day and tried to keep their schedule. “We took it one day at a time,” she says.
“If the kids didn’t feel so good about it, we talked about it. They got to see what family meant, the strength of a family and the importance of family,” she says. “It became very central during that entire time.”
Bonenfant soon had a lumpectomy, where doctors found that the lump was larger than originally anticipated, but thankfully, it had not spread to the lymph nodes, nor was it genetic.
The day after Christmas, she received a call explaining her lumpectomy results. She had stage 2 breast cancer and would need chemotherapy treatments.
She explains that the hardest part of chemo was losing her hair. “I had pretty big blonde hair to go with my Southern accent,” she says. Her children, Adam (13), Leigh (9), and Ryan (6), preferred their mother without a wig or hat on. “They learned about humility and grace throughout the process.”
She reflects on the effects the cancer treatments had on her body, both physically and mentally. “Well, you can’t not be changed,” she says. “I even look different. My hair is short and brown. I think it helped me to grow as a person and be able to set priorities. To take care of myself and to make sure that I stay healthy and make time for that. That was important since I didn’t always do that.”
She is especially pleased with the way she and her family handled the situation. “Just the sheer grit and determination – I’m proud of that.”
She encourages women over 40 to be proactive about getting their annual mammogram.
“I think I would still have my blonde hair had I had my mammogram at 41, 42 and 43,” she says.
But she stresses that breast cancer is not the end of the world and that it is not an exit. “You will get through it and meet some really fantastic people along the way,” she says. “And maybe learn a bit about yourself, about your family, about life in general.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.