(2015) Women on a Mission presents a cheque to Ailsa Craig resident Jessica Burgess to help with her fight against the breast cancer she was diagnosed with last year. From left is Jenn Cavanagh, Sue Finch, Jessica Burgess, Kelly Hawkins and Joanne Steeper. (Photo provided by Barb Shea, Hayter-Walden Publications)
A brave young woman and her fight with cancer By Barb Shea, Hayter-Walden Publications Hearing the word cancer from your doctor's lips is difficult at any age, but hearing the word cancer when you are only 23 is totally unexpected. Jessica Burgess heard that word almost a year ago, when she went in for an ultrasound after finding a lump in her breast. Burgess had just graduated from college where she had taken Dental Hygiene and was ready to move out west, where she had a job waiting for her. But, all that changed in one day, after going in to get the lump checked. Burgess went to Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital for an ultrasound after finding a lump the size and consistency of a marble in her breast. After the first ultrasound, on September 19, 2014, a technician named Yolanda left the room and came back several minutes later saying she needed to do another ultrasound. Yolanda's face was white and tense. This is when Burgess began to suspect something was seriously wrong and she knew it was not good. After the ultrasound they sent her immediately for a mammogram and then another one. Burgess felt terrified and begged the staff to tell her what was wrong. She said, "I could sense the ominous feeling in the air and I said, 'Stop. Please tell me what is going on." The technician replied, "I don't feel good about this." Then the hospital called the surgeon in and they preformed a biopsy that day on the lump in her breast and her lymph nodes. After the biopsy, the nurses started talking to her about breast cancer treatment options. She said, "Four days later I started chemo. They told me I was in between stage 2 or 3." Before the chemo treatments, though, doctors discussed the side effects with her, one of which could cause infertility. Because of her age, they suggested harvesting her eggs and actually having them fertilized by her boyfriend, since that would make them more viable when it came time to implant them in her uterus. It was a tough decision to make and it had to be done quickly so they decided they would do it. Unbeknownst to them, however, was the $10,000 cost to do so. They were shocked it would not be covered by OHIP. There was an infertility program, which could subsidize some of the cost and the drug company offered to pay 75% of the costs of the drugs that would help her to produce more eggs. They still ended up paying $5,000, though. They harvested the eggs on the Friday, before she started treatment the Tuesday after. Burgess says, "It seemed like a crazy step and the cost kind of freaked me out. My emotions were very high from all the drugs I was on." In March 2015, Burgess had bad news again. The cancer had spread. She had completed six out of eight rounds of chemo and decided to keep going with the treatment. In June, when she was examined again, everything looked good. The cancer was still small in size. She continued on with injections to eliminate estrogens in her body and she also takes a pill that does something similar. Her boyfriend, Travis, also proposed in June and they plan to be married in January of 2016. She has another scan that takes place in September and she will see then if the cancer has progressed at all. She says, "I did not have any problems with nausea during the chemo, I just felt extremely tired and I was not able to work. One bonus was the loss of hair," she laughs. "All my hair fell out, all over my body." Except for her hair on her head and eyebrows, she did not mind too much because it eliminated shaving her legs and underarms. She has been suffering from pain in her legs and feet for the last three months and is wondering if the cancer has spread there. Women on a Mission (WOAM) got involved with Burgess when Travis' aunt brought it to their attention. Jenn Cavanagh, one of the originators of WOAM, said, "Listening to Jessica's story is what it is all about. We are here to help people in the community and this is how we find out about needs. Usually, we have one main donor every year, but a lot of other people come for help and we donate to them anonymously. We give the money without any parameters." WOAM donated almost $10,000 to Burgess, to use wherever she needed it. Burgess was unable to work for a while because of the treatments and because she just graduated from college she was not eligible for any government programs. The government does not see cancer as a qualification for disability. She did have a part time job in retail and, eventually, they worked with her so she could get some help to make her eligible. Now she is back to work there again. Burgess says, "Thank you to everyone who was involved with the planning, production and the attendees at the WOAM event in May. It means so much to me. I don't think I could thank you enough with words. This truly has changed my life. Now I will ride out the remission, get married and live my life to the fullest as long as I can!"