Breast Cancer: A Story of Strength and Resilience

Regrettably, it’s not a rare occurrence. Husband and wife are fooling around and he feels a lump in his wife’s breast.

But unlike most men, Patrick McDermott didn’t just let his wife know.

After the tragic death of his sister-in-law a year before, he wasn’t taking anything for granted and called his doctor the next day.

A mammogram, breast MRI and biopsy later, the news wasn’t good. “You just can’t prepare for a moment like this,” says Jennifer. “It was cancer and they had to remove my breast.”

Transforming Bad Into Good
In 2010, it’s estimated over 250,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Like many of these women, Jennifer McDermott and her husband came out of the doctor’s office ready to fight. And while the story of her battle with cancer is typical (replete with mastectomy, chemotherapy, reconstruction and revisions), the conscious effort they made to transform bad into good is inspiring.

Their survival skills? Humor, balance, acceptance, and plenty of intimacy. “I wanted her to know that despite all the surgeries, the disfigurement and hair loss, she was always beautiful,” explains Patrick.

Bye-Bye Leftie
Refusing to let the cancer define her, Jennifer threw a party the night before the mastectomy, complete with two breasts on a sheet cake inscribed with “Farewell Leftie.” After pulling out clumps of hair, she hosted another party, this time enlisting her daughter Madison to help shave her head (Hunter, their 3-year-old son was only too happy to offer his head as well). “I tried to focus on the positive: it’s just a breast and not a vital organ; my hair will grow back,” reflects Jennifer. And when she got her first wig, she figured men always like a blond.

More the introvert, Patrick put his energies into project management and planned the family trip of a lifetime to Alaska. “I wasn’t going to let cancer define that year,” he explains. “While we probably couldn’t afford it, that trip balanced the equation.”

Generosity Transformed into Action
It didn’t take long for Patrick and Jennifer to realize that everyone, adult and child alike, reacts to a crisis in a different way. “You go into a situation like this assuming your friends and loved ones would do exactly what you would in the same circumstances,” admits Patrick. “The sooner you learn to accept help and support— regardless of how it is delivered—you avoid unnecessary anger and frustration.” And no matter how it came, the generosity and kindness shown to Jennifer was tremendous. From the neighbor who commandeered meals for six months to the nurses and staff at St. Francis Hospital and countless carpools, the journey was never made alone.

And when the worst of it was behind them, the McDermotts knew they couldn’t just walk away without putting this horrendous experience to good use. As a senior vice president for Resurrection Health Care, Patrick and his staff learned first-hand how to deliver compassionate, caring customer service. Jennifer got involved with St. Francis Hopsital, sharing her story with hospital donors and proving a testament to the life saving value of high-tech diagnostic equipment.

Above all, like many survivors, the McDermotts, including Madison and Hunter, affirm life every day, either by sharing their story of hope or demonstrating that you can always fight fear with facts and find a reason to laugh.

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