My name is Janet Downes and I’m a 7 year breast cancer fighter. I don’t call myself a survivor anymore as I’ve been truly battling this disease. We’ve gone many rounds in this fight but I refuse to give up or let it beat me. It may win eventually but I’m going to go down swinging hard and leave my own bruises on it.
I am retired from the US Air Force and currently working on a book about my battle with cancer. I had 2 aunts, maternal & paternal die of this awful disease. Along with a third aunt that survived. Cancer was a word that I was familiar with but you never quite understand until it taps YOU on the shoulder.
In 1998 I was about to celebrate my 40th birthday. I had a wedding theme planned for my party and everyone thought I was nuts. Maybe I am a little but I got tired of seeing everything in the stores that was related to ‘40’ being in black. So I decided to poke a little fun at society because I didn’t feel old. That coupled with the fact that after 19 years of adulthood, I was finally at a place in my life where I was happy with almost every aspect of my life. I’d been married & divorce twice at that time, yet I no longer needed a man to ‘fulfill’ me. I had 3 beautiful children (Nicole, Jasmine & Eugene Jr.) and for the first time, was satisfied with my body. You know what I mean ladies? We always seem to feel that our breasts are too small or too big. Always complaining that something is wrong with our hips, butt or legs. We can always find something wrong with ourselves when we look in the mirror. One day I woke up & decided, I was happy with who I was, just the way I was. So that led me to, marrying myself. I didn’t know it at the time but that little stunt got me international fame. It seems that I was the first woman to think of it and actually carry it out. It was a beautiful wedding and I am happy with myself, even now.
Two months later, I had cancer. I had a modified bilateral mastectomy and went through 6 months of chemotherapy. The way I describe 1998 is like this; I found myself, married myself, lost both my breast & all of my hair. Whew! What a yea!
I was on the mend and after looking at myself in the mirror and saying, put your money where your mouth is Jan. I knew that I didn’t have to have breast to be me. I was still Just Jan. I still loved me and I knew I would be okay. After coming to grips about being breast-less, I decided to get implants. When a doctor told me I could get any size I wanted, I figured, why not? That was my present to myself for enduring what I had just gone through.
I began living life to its fullest when in 2000; I felt a lump under my implant. It had returned. Looking back, the news didn’t devastate me as much as the first time, I did it once and could do it again. After taking that lump out, I had 2 months of chemo (all that I could stand because the side effects kicked my butt) and then 7 weeks of radiation. I lost my hair again but even that wasn’t as devastating as the first time because I knew it was coming back when all was done. I began to mend again. Smelling the roses if you will. Everything was beautiful. I was alive & that’s all that mattered to me.
2002, the cancer returned again, in my collar bone. In 2003 it returned again, twice. In 2004 and so on. That’s the short version. Here I am in 2005 and still fighting. I’ve had 16 surgeries in the past 7 years and am about to start on my 7th regiment of chemotherapy. As I said, I’m not technically a survivor but a fighter.
I don’t just fight the cancer; I try to help others through one of the most difficult times in their lives. I joined a group called; The Witness Project because they are a faith based group that goes into churches, schools, anywhere in the community that wants us and give our testimony to other woman. In hopes of teaching more woman about Breast Self exams and standing up for yourself when faced with a diagnosis of cancer. I personally talk to anyone and everyone that I meet. It’s all about being empowered. Cancer can, if you let it, strip away your life. I choose not to let it. As Tim McGraw’s song says, ‘live like you were dying.’ That sums up my life now.
Last year I applied to be a part of the group, Changing Gears but I missed the deadline and was heart broken. But I thank God that I was still around this year to apply and was accepted. Women from all over the world applied for the chance to ride. I’ve always had a special love for Bikes and used to ride years ago. But somehow, I got busy with life & kids and working and didn’t make time for it. When I saw the opportunity to get on a bike again, I jumped at it. Since being accepted I took the Riders Edge course and got my endorsement on my license. While I don’t have a bike of my own, I’ve rented a few bikes to prepare for the ride. There is no better feeling than being on the road on a Harley (or whatever you like) it’s just you and a powerful machine and the road. The thought of riding with 20 other breast cancer survivors, raising money to help other women smitten with this disease and meeting new people along the way has left me giddy with hope.
I tell people all the time that I’m lucky and blessed. When they hear my story they don’t understand how I can say that. The truth is, cancer can teach you if you let it. It’s taught me so many things in the past 7 years that I’m amazed every day. Cancer knows no color or age boundaries and because of that I’ve had to live that same way. I’ve found new friends and lost others that I thought were friends because of the cancer. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff because there is so much more to life. I’ve also learned to have less and less pity parties for one because when you think you have it bad, there is someone that’s always worst.
I keep holding on, waiting for the Cure. I will ride as long as the good Lord lets me and I will enjoy my life as long as He lets me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without God, my family & friends. Especially my brother Ronn who has been like a sister to me. I have two beautiful grandchildren now, Giavonna 3 and Westyn 7 months. No one can tell me, that I am not blessed.
Departed this life Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:44am.