County native beats breast cancer
This year’s been tough for County native Jessica Roettele, who now lives in Milford, Ohio. Back in March, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. After chemotherapy and surgery she’s now cancer free. She attributes her successful battle with cancer to a loving family, an amazing medical team and a sarcastic sense of humor.
Last year, at Roettele’s annual OBGYN appointment, things were fine, but during her breast exam she got curious.
“For whatever reason I asked my doctor, because they always start an appointment with a breast screen, what are you looking for?” she asked.
Her doctor showed her how to check her breasts for lumps, which could be a cyst or a tumor.
Roettele made self-examination a routine every so often while taking a shower over the coming months. Time went on and she didn’t feel anything “weird” until in January 2017 when during one of the self-exams, she felt a pea-sized lump in her right breast.
She didn’t do anything about it right away, but kept checking over the next few days. Sometimes she would feel the tiny lump and sometimes she wouldn’t.
At one point that month, “my husband and I were binge watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix and I thought I was being completely paranoid (about the lump),” she said.
But her father-in-law was battling prostate cancer at the time and her paranoia grew.
“The lump got bigger to the point where you’re like in denial,” she said.
She didn’t tell her husband about her discovery until the end of February.
She managed to get an appointment with her OBGYN on a Monday and by Friday, March 3, she was diagnosed with stage three C, grade three, triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma.
Sounding stoic as she recalled the diagnosis, Roettele said she found out on Friday and by Monday she was “at peace” with her situation.
Roettele grew up in Aroostook, in Westfield, a small community of just over 500 people located next to Presque Isle, and in high school she signed on for delayed enlistment in the Air Force. She worked in information technology, which she described as the “Geek Squad” of the Air Force. Her military experience led to a private sector project manager position in Ohio. She said she’s a Type A person and that when she found out she had cancer, she needed to do research and come up with a plan to kick cancer’s “you know what.”
Her doctors had discovered two more lumps during their examinations. One near her collarbone and the other in her armpit.
She was stage three C, which meant the tumors had moved into her lymph nodes. But her medical team told her that with today’s medicine the cancer was curable, there was still time.
Two-weeks after her diagnosis she met with an oncologist who told her that although she was only 34 years old, she was too far along to enter in any medical trials, so they worked out a plan to begin chemotherapy with the hope of shrinking the tumors before attempting surgery.
As Roettele described undergoing 16 four-hour long treatments over the course of five months, she became emotional and started to cry.
“You’ll forgive me because I used to be really smart … you get this thing called ‘chemo brain’ because of all the drugs, your brain gets really foggy. Sometimes you can’t remember words right off the bat so well,” she said
The chemotherapy, however, also had a very positive impact.
“I had a complete pathological response to the chemo,” Roettele said.
What that means is the tumors were gone. What her doctor explained to her was to think of a tumor as a dandelion in the yard. One isn’t too bad, but when it turns white its seeds can spread.
Her chemo killed those seeds before they could spread any further.
She still opted to have both breasts surgically removed to be sure.
“It just gives me peace of mind to know that I took everything out that was there and it also helps my doctors keep a better watch on me moving forward,” she said.
She went through with her surgery on Aug. 29. As of Sept. 27, she was recovering and considered in remission. She soon will start six weeks of preventative radiation treatments five days a week.
“And radiation is not like chemo,” she said. “Chemo takes about four hours, the radiation will be like 10 minutes. It takes longer to get undressed and in place for your appointment.”
Since her ordeal began, she’s put on weight, lost her hair and now has incisions left on her chest as a reminder of what she went through.
She refused to look at her body and see how the surgery had changed her for several days.
“I didn’t want to see myself,” she said.
She sobbed again as she recalled that first time.
“I looked like an ugly boy from [the movie] ‘Saw,’” she said.
But she quickly added, “I’m alive. You have your mini breakdowns then you suck it up.”
In between chemo treatment over the summer she managed to work from home. Her family from Maine visited, folks held fundraisers to help offset medical costs and she turned to social media to share her journey.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate, it picks who it picks,” she said. “It caused me to slow down and stop stressing about things that were insignificant.”
October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is her favorite month. Her birthday and her husband’s are in October, they got married in October, and now she said that since she has survived breast cancer she gets to celebrate that in October, too.