Graceful Victory: One Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation Board Member's Personal Account with Breast Cancer

Northwestern Medicine
Cancer Care/Oncology October 24, 2014
Two years ago, life was quite good for Sofia Ahmad Jones. Her two young children were thriving. Her marriage was stronger than ever. She was a busy Mom who was handling the hustle and bustle of Chicago - living better than most. By her own account, she was young and healthy and feeling great. The stability of “a good life” is why when her 40th birthday came and went in February of 2012, she didn’t panic or race into the doctor’s office to get her first mammogram. In fact, months went by, and every month she told herself that as soon as life settled down a bit, she’d eventually get to it.  

“I actually discovered the lump myself while at home over Fourth of July weekend,” said Jones. “I didn’t really ‘freak out,’ but I called my gynecologist. I described it to her, and she got me an appointment the next day. Things moved pretty fast from there because I had a biopsy that Wednesday, and I was diagnosed on Friday. Breast cancer caught me completely off my feet. I automatically thought, ‘Oh My God, am I going to live?’  I was out of my mind.”

Overcome with utter shock that she faced a life-threatening disease, Jones said her mind was racing. Did she do something wrong? She’d just turned 40—should she have had a mammogram sooner?  She had no family history.  She was healthy.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), with the exception of skin cancers, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among U.S. women. What this means for women born today is that they each have about a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer at some point during their lives.

“Outcomes show that mortality rates for breast cancer have dropped significantly in the past 30 years,” said Nora M. Hansen, MD, breast surgeon and director for the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “But this disease continues to be second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in U.S. women.”

Hansen says that while advancements have saved thousands of lives, breast cancer still claims tens of thousands of lives every year. The ACS also notes that at the present-day statistical rate for breast cancer deaths, an estimated 40,000 U.S. women will die from breast cancer in 2014, which is why Hansen says you can’t over-emphasize the importance of self-exams and regular mammograms.

“My cancer was stage two when I found the lump,” says Jones. “It had spread, as it was in one lymph node. That was pretty scary.”

Road to Recovery

Jones recalls that things continued to progress quickly. Within three weeks of diagnosis she underwent a mastectomy at Northwestern Memorial. The 18 months that followed would include eight rounds of chemotherapy sessions sometimes lasting 4 to 6 hours, and 33 days of radiation treatments. She says one of the best pieces of advice that she received right after her diagnosis still stays with her today, and that was aligning her thinking and her focus on making her course of therapy top priority - making it her “job.”

“My doctor told me to make it to every appointment no matter what, and to not be late to any of my chemo or radiation sessions because now getting better was my job,” said Jones. “That was probably some of the best advice I got. I stayed positive and that’s exactly what I did.”

During chemo, when she was completely bald, her son, who was 4 at the time, found it to be a bit humorous.  He would randomly ask, “I forgot, why is Mommy bald,” or describe it nonchalantly to his friends, “Yeah, my Mommy is bald.” The kids, family and friends kept things lighthearted for the entire Jones family when they needed it most. Jones says these days she feels very lucky. She has had no lasting side effects or ill reactions to the treatments. Today, she is in remission. Her hair is starting to return at full force and she has completed her breast reconstruction. Even when considering where she was a little over two years ago, Jones says she’s back to that mindset of truly believing that life is good.

“It was absolutely terrible to go through that, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” added Jones, who has joined the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation as a board member. “At the very first diagnosis appointment, one of the nurses told me, 'You’re about to lose two years of your life.' She was right, but today I am a survivor.”

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