Eradicating a Rare Form of Blood Cancer
When Jenna Benn Shersher was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma, a rare blood disorder affecting fewer than 300 people in the United States, oncologists at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University used a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis and treatment. Jenna, determined to increase the amount of support available to patients like her, put her own twist on cancer survivorship – she founded an online community for those touched by the disease.
Since her treatment, Jenna has stayed in touch. She still sees her Northwestern Medicine team twice a year, visits that functions as much as check-ups as catch-ups. Her Twist Out Cancer program has thrived, connecting patients and survivors as well as offering an opportunity for friends and family to show their support and form a community.
As she approaches the exciting five-year mark, Jenna is embracing the latest twist in her life: a beautiful baby girl named Noa. And when Jenna gave birth at the same hospital that saved her life, the significance was not lost on her. She had come full circle: seeing new life in the same place and surrounded by the people that saved hers was a miraculous experience.
“There’s no perfect gift that you can give your oncologist. You can give them a photo or write them a thank you card, but nothing seems to do it justice,” explains Jenna. “Though seeing his face when he was holding Noa was pretty priceless.”
Re-discovering the world with her daughter
For Jenna, cancer and motherhood are inextricably linked. Even before she knew what disease she would battle, Jenna determined two things: she would live and, in doing so, she would bring new life into this world. That first meeting with the oncofertility consortium would change the way she fought her cancer and it would change the way she approached everything. Even now, married and with a family, her experience informs the world around her.
Her daughter’s discovery of, and immediate excitement for, her own hands struck Jenna as a very small thing with huge meaning. It was a feeling she recognized.
“I think there’s something really powerful in watching life happen,” said Jenna. “But also, I see a lot of parallels. When you’re dealing with cancer, you’re savoring life in a very different way, in a way that most people probably don’t experience. You’re appreciating all these little things in a big way. And I think with babies, when they’re discovering things for the first time, you’re seeing that appreciation and that excitement. The small things and the small moments are what you hold onto when you’re going through a serious illness.”
When life with a newborn allows for reflection, Jenna feels support and hope. It’s hard to think about right now, but with what she calls an incredible team for oncology and oncofertility, Jenna finds hope for both her own life after treatment and any new life she can bring into the world.