Jennifer Deaderick has always loved a good adventure. In 2014, the occupational therapist moved from California to England. Two years later, she quit her job to explore Mexico, Central America and Asia.
"The world felt full of possibility," Jennifer says, remembering the morning of her 40th birthday. "My spirit felt free and my body invincible."
Just after New Year's 2017, Jennifer and her significant other, Phil, were in Costa Rica when she felt something on her right breast. Because she had always been in good physical condition, Jennifer wasn't too concerned.
"I thought it was from my new backpack since one of the straps lay directly across my chest," she says. But after a month without improvement, Jennifer and Phil hiked to a medical clinic. An ultrasound and biopsy were performed, and Jennifer was handed a report in Spanish.
"I'll never forget, Phil and I reading and rereading the biopsy report, hoping that our taxicab Spanish translation was not the correct interpretation," says Jennifer.
The report said she had breast cancer.
A graduate of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Jennifer contacted a breast cancer researcher who still worked at the Baltimore campus. Jennifer's parents lived in Jacksonville, Florida, so when the researcher recommended an oncologist at Mayo Clinic, Jennifer knew that's where she was headed. On March 16, 2017, one month after her initial appointment in Costa Rica, she arrived at the Jacoby Center for Breast Health on Mayo Clinic's Florida campus.
"If first impressions were all that mattered, I couldn't imagine a better place for me to be or a better team of people," says Jennifer. "It was important to me to be in a place that not only had exceptional medical care but was also open to my desire to integrate holistic, natural healing into my care. I was so thankful to learn Mayo Clinic had a new integrative medicine program that would address me as a person and not just treat my breast."
Jennifer and her care team made a treatment plan: bilateral mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy and reconstructive surgery. Through it all, Jennifer would embrace mindfulness and an array of complementary therapies.
"I found I can manage side effects and keep my mind focused with alternative therapies, a lot of sleep, exercise and the right nutrition," Jennifer says.
"I have practiced yoga for years, and it has been one of the greatest gifts for helping with post-surgical recovery, mental health and chemotherapy side effects," she adds. Acupuncture also helped with chemotherapy-related nausea and insomnia, while medical massage eased pain and aided in Jennifer regaining range of motion in her shoulders.
Although she'd always maintained a healthy diet, Jennifer says having access to nutrition and pharmacy consultations was helpful.
"The appointments were valuable in making sure I did not lose weight during treatment, and that my existing vitamin and supplement regime didn't interfere with, but supported, my treatment," she says.
Before chemotherapy infusions, Jennifer would recite a special mantra. Part of it was: "I am hopeful for the future. I am an indomitable spirit. I am cancer-free and will persevere. I am healing every day in every way."
Jennifer still has additional treatment to come but says she feels great and is looking forward to the future.
"My care has been amazing, and I have such confidence in the team at the Mayo Clinic. I'm excited by how good I am feeling and that I've been able to do things that make me feel alive," she says, noting that over the holidays, she traveled to England and Iceland, and took her first hike since her breast-cancer diagnosis.
"I remember wondering earlier on during this crazy cancer journey if I would ever feel well enough to hike again. As I stood on the top of this mountain, overlooking the lakes, I cried with pure joy," she says. "I had regained a piece of me."