By Jacki Donaldson, Family Circle
Documenting her treatment ups and downs through photos and blog posts gave Jacki Donaldson, a mom of two young boys in Gainesville, Florida, surprising strength and comfort. Here, a glimpse into her brave journey.
A New Reality
The older of my two sons, Joey (who was 3 at the time), took this photo just days after my diagnosis in November 2004. My intention was to capture my appearance before cancer took it away. I didn’t plan to look so somber. Yet it’s fitting. I was sad. The good news: I caught my cancer early, at stage 1, so it hadn’t spread. I wouldn’t lose my entire left breast—I needed only a lumpectomy to remove the pea-size tumor. The bad news: My growth contained too many HER2 proteins, meaning my cancer was aggressive (which is common in young women—I was 34). Doctors told me the post-surgery treatment would therefore be harsh. Indeed it was.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Eight weeks of chemotherapy sent toxic liquids through my blood, aimed at killing any cancer cells that may have escaped from the tumor before it was removed. I chose to have a port surgically implanted underneath my collarbone for the duration of the chemo, instead of getting repeatedly pricked with needles. A soft, slim catheter tube that was attached to the bottom of the port directed the drugs to my heart, which then pumped them throughout my body. After each of the four three-hour infusions, I felt nauseated and constipated. The drugs stole my energy, my taste buds, and, worst of all, my hair—what a way to start the new year. To minimize the trauma of pulling out larger and larger clumps, I split my locks into three ponytails and cut off each one. Then Joey and my husband, John, shaved the rest. Nothing made me as ill as seeing my bald head. Cancer was stripping me of my identity. And there was very little I could do about it.
Images: Jacki Donaldson