October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And at Metrolink, one of our executive leaders is a proud breast cancer survivor. Jennifer Vides, our Chief Customer Experience Officer (CXO) faced her battle head-on and has shared her experience with us. In this Q&A, she explains the importance of being kind to oneself, how family has pushed her onward and what wisdom she’s acquired throughout her journey.
What did you learn about yourself during your fight with breast cancer?
JV: I learned I’m very tough, but that I need to give myself grace. I’ve always had a very strong work ethic, and I’ve maintained that throughout this cancer battle. I need to apply that same work ethic to self-care. I started doing this thing in which I’d write down a list of things I’ve done for myself next to the list of things I’ve done for others (including work) over a given period of time. I’m working on making that list more equitable for all – including myself.
What activities or outlets helped you through your fight?
This was hard because I drew the “cancer during a pandemic” card. There are many things I wished I could do (pilates and kayaking, for example), but couldn’t. So, I spent time with and walked my dogs until I wasn’t strong enough to do so safely. Honestly, my (many) pets provided love and cuddles and distraction that made a big difference. I also cooked a lot (I was fortunate I could eat during chemo), built Legos with my son, started doing puzzles and streamed some shows.
Who was in your support system during your fight and how vital were they in your path to beating breast cancer?
It’s taken a village, honestly. My husband and my son have been – and continue to be – vitally supportive and helpful every minute of every day throughout this process. My older sister Helen has been full-time text/call therapist and part-time nurse post-surgery. They have been key to keeping me focused and “ok” throughout this. My brother, younger sister and mother, and a close circle of friends, have been great cheerleaders and supporters, even from across the country, letting me vent and making me laugh. And my colleagues – starting with our former CEO Stephanie Wiggins, interim CEO Arnold Hackett and current CEO Darren Kettle – have been incredibly supportive. As has my incredible team, led by Monica Bouldin who is a good friend and leader, and sits in my seat whenever I’m out.
Each person was important in a different way – It helped when I finally learned it’s ok to not to expect the same kind of support from everyone. I got valuable advice from other women who’ve been through this or who know someone else who has, who answered my questions about what I could expect throughout the various steps of treatment. Friends and family also recommended and/or sent things I’d need to cope: Mastectomy pillows, the Shower Shirt, Gin-Gins Ana Ono bras for reconstruction, Aveeno Restorative Skin Lotion and the Burrito Blanket are among the things I had no idea existed / would make my life better.
Were you an open book or more private about your diagnosis and battle?
I’ve been an open book with the people who needed to know about it. I told my husband and teenaged son as soon as I found the lump. I told my siblings, my mother and my boss immediately following diagnosis. Then, I told close friends in the first few weeks and invited them in to know however much they wanted to.
While I didn’t hide it, I didn’t go “social media official” until after surgery. The people who noticed beanies popping up in photos asked and I answered. But cancer treatment is long and arduous, and most people either just don’t want the blow-by-blow, or can’t handle it because they are dealing with their own challenges.
As for work, being a “full-time cancer patient” wasn’t for me. Aside from intermittent days off for treatment and time off for surgery, I chose to work throughout the process, and was upfront with my colleagues about it. I didn’t want people wasting time and energy wondering about what was happening or feeling like they had to tiptoe around me. Transparency made it easier to maintain business as usual.
What advice would you give to someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer?
My best advice is really for all women: be proactive, don’t skip scans, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or for more tests. In my case, my tumor turned out to be huge. I’d done annual mammograms and ultrasounds, but I skipped an MRI during the pandemic. The last couple of mammograms showed “calcification,” assumed to be benign, which I should have asked more about. It’s possible the MRI would have seen the calcification as tumor, so we could have gotten started attacking it sooner if I’d kept that annual schedule. I’m fortunate it had not spread.
Once you’ve been diagnosed:
First, don’t freak out. This is my second time around with breast cancer and huge advancements in treatments have significantly improved outcomes since over the last decade. Make sure you assemble a good medical team that’s going to walk you through your options. Get a second opinion if you’re uncomfortable then listen and follow medical professionals’ recommendations.
Do what’s right for you – this is not a one-size-fits-all disease and we all handle the long, arduous process differently. For example, I know people who felt better because they stopped working for a while – I know that would not have been good for me.
Finally, be good to yourself, surround yourself with people (and pets!) you love and rest as much as you can.