#MilesMatter to Jackie Schlenker. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, those miles mattered to the 42-year-old wife, mother and full-time caregiver.
“The drive was getting to be a lot. I didn’t want to drive on the road in winter.”
ONE YEAR. EIGHT GRADUATES. 244,842 MILES.
It was a regular October morning when Schlenker hopped into the shower. On a usual day, she would fix breakfast for her two children, Payton, now 10, and Carter, now 5. She would get dressed and ready for work as a direct support professional and certified nursing assistant at the Anne Carlsen Center. Schlenker does not have a family history of breast cancer, yet, she would occasionally check her breasts performing a self-exam.
That day though, that regular, ordinary day, she found something unusual.
Her heart raced.
‘“Can you check?’” she remembers asking her husband Shannon. “Maybe it’s just in my head.”
It was not.
Registered Mammography Technologist Aimee Teske performed Schlenker’s 3D mammogram, Schlenker’s first-ever. Schlenker remembers Teske as patient and kind, especially given the personal nature of the procedure.
Teske, who has more than 16 years of experience in radiology and performs more than 1,500 3D mammograms each year, noticed something of concern. Cancerous cells in the breast look like little fireworks on the images from the breast tomosynthesis. So Teske flagged Dr. Madhusudhan Reddy, JRMC Radiologist. Under Dr. Reddy’s guidance, the radiology team performed an ultrasound on the area of concern – on the very same day as her 3D mammogram.
“Aimee knew I was scared,” Schlenker remembered. “She stayed, held my hand and wiped my tears. I’m glad she was in my life at that time,” Schlenker said.
Teske said she would want someone to do the same for her.
“If something like that would happen to me and I was by myself, I would want someone to care too,” Teske said.
Schlenker saw her oncologist for the first time in January 2019. She chose the Roger Maris Cancer Center because of its level of experience in cancer care. Jamestown Regional Medical Center partnered with Sanford Health and Roger Maris to form the JRMC Cancer Center in July of that year.
Schlenker’s breast cancer care required a biopsy, chemotherapy, blood transfusion, surgery, radiation and then more chemo. Looking back, it has been a tough couple of years for the family of four.
All that care is expensive – and so is the travel. That is why Schlenker is grateful to her husband and children as well as her ACC coworkers, siblings, mother and the community for supporting her with meals as well as gas and grocery gift cards. She even received financial support from the Jamestown High School Volleyball team, Jamestown Cancer Support Group (formerly known as HHH) and the Running of the Green event in March.
Running of the Green is known as a citywide St. Patrick’s Day-themed event in which participants dress up and travel from bar to bar. However, last year alone, organizers used the event’s proceeds to donate more than $25,000 to Elk’s Camp Grassick and about $10,000 to local cancer patients
“That helped a lot,” Schlenker said, her voice cracking. “Because not only was I not working, but sometimes, I didn’t even have the energy to walk to the stove or get in the shower.”
Once winter arrived, Schlenker was anxious to receive care closer to home.
She worked with her oncology team to transfer her appointments to the JRMC Cancer Center.
“I went from driving 200 miles round trip to four,” she said.
“They all took such good care of me. I know Laura from when we worked together at the Anne Carlsen Center. She is a good person and good caregiver. And K.C. knows, I’m always cold so he’d bring me warm blankets and a snack.”
She also mentioned Robison and the quality of his care during lab draws.
“It took some nurses six pokes for those draws. K.C. never missed,” she said.
After nearly two years of treatment, Schlenker rang the JRMC Cancer Center bell for survivors.
Ring this bell
Three times well
Its toll to clearly say,
My treatment’s done
This course is run
And I am on my way!
“I finally did it, but it felt bittersweet. Like, is this really over? Am I really done?”
What Schlenker didn’t know was the origin of the bell and the family that made it possible.
The Espeseth family donated the bell in memory of their late matriarch, Marsha Leigh Espeseth. After a seven-year battle with breast cancer, Marsha passed away in 1987. Like Schlenker, she was also a young mother of two. The Espeseth family donated the bell to support people who would one day ring it, and to honor those who, like Marsha, never would. Poetic how, at the one-year anniversary of the JRMC Cancer Center, the story of the woman who rang the bell echoes the story of the woman whose name is engraved upon it.
Upon hearing the story, Schlenker paused.
“Maybe a piece of her was with me through it, this whole time,” she said.
Schlenker is the eighth graduate of the JRMC Cancer Center since it opened in the summer of 2019. Since that day, the JRMC Cancer Center has saved its patients more than 240,000 miles of travel.
“The JRMC Cancer Center team understands that each moment matters. JRMC is dedicated to exceeding expectations and being the difference. We operate as a team, a team full of heart, compassion and synergy. Our loving staff was hand-selected, not only for their medical expertise but because of their drive and compassion. It is a privilege to be able to provide care to Jackie and her family,” said Trisha Jungels, JRMC’s Chief Nursing Officer.
This Cancer Survivor Day is bittersweet for JRMC, she said, because the hospital celebrates stories like Schlenker’s. It also supports and holds dear the people whose journey takes a different path. Not all endings are a happy one.
So until a cure is found, JRMC will continue to offer cancer care, because miles matter when you are sick.
Jamestown Regional Medical Center, in partnership with Sanford Health, opened the JRMC Cancer Center in 2019. The JRMC Cancer Center serves 100 people from Sanford and other healthcare organizations in the Jamestown area each month, saving more than 160,000 miles of travel each year.