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Jennifer Reeves

Definitely an Outlier

Holy Name Cancer Patient stories - Jennifer Reeves

Every cancer patient is unique and each journey evolves on different paths. But Jennifer Reeves’ story is so rare that one of her doctors labeled her an “outlier.” Nine months post-chemotherapy, she embraced the description wholeheartedly and had “outlier” tattooed on her wrist as a reminder.

She earned it, and not just for recovering from a life-threatening disease. It’s the way her body responded as it was being invaded by an aggressive cancer. Under the care of Dr. Maria Schiavone, a gynecologic oncologist at Holy Name Medical Center, Jennifer is now cancer free but she it was a rough road for a while.

Jennifer was 41 and had a laundry list of vague symptoms – joint pain, heart palpitations, some gastrointestinal issues – that would come and go over the course of nearly a year. The one constant was a low-grade fever she ran the entire time. She saw an infectious disease specialist, gastroenterologist, endocrinologist, cardiologist, gynecologist and rheumatologist. She had x-rays, an echocardiogram, mammogram and blood work done many times over.

“I knew there was absolutely something wrong with me and I kept telling the doctors that,” Jennifer said. “Finally, my gastroenterologist overheard me speaking with another doctor and said I should have a pelvic CT scan done.”

There it was – an egg-sized tumor in her groin. It wasn’t attached to any organs but tests showed it was ovarian cancer, stage 4. Jennifer said she was “beside herself. But I was brought up with the attitude of ‘take no prisoners’ and that’s what I thought. I’m going to beat this thing and live.”

She was married, had twin 2 ½-year old boys, an 8-year-old daughter and was a teacher in the Totowa school system. She sat on her daughter’s bed some nights and prayed that God would spare her so she would be there for her kids, “especially my daughter because I just think girls need their moms and I didn’t want to be the mom that my boys could only remember from photographs.”

Jennifer had surgery to remove the tumor first, followed by a full hysterectomy. And here’s when her doctors made the surprising discovery: there wasn’t a single cancer cell in any of her reproductive organs. Not in her ovaries, fallopian tubes – where they thought the cancer might have originated – or any of the other organs they removed.

“They figure my immune system fought the cancer – that’s why I had a low-grade fever for so long,” Jennifer said. “It couldn’t fight it enough to prevent the tumor from forming but it got rid of the cancer in my ovaries and fallopian tubes. That’s when my doctor said I was an outlier – that my immune system did what they try to do with immunotherapy.”

But she still had to deal with the tumor taken from her groin. Although it was completely removed with surgery, the cancer cells had travelled through her body and there was a chance some cells were lingering in other areas. Chemotherapy was recommended to prevent the cancer from recurring. Jennifer started seeing Dr. Schiavone after her surgeon in a large New York medical center recommended her.

“The moment I met Dr. Schiavone, I felt so at ease with her,” Jennifer said. “She was a young mom also and understood how I felt. I just felt right with her.”

Dr. Schiavone explained what Jennifer should expect and outlined her treatment plan. She was with Jennifer through every step of her 18 weeks of treatment.

“Dr. Schiavone and everyone at Holy Name, from all the nurses and technicians to the nuns who brought me communion, took such good care of me,” Jennifer said. “I’m so grateful for the care I received.”

Jennifer took a year off from teaching as she recovered from surgery and chemotherapy, which she said was “horrendous.” She had a multitude of side effects, including insomnia, neuropathy, and she lost her hair. “it was a roller coaster of illness every week. The worst part was just as the week was near the end and I was starting to feel better, I had to go back and begin all over again.” But it never shook her faith.

“From the time of my diagnosis, I leaned more and more on my faith and I pictured the cancer cells being eaten up by the chemotherapy – visualization and using the power of my mind was key,” Jennifer said. “My takeaway from this experience is to find the blessings in it. I’m so appreciative to be alive. And I’d like to tell anyone out there who knows there is something going on with their body not to give up. Keep advocating for yourself. You could be like me – a total anomaly. Listen to your body.”

Jennifer is nearly three years out from chemotherapy and shows no sign of cancer. “I enjoy going back to Dr. Schiavone for checkups and hearing positive outcomes.”

Today, she feels well, is teaching and happily raising her children with her husband. In her free time, she writes about her journey to give hope to others.

Learn more about ObGyn Oncology treatment at Holy Name