My Cancer Story: Guest Post by Jenni Laurita

10.8.2012 | 8:10 am

A Note from Fatty: We are still right in the middle of the contest where you can win a Giant TCR Advanced SL, outfitted with the all-new Dura-Ace 9000 11-speed group, not to mention a bunch of other fantastic prizes. Click here for details, or click here to donate for a chance to win.

A Note from Fatty About Today’s Guest Post Author: Jenni Laurita has been a reader and commenter on this blog for years and years. Much more importantly, she’s been a Team Fatty Philly powerhouse fundraiser and troop-rallying organizer. She is one of the absolute nicest people you could ever meet, has an incredible smile, and — when push comes to shove — is the first to volunteer to ride a lime:

Shot while a group of us were walking around during the Ride for the Roses a couple years ago)

Jenni is also a breast cancer survivor.

A few weeks ago — along with lots and lots of other people — waited and worried that her breast cancer had come back. And I — along with lots and lots of other people — was incredibly relieved when tests (finally!) showed that it hadn’t. I’m pretty sure that the shortest email I have ever received from Jenni is also the best. It was just one word: “Benign!”

So this year when — like last year — it came time to select a ride ambassador from Team Fatty to ride the Tour de Pink, Jenni was already top-of-mind. I asked her to go do the three-day ride this weekend and bring back a report, telling us all about it.

For today, I asked Jenni to tell her story, for a first person account of what the fight against breast cancer is like for a young woman. Read it, and then make sure you take the time to donate in the fundraiser we’re doing right now. Because while winning a bike would be cool, helping a foundation specifically targeted toward helping people like Jenni — or Susan, or Michelle — is even cooler.

Image.jpgMy Cancer Story, by Jenni Laurita

“Yes, the results are here, but the doctor who reads them won’t be in until Tuesday, “ the increasingly rude receptionist said.

“Well, is there any doctor there that can read them? I’m really nervous.”

“There is, but he’s not the one who reads the tests.”

“You’re going to leave me waiting until Tuesday to find out if I have cancer because another doctor can’t give me my results?” I said, Friday afternoon.

“Ma’am, even if he could read you the results, if it was something bad you’d have to come in for an appointment”.

The next call I got about 10 minutes later simply said, “Can you come in right now?”

And in that office that day I heard the word for the first time.


I really don’t think I heard any other words that day other than “cancer,” over and over again. I don’t remember the doctor’s name, I don’t remember his description or speech, I only remember “cancer” and his unusually hairy arms — it was like a pelt of thick arm fur.

I was 33.

I sat in the parking lot, unable to drive, and I called my mother. I said, “Well, I got the best of the worst news” and told her that at this point it seems like we had caught it extremely early. In what amounted to a mistaken prescription given to me for a mammogram I was rightly too young to have prescribed by a doctor who had his license revoked for drug and alcohol abuse (and whom I tried desperately to avoid getting an appointment with that day), I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Very tiny “grains of sand” showed up in the moonscape image of my right breast. I had no intention of following up on his prescription, until at the end of the appointment he looked in my eyes and said, “Promise me you’ll go.”

And so began my journey into the awful world of cancer. I had test after test after test. Every shadow, every perceived anomaly in both breasts was biopsied, a titanium marker left behind each time to mark the areas of concern. I look forward to the day I own a titanium bicycle, such a matchy matchy girl I am.

I turned into a human pincushion. The first few made me very upset; needles and I aren’t friends. By the last biopsy of that year, though, I was over it. I didn’t even stop eating my apple while the now-familiar team did what they do.

I had surgery in what can only be described as the most archaic and anachronistic of medical procedures, the details of which I’ll spare you. I bounded up the stairs post-surgery to cheerfully say goodbye to my surgeon, I was wearing Livestrong yellow.

And bad news: not clear margins, another surgery.

I asked if we could do it now. Today. Let’s go, get this done. My surgeon described how I needed to heal first before they cut me or it would be like shredding the carving of the Thanksgiving turkey. I had long become accustomed to people’s careless words. It seemed each conversation lately started with a story about someone who died of cancer, someone who had a botched surgery, someone who was currently dying.

If I could impart anything to the world through this forum it’s this: ask how the person is doing, offer help and support (from the mundane to the elaborate if you’re so inclined), and then zip it.

Ultimately, I did not need chemotherapy and — against medical advice — I refused radiation. I prayed, I meditated, I read scientific studies until I couldn’t see straight. And I listened to my body telling me the right choice for me; radiation was not without its risks. My inner voice saved my life before and I promised myself I’d never ignore it again. I could deal with recurrence more than I could deal with betraying my instincts and myself.

My surgery was Halloween 2008 (yes of course I showed up in costume, and insisted my cat ears and tail stay on); I was declared “cancer free” December 1 after the second surgery.

And so began followup.

Every three months, some form of test. Then I could stretch it to six months. Finally, I was put in the annual category: a momentous day!

Then, a few months ago, I went for a routine checkup to schedule my routine MRI and was told they don’t do that anymore, insurance is giving too hard a time paying for MRIs. Long story short, I fought and insisted on the MRI and got it. And then I got the phone call.

“The scan is not clear.” And then all I heard was a bunch of Charlie Brown teacher noise: “Wah wah wah wah.” I made it through the phone call, hung up, and lost my composure.

Ok, losing my composure would be stubbing my toe and spilling my coffee. This was composure-obliterating ugly-cry. Through choking sobs I called my mother. Again. And again, heard her wishes that she could take it from me. And then I told my new sweetheart. Welcome to the world of being with a cancer survivor. He stepped up like a hero and held me every step of the way, what a monument of love.

In rare fashion, I shared my struggle with many people around me. I was loath to hear people’s scary words, but the support and love and outpouring of awesome from so many far outweighed the scary stories which I have now become adept at interrupting. Team Fatty family rallied around me. There were offers to drive hundreds of miles to be with me, there were frequent texts, calls, emails.

So the cycle began again, test after test after test. Targeted ultrasound, mammogram, enhanced mammogram, extra pictures mammogram. Each one failing to give me an all clear. I needed MRI-guided biopsies.

After a week of waiting for availability and more tears than I could count, I had my MRI biopsies and in the most-underwhelming call of the decade, I got a nurse on the phone to matter of factly tell me:


I hugged the first person I saw, whom — thankfully — I knew. Strangers in Wal-Mart were not so lucky when my mother found out.

So now I’m back to three-month follow-up, and though I’m not completely out of the woods right now, I’m well on my way.


  1. Comment by wharton_crew | 10.8.2012 | 8:38 am

    Jenni, I’m so incredibly glad for you, and I will send you positive thoughts and prayers. I love the strong will, and a willingness to listen to your body and give it what IT needs (not what the medical standard-operating-procedures dictate). Ride strong at the Tour de Pink.

  2. Comment by rob w | 10.8.2012 | 8:47 am

    Thank you for sharing! Keep up the fight! Moms are awesome, arent they??!!

  3. Comment by Marty | 10.8.2012 | 8:48 am

    Thank you for posting your story. This journey you’re on would be impossible without the love and support of friends, family and the thousands of strangers standing behind you saying silent prayers of support.

    I love how you’ve fought to get the MRI. My wife had to do that many times. As she put it, “sometimes I’ve got to put on my Bitch Suit.”

    Ride strong. Live long.

  4. Comment by Brian in VA | 10.8.2012 | 8:53 am

    Thank you, Jenni, for telling your story! I wish you only good health from here on out and, while I’m not much on prayer, I’m sending you positive thoughts. I’m not just sending them to you but to every person that has to fight this awful disease.

    Live strong!

  5. Comment by leroy | 10.8.2012 | 8:55 am

    Keep winning Philly Jen!!!!

  6. Comment by Jamieson | 10.8.2012 | 8:59 am

    Jenni – Lots of love for writing this! Jordan and I are proud to have you as a friend and riding buddy!

  7. Comment by Nic Grillo | 10.8.2012 | 9:00 am

    This makes me smile. Livestrong Jenni!

  8. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 10.8.2012 | 9:05 am

    Allez ;)

  9. Comment by Jenni | 10.8.2012 | 9:12 am

    Leroy, different Jen! Though Philly Jen is definitely a WINNER!!

    Thanks for the kind words everyone. Team Fatty family is the absolute best group of people on earth.

  10. Comment by Michele Chazen | 10.8.2012 | 9:16 am

    Jen – You were cool in the seventh grade and you are even cooler now :)

  11. Comment by Rocky | 10.8.2012 | 9:17 am

    “Benign.” Sweet, sweet benignity. May it be your constant companion.

  12. Comment by Erik S | 10.8.2012 | 9:23 am

    Jenni – great piece of advice: please don’t tell a cancer patient about your relatives and friends who have died of the disease. Offer hope and support instead.

    Congrats on being selected for the tour de pink ride – it’s a great experience with a great group of motivated survivors.

  13. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.8.2012 | 10:19 am

    Congrats, Jenni! Actually, this warrants me looking up the spelling of the entire word: CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  14. Comment by rich | 10.8.2012 | 10:25 am

    Thank you for sharing your story….”benign” = most-bestest word in the dictionary…

  15. Comment by Ginger-Schminger | 10.8.2012 | 10:31 am

    And I shall schedule that mammogram that my doctor requested that I have earlier this year.

    Thank you, Jenni, for being a fighter. Your strength (and support system) obviously knows no bounds.

    Live strong!

  16. Comment by babble on | 10.8.2012 | 10:38 am

    Wow. Your story filled my eyes with tears and my heart with hope. Your strength and courage are truly inspirational… thank you!

  17. Comment by AKChick55 | 10.8.2012 | 10:38 am

    Jenni – thank you for sharing! I am so thankful you received a finding of benign. That is such wonderful news! The following is the best advice anyone who is supporting someone with cancer can hear:

    “I asked if we could do it now. Today. Let’s go, get this done. My surgeon described how I needed to heal first before they cut me or it would be like shredding the carving of the Thanksgiving turkey. I had long become accustomed to people’s careless words. It seemed each conversation lately started with a story about someone who died of cancer, someone who had a botched surgery, someone who was currently dying.

    If I could impart anything to the world through this forum it’s this: ask how the person is doing, offer help and support (from the mundane to the elaborate if you’re so inclined), and then zip it.”

    Valuable words that I’ve used with friends who have family members diagnosed with cancer.

    My dad was recently diagnosed with cancer that has some lymph node involvement. We are waiting for a doctor to give us the scoop on what it all means. Before surgery, my dad sad he didn’t want to do chemo or radiation, that he wanted to do a radical dietary change and if that worked great, but if not, he was at peace. I’m not sure if the diagnosis will change his mind, but I do know that I will support him no matter which direction he chooses to go. One of my sisters is upset and wants him to start chemo. I hope that we can all come together and support whatever decision he ultimately makes because the last thing he needs is bickering and anger.

    I love the Fatty community. We are an awesome bunch of folks. I’m so thankful Susan let Fatty share her story that brought together this awesome cancer fighting community.

    FLS and FLJ (Fight Like Jenni)!!

    Can’t wait to hear Jenni’s ride report!!

  18. Comment by K | 10.8.2012 | 10:41 am

    Today is Canadian thanksgiving and you just reminded me how much I have to be thankful for, including that there is one more person in the world who is strong and a fighter, and that is you!

  19. Comment by Jeff Bike | 10.8.2012 | 10:43 am

    Thank you for your story. May you keep writing it for many years to come.
    It must be hot in here my eyes seem to be “sweating”.

  20. Comment by ScottR | 10.8.2012 | 10:44 am

    Jenni, just out of curiosity, is any chance you could elaborate more on your decision to decline the radiation? Were there particular risks that tipped your decision?

  21. Comment by RodNeeds2Ride | 10.8.2012 | 10:51 am

    This is awesome. YOU are awesome. Team Fatty is awesome. Fighting cancer is sugarawesome. Benign is even awesome. In case I haven’t said it enough, awesome awesome awesome!

  22. Comment by RodNeeds2Ride | 10.8.2012 | 10:53 am

    Not sure why the iPhone 5 decided to invent the word sugarawesome but I guess we’ll just run with it!

  23. Comment by Heidi | 10.8.2012 | 11:11 am

    “If I could impart anything to the world through this forum it’s this: ask how the person is doing, offer help and support (from the mundane to the elaborate if you’re so inclined), and then zip it.”

    Bingo. Absolutely fantastic advice. So glad you’re doing well, and thank you for your post.

  24. Comment by Barton | 10.8.2012 | 11:23 am

    “Sugarawesome” is now the Word of the Day.

    Eyes were leaking a lot during the reading of Jenni’s story. Can’t wait to read how the 3-day ride went. Glad you fought for that last MRI!

    and — How ARE you doing?

  25. Comment by Jenni | 10.8.2012 | 11:26 am

    Hesitantly I offer my decision process, with the hope that anyone making a similar decision does so only after extreme exhaustive research on their own condition. I would never recommend anyone go against medical advice based on what I’ll say…

    Radiation carries a (small) risk of secondary cancer. The area I needed removed was tiny. Like super duper tiny. And the only radiation I was being offered was whole-breast radiation, not targeted. I specifically asked for targeted and I was told I was outside the “standard of care” to receive it. I got three opinions.

    I read many scientific studies of survivorship differences between mastectomy, breast conserving surgery (BCS) and BCS with radition. I read of what I had and the outcomes of all the treatment options. I’m a science teacher and find reaching the complex medical evaluations pretty ordinary, so I dove in. I was able to determine where I fit in the numbers between people who had radiation and who didn’t, and it essentially came down to a very very small difference for people in my condition and with my specific cell structure. And yes, I picked up my biopsy slides from the hospital, borrowed a microscope from school, and looked at the “monster” straight in the eye. I sought to understand every single element of these cells and what they do.

    Then I considered that radiation is a one-trick pony. You can only radiate the breast once and should I have a recurrence, my only option would be mastectomy, whereas if I went with breast conserving surgery and extreme follow up, I could still have options in my future.

    Then I listened to my body, I meditated into a place of no fear, no reaction. And I got the clearest answer above all else, no radiation.

    I incorporated every form of healing I could access- nutrition, acupuncture, surgery, exercise, reiki, energy healing- I did the hard work; I gave up sugar, dairy, meat, alcohol, flour.

    Above all else, I trust myself and my inner voice. And it just said no. Unmistakably. That will not be the right choice for someone else. But I have never regretted it and never looked back.

  26. Comment by leroy | 10.8.2012 | 11:33 am

    ooops. my mistake. I was a little verklempt.

    Can I say “Keep on winning Philly Jenni”?

  27. Comment by gargoyle | 10.8.2012 | 12:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Jenni. Keep winning! :-)

  28. Comment by FujiPixie13 | 10.8.2012 | 12:09 pm

    Sending you light, love & prayers for continued “benigninity” (if its not a word, it should be!) in your future appointments and tests. You are one of the people who is the epitome of a heroine. Blessings to you and your honey sounds like a true sweetheart. The hardest times bring out the best in the people you need it from the most. Proud to consider myself part of Team Fatty because of the amazing people and the outreach in laughter, fundraising, empathy, and most especially, the dedication to the PIE!!! :o)

    Chapeau, Jenni. <3

  29. Comment by Liz | 10.8.2012 | 12:18 pm

    Hey Jenni, it’s Liz! (from DC). I am SO EXCITED that you will be representing us in the Tour de Pink. Thanks for sharing your story. I just made my donation. Can’t wait to hear more about the event. Have a wonderful time — you deserve it!

  30. Comment by Paul Guyot | 10.8.2012 | 12:42 pm


    Jenni is Philly Jen?

    Cancer stands no chance against a superhero like Philly Jen.

    You. Rock. Woman.

  31. Comment by Carl | 10.8.2012 | 12:54 pm

    You’re the best Jenni! P.S. Can’t wait for June 2013, Cheese already forgot all the science lessons you taught him :(

  32. Comment by Jenni | 10.8.2012 | 1:10 pm

    No! Philly Jen and I are not the same person. (:0)

  33. Comment by Brian Sherry | 10.8.2012 | 1:10 pm

    Jenni – I have helped teach LCI classes with you in Bethlehem, PA – while we have spent our time sharing our love of all things Fatty – we never discussed that you were so intimately tied to the cause. Congratulations and keep on fighting. Hopefully our paths shall cross again soon. B-

  34. Comment by Ashley | 10.8.2012 | 1:29 pm

    Jenni, It was so much fun to ride with you, and I’m so happy of the test results. We must ride together again if you don’t come up to Boston.

  35. Comment by Dr.Bryce | 10.8.2012 | 1:32 pm


    Thank for sharing so generously. Hope all continues in the benign category for you. Be well!

  36. Comment by Heather Schumm | 10.8.2012 | 2:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story Jenni! I was last year’s Team Fatty Ride Ambassador and had the experience of a lifetime! I am looking forward to meeting you in just a few days!!

  37. Comment by Cyclin' Missy | 10.8.2012 | 2:14 pm

    Benign. Awesome.

  38. Comment by Jess | 10.8.2012 | 2:22 pm

    Love you, lady. Glad this is out for ALL to see/read. I look forward to your posts for the coming week.
    I’m so glad to have you in my life and even more honored to call you a very close friend.
    Much, MUCH love to you.

  39. Comment by Joel P | 10.8.2012 | 2:28 pm

    Of course there were offers to drive hundreds of miles you have trained us very well.

  40. Comment by ScottR | 10.8.2012 | 3:01 pm

    Jenni, I appreciate your thoughts/details – the whole/targeted especially makes a ton of sense.

    (Well, how you reacted makes sense – targeted not being available to you as option, not so much)

  41. Comment by Bryan | 10.8.2012 | 3:06 pm


    Thanks for sharing your story. In the short time we met at the Philly Livestrong this year you were a blast to be around! One thing I know from experience (my wife is a two time survivor) is that attitude is everything and with your attitude and personality you will make it through anything!
    Hope to see you next August for that 10K(not the 12k) and that century!

  42. Comment by ClydeinKS | 10.8.2012 | 4:17 pm

    Jenni – major props to you for gaining the information and making the informed decision. I saw Fatty’s tweets earlier and was n’t sure if we’d know the story behind them. Thank you for sharing and representing, can’t wait for the ride/weekend report!

  43. Comment by Jeremy | 10.8.2012 | 6:05 pm

    Thank you for your insight into your own process. It was incredibly brave of you to open up to the world. I am glad to hear the latest was benign. Ride on!

  44. Comment by Jenni | 10.8.2012 | 6:47 pm

    You all made my day today. Thank you for all the kindness! I’m excited to get to California, my ride report will not disappoint.

    Team Fatty family, FTW

  45. Comment by roan | 10.8.2012 | 7:11 pm

    I read this posting about 3 hrs ago but had a must attend meeting. Turns out it was for several B’days in October. The very small piece of cake was difficult to swallow. Now at home I reread your story and the dang lump in my throat came back.
    Been through hell with insurance companies NOT wanting to pay…like not having the procedure done on the scheduled day due to the hospital changing the date, then even having a biopsy done but since the doctor didn’t list the pathologist,the insurnace company wouldn’t pay for that part…RIGHT, pay for a biopsy but don’t pay for results !
    I’ll pass your story along to others. Luv the part…”and then zip it!” Awesome. U TOO !

  46. Comment by Linda | 10.9.2012 | 8:48 am

    What a beautiful story of humor and determination and love. May your future be filled with the benign!!!! Good Luck!

  47. Comment by Bo-be-wan-kan-o-be | 10.9.2012 | 9:10 am

    God has blessed you with a strong, outgoing, intuitive spirit. I am happy for your latest news. I know where you have been. I am now in my six month series of checkups.
    All the best to you and your travel on this road no one wants to be on. But know it is a road that unveils new strengths in all of us and shows us how wonderful true friends and family can be.

  48. Comment by Laura S | 10.9.2012 | 9:46 am

    Jenni thank you so much for sharing your courageous story. It’s hard to share the details of decision making perticularly, knowing that others might criticize one decision or another, but it is so valuable to be able to understand the process you went through for those who may be struggling with similar decisions. Congratulations on being benign!

  49. Comment by centurion | 10.9.2012 | 2:10 pm

    Jenni, I say this with love and admiration;
    You are a BAD ASS!

  50. Comment by Angie G | 10.9.2012 | 4:43 pm

    Jenni- I am so very happy to hear the good news. Having ridden with you I ditto @centurion- Uber BAD ASS!!!!!!

  51. Comment by Nancy_in_MN | 10.9.2012 | 6:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Jenni!

    “the scary stories which I have now become adept at interrupting”

    Wise words! People don’t mean to be rude and hurtful, but it happens anyway. You are kind to “interrupt” before they go too far

  52. Comment by Jenni | 10.9.2012 | 8:09 pm

    Seriously, I love all of you.

    Absolutely humbled.

  53. Comment by JD | 10.10.2012 | 7:33 am

    Thanks Jenni – I loved reading your story and getting to know you a bit. I am motivated and encouraged by you. Hang in there and stay strong!


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