Note: The interviews and the columns became the basis for a book: Keep on, Keepin’ on. It was published last spring and is available through Amazon.
Jean Hanna Davis is a wife, a daughter, a mother, a musician and a teacher. She is also a breast cancer survivor and a cancer patient.
In April 2003, Jean was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with her second daughter. She was faced with taking chemo while pregnant. She survived that process and gave birth to Juliana who is now growing up, bright and happy.
Nearly 10 years later, the cancer is back. Over the regular beeping of the device hanging beside her bed, she takes a series of chemicals designed to kill the cancer. In the process, it tears her body down; something familiar to every cancer patient and every family member. Not unusual for cancer patients, she knows the formulaic name for each of her medications and what they do. She knows which drugs will upset her stomach, make her nauseous and all the other side effects that come with letting toxic chemicals into your body. (The nurses and technicians have to use special gloves so they don’t get chemicals on their hands and get burned.)
Throughout the process, though, is laughter. She makes jokes, entertains, talks and knows the first name of everyone involved in her care. During a recent chemotherapy, she coached the patient in the bed beside her, reassuring the woman who was going through chemo for the first time.
“I’m nervous about this. I’ve already done this once. How could I not be nervous? I’m not happy to be doing this again. People have said “You are so lucky you found it early.” I’m pretty sure I’m a lot of things, but I don’t know if I would call it lucky,” she said.
Jean is a native of Charleston, but now lives in Princeton and teaches for Mercer County schools. She was diagnosed with cancer in May just before the end of the school year.
“At school in the spring, teachers would stop me and ask 1000 questions in front of the kids. So one day, a half dozen kids asked me at lunch what was going on. So, I got everyone quiet and told them. I told them I wouldn’t be doing any lunch duty next year, or coming out of my classroom much, but that I am gonna be okay. I had several parents stop me over the summer to check on me. I’m not sure that all the parents appreciated that I told the entire fourth grade class, but the parents I spoke to were fine with it. I just think knowing is better than not knowing.”
For Jean, while cancer is something to deal with and work through, it isn’t something to hide or to be depressed about.
“I ran into someone this morning that I haven’t seen for a while. I used to teach with her. When I told her the cancer was back, her face just fell. I tell everyone this and I told her this morning, my take on this is it’s been 10 years. If I get nine good years and one crappy year, those are pretty good odds. The last nine years have been really good. If I get nine more good years out of this, that’s pretty good,” she said. “I really want people to know that cancer is not, in many cases, a death sentence. Even the chemo as you’re going through it, it’s not fun, but I’ve always said my chemo days are my spa days. They take my blood, but they bring me blankets, they bring me breakfast and lunch. They take care of me. There is power in taking control of your situation. For me it has always been important to put a positive spin on it.”
Her motto, that you hear whenever you talk to her, is “Keep on keeping on.” She is not about to let cancer get the best of her, even on the bad days.
This is the first of a series of blogs for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Jean Hanna Davis has given me access to each of her chemotherapy treatments while she works to rid her body of cancer for a second time.
Jean lets her friends and family know what is going on with her life on Facebook. That will be the topic for the next post: Living Out Loud. The other topics will be:
Follow this link to find out more about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is a clearing house of information with links and connections to many of the major players in the fight against breast cancer.
This series is dedicated to Jean and her family, along with all the women who have fought breast cancer—patients and families alike..