Jennifer Myers: Defying the Odds, Thanks to Cancer Research
In 2014, Jennifer Myers, former bank executive, went to her OB/GYN after she noticed some spotting and irregular bleeding.
“I just thought something was wrong and during the examination my doctor wanted to take a biopsy and that’s how they found that I had stage I cervical cancer,” Jennifer said.
Following her diagnosis, everything happened quickly.
“My doctor said, ‘It’s cancer, and you have an appointment in two days to meet a surgeon in Pittsburgh.’ Less than a month later, I was on the operating table getting the radical hysterectomy,” Jennifer continued. Following her surgery, Jennifer received internal radiation, leading to successful elimination of detectable cancer.
Three years later, in 2017, her cancer returned and was found to have spread to her pelvic wall, which excluded the possibility of another surgery.
“I was really taken off guard,” she said. “I thought I did everything I was told to do the first time, and yet it came back. And I think that’s when the emotions really hit me. The hardest part was going back and telling my family: my parents, my sisters, my younger nieces, and nephew.”
Fortunately, she responded well to her treatment—radiation and six chemotherapy treatments over the course of seven weeks. And once again she was deemed to be in remission. However, within a year, Jennifer had a recurrence of stage IV cervical cancer that had metastasized to the lymphatic system and lung. Her oncologist told Jennifer that, with traditional treatment, she would have about 15 months to live.
A strong advocate for her own health, Jennifer was determined to get the best care possible and decided to travel to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. After a dose of strong chemotherapy treatments that her body just couldn’t withstand her OB/GYN oncologist offered her an opportunity to meet with the Targeted Therapy division which led her to a Phase I Clinical Trial. While on the experimental treatment, Jennifer’s cancer was stable. After 30 months, however, the cancer stopped responding, and Jennifer exited the trial. That is when Jennifer returned to her original oncologist at MD Anderson and discussed the recently approved drug tisotumab vedotin-tftv (Tivdak).
“What attracted me to Tivdak is the fact it was just FDA approved and my oncologist really felt it was the best shot I had,” she said. “And the fact that it was designed specifically for metastatic cervical cancer.”
Jennifer is currently receiving infusion with tisotumab vedotin-tftv once every three weeks. She travels to Houston from her home in Pennsylvania to receive the treatment.
“Someone once said to me, ‘Cancer’s your new job’,” Jennifer recalled. “I truly believe that, because at some point you have to make a dedication to your treatment, especially when you’re traveling out of state.”
Jennifer experienced mild side effects, such as nausea, dry eyes, and fatigue, and recognizes when to rest.
“I know that there are days that it may just be me and the dogs and Netflix and a heating pad, and we’re going to spend the day relaxing,” she said.
The cancer diagnosis has taken a serious toll on her. “The emotional stress of thinking, ‘Is this my last Christmas?’ or ‘Is this my last birthday with my niece?’… You always have those thoughts that go through your head.”
Mental health services such as those provided by her psychiatrist at MD Anderson have helped Jennifer manage these emotional anxieties.
“I am a firm believer that as much as you pay attention to your physical health, you need to pay attention to your mental health,” she said. “You really need to look at the impact that this has on you emotionally, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or nervousness.”
“I had a doctor once tell me, ‘It’s not going to do me any good to cure you physically if I ignore the mental part of it, where you can’t even get out of bed because you’re so depressed’,” she added.
Jennifer stressed the importance of having a support network that includes mental health professionals, social media support groups, and caregivers like her husband in supporting her mental health.
“They live it every second. They live the diagnosis. They’re sitting with you when doctors say, ‘Your wife has cancer’,” she reflected.
So far, Jennifer is doing well, and her cancer continues to respond to treatments. She credits the remarkable success in her battle with cancer to the basic research studies performed by scientists and clinicians. She wants cancer researchers, physician-scientists, oncologists, nurses, and others working in cancer medicine to understand that what they do has a meaningful impact on real people.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the people that developed new drugs or performed clinical trials,” she said. “The people who work day in and day out in the cancer field. They are the real superheroes of the world.” And those superheroes have enabled her to keep going.
“I don’t know how my story will end, but in no chapter will it say that I ever gave up.”