Earrings, anyone? Breast cancer patient finds generosity brightens the journey

Jacqueline Rose with a basket of earrings (photo by Debbie Rexine)

Jacqueline Rose with a basket of earrings (photo by Debbie Rexine)

BY SUSAN KEETER

It was her bald head and the dingy, stick-straight hair that grew back after chemotherapy that got Jacqueline Rose passionate about earrings. She bought herself lots of pairs — glittery, silly, colorful — anything that was fun and made her feel attractive.

Rose thought that other women undergoing cancer treatment could use a similar boost and decided to leave a gift basket of earrings, anonymously, at the Upstate Cancer Center at Oneida, where she sees her oncologist Mijung Lee, MD.

The cancer center staff learned of her good deed and now lets her know whenever the basket needs replenishing.

“I enjoy sitting in the waiting room and watching a patient pick out a pair of earrings,” says Rose. “It makes me smile.”

Rose’s Story

Rose was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. In May of that year, her gynecologist felt a small lump in her armpit during a breast exam. Rose made an appointment with breast surgeon Mary Ellen Greco, MD, at Upstate Community Hospital in Syracuse. Greco did a biopsy that day. Rose learned she had cancer a few days later and had a lumpectomy later that week. Greco ordered a blood test for genetic testing. Rose found out she had the genetic mutation PALB2 and triple negative breast cancer, a diagnosis that put her at higher risk and made her cancer more difficult to treat. Greco gave Rose a choice: alternating breast MRIs and mammograms every six months for the rest of her life, or a bilateral mastectomy. Rose chose the surgery.

Prior to the mastectomy, Rose had 16 rounds of chemotherapy at the Oneida center, 10 minutes from her home in Canastota. Chemo made her tired, but not sick, and steroids caused her to gain weight. Rose kept reminding herself, “Other people have it a lot worse.”

At the Upstate Cancer Center in Syracuse, Greco performed the double mastectomy, and breast reconstruction was done at the same time by Prashant Upadhyaya, MD. To further reduce her cancer risk, Rose has had her ovaries and uterus removed, and has contrast MRIs of her pancreas done annually. She sees Lee every three months in Oneida and will see Greco every six months for the rest of her life.

What is PALB2?

A mutation in the PALB2 gene is linked to an increased risk for breast cancer and possibly pancreatic, ovarian and other cancers.

— breastcancer.org and facingourrisk.org

What is triple negative breast cancer?

Triple negative refers to cancerous tumors that do not have the three common receptors that fuel breast cancer growth (estrogen, progesterone and HER2/neu). This means that common treatments — hormone therapy and drugs — are ineffective.

It occurs in 10% to 20% of cases.

— nationalbreastcancer.org

Cover of spring 2020 issue of Cancer Care magazineThis article is from the spring 2020 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

About susankeeter

Occasional contributor Upstate’s Susan Keeter has written about and painted Upstate’s Dr. Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American women physicians. Keeter created the horse sculpture in front of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and illustrated a children’s book on autism, “Waiting for Benjamin.” She’s written for Physician Practice, Upstate Alumni Journal, Cancer Care and Upstate Health magazines. Reach her by email at keeters@upstate.edu or by phone at 315-464-4834.
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