Jennifer Finley: Like Many Women, No Family History of Breast Cancer

Jennifer with her friends

Just because you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, it doesn’t mean you’re safe. Jennifer Finley learned that when she was diagnosed a decade ago in her early 30s.

Her first child, Nicholas, was just a baby when she visited her doctor for a routine exam. Her doctor felt something that he thought should be checked out further. It turned out to be cancer and it had grown extremely fast.

“It was totally out of the blue,” the Buffalo mom of three recalls. “I’d had no family history of anyone having breast cancer.”

More than 220,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Like Jennifer, more than 85 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. 

Jennifer is one of three women selected as Super Survivors as part of Memorial’s Be Aware Women’s Fair. The third annual event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, in the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

She and the other two Super Survivors – Becky Daugherty of Pawnee and Angie Daniels of Springfield – will be introduced at 12:30 p.m. on the entertainment stage, where they will reveal their full makeovers, which include a trip to BJ Grand Salon and Spa and a new outfit.

When Jennifer received her diagnosis, “I just remember being scared to death. I was worried about all the things that I’d miss with my kid.”

She decided that she would have to beat the cancer. “I decided that I couldn’t let anything happen,” she recalls. “It was the last time I felt sorry for myself.”

She went through chemotherapy, which turned out not to be as rough for her as it was for other women. That was followed by six weeks of radiation. A follow-up scan revealed that the cancer “was clear and gone.” Today, “I am healthier now than I’ve ever been.” And she has two more children, twins Luke and Sarah, her miracle babies.

She credits the support of her family as well as her childhood girlfriends, who went out to dinner with her every Thursday before chemotherapy. The meals gave her something to look forward to and helped her laugh.

“I cannot describe how much you appreciate things more until you go through something like this,” Jennifer says. “You don’t realize how strong you are until you go through something like this and come out an even better person.”