Photos of two beaming faces, framed in locks of blonde hair, hang on the wall behind Jessica Weidknecht, as the mother of the two little girls recalls the day her life changed. She remembers waiting for the phone call, suspecting something was wrong, but never expecting the message that came.
“All I heard was cancer,” says Weidknecht, pulling her sweater tighter as she sat in an easy chair in her Centennial home. “Then I literally dropped the phone.” The news just didn’t make sense, she says. “I am 40 years old. I have two little girls; they’re only 5 and 9. What do you mean I have breast cancer?”
But it does happen to young women, prompting Sky Ridge Medical Center to build a program targeting this group and their unique needs. Weidknecht, who says initially “your world starts falling apart” after such a diagnosis, says the program helped her put the pieces back together.
“I must have had 30 calls those first few days, and I mean that in a good way,” Weidknecht says. “From Invision Sally Jobe to the gynecologist, the communication between everyone was unbelievable.” The list of experts involved in breast-cancer treatment can be overwhelming, from radiologists to oncologists and geneticists to surgeons, but the Sky Ridge Breast Center works for women to make sure nothing important is missed as they move toward recovery.
“I could call Christina (Mullen, Breast Navigator) for anything. And she’d do it right away,” Weidknecht says, adding that it soon became obvious that providers were giving the family time to cope with emotions as they directed the detailed work.
One of her first consults was with Dr. Joyce Moore, the center’s co-chair and Sky Ridge breast surgeon. “Literally within minutes of talking to her, I knew she was going to be my surgeon. She said: First I want to tell you, you’re going to be fine,” Weidknecht recalls. “She said it wasn’t going to be easy, but that was all I wanted to hear. As long as you tell me I’m going to be around for my daughters’ weddings, I don’t care what you do. It was that personal sense of comfort.”
Weidknecht, who opted for a double mastectomy after Moore explained the relapse risk with so many years ahead, also saw Dr. Chris Williams, who partners with Dr. Jeremy Williams at Park Meadows Cosmetic Surgery and specializes in a post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery called DIEP Flap. The procedure creates natural-looking breasts with a woman’s own tissue. “I was super impressed with him and what he’s done,” Weidknecht says. “He’s known to be one of the best, and he dedicates a lot of his time to cancer patients.”
Weidknecht, who chose implants, says she appreciates that Sky Ridge providers urged her to consider her options early, when it really was not a priority. “You don’t care about looking like a woman anymore; you just care about getting the cancer out,” she says, adding that she knows down the road that would have changed. “I’ve talked to people who regretted not doing anything.”
Her husband, who was “a rock” through the whole thing and always told her, “your body; your choice,” finally let some of his emotions about her survival out after her successful surgery. “I know he was terrified,” she says. “He finally said: You know, I had a really difficult time with it, but I didn’t want to fall apart. I was already wondering: What am I going to do? How am I going to raise two little girls?”
Sky Ridge helps the entire family deal with the emotions, partnering with Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), which offers many support services and groups. It also provides genetic counseling, which Sky Ridge encourages, particularly for young patients who are more likely to have the breast cancer gene (BRCA). Weidknecht tested negative, but was glad Sky Ridge recommended the test. “It was a relief to me, because I’m a very anxious person.” Not only does it reduce Weidknecht’s chance of other cancers; it reduces her daughters’ risk.
Young patients also often have parenting issues, and support is offered through the RMCC/Sky Ridge partnership. Parenting can be emotional, Weidknecht says, but adds that positives come out of the experience. “To this day, when I put my oldest girl to bed, she always asks: ‘Mommy, why did you get cancer again? Why did God want you to have cancer?’ Weidknecht explains the best she can, emphasizing for both girls that there are obstacles in life, but they can be overcome. I fought it; I was strong. I tell my daughter God didn’t want me to have cancer. It just happened, and you roll with it.”