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Flower crowns of victory

Spirit, Breast Cancer Awareness, Cancer

To see Jennifer Hennick today – young, vibrant, enjoying a milestone in her nursing career and bringing together other young women on a weekday evening to make flower crowns – you would never know the road she has traveled. Unless you, too, have faced a breast cancer diagnosis before your 30th birthday.

Of course, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way for Jennifer.

At 28, she was already a single mom of two children, ages 5 and 3, living in her hometown of Taft, California, doing her best to raise them and get through nursing school. She dreamed of graduating, finding a position as a registered nurse and planning her family’s future.

Then she heard those three words: You have cancer.

Jennifer remembers finding the walnut-sized lump in her left breast. She discovered it while performing a self-exam, in the shower – but even then, it didn’t seem possible that it could be a tumor.

“Although every fiber of my being was saying that is exactly what it was. My head was spinning and the alarms were sounding,” Jennifer says. “But I began to frantically search for another explanation.”

After hunting for an alternative answer that would explain the mass, Jennifer found what she was looking for – or so she hoped.

She believed it must be a seatbelt injury resulting from a car accident just a couple months earlier.

“The mass was in the direct line of my seatbelt bruise that I had during that time, so that must be it, thank God!” Jennifer thought, knowing now that she was in a state of denial because of the fear.

Still, as a nursing student, Jennifer also knew it had to be checked out by a professional. However, this created yet another stressful crisis because she was uninsured at that time. Like so many other young people, Jennifer was just trying to get by financially day-to-day and never imagined she would need health insurance.

Fortunately, Jennifer benefitted from the Links for Life program, a breast cancer support group serving Kern County, that paid for her imaging and biopsy appointments that confirmed she did, in fact, have breast cancer. She was then able to qualify for Medi-Cal coverage and underwent surgery for a left modified radical mastectomy in October 2005, followed by chemotherapy that lasted until January 2006.

A dozen years later, Jennifer remains cancer-free. Her dreams of working in oncology recently came true when she was hired as the nurse practitioner for the Adventist Health Breast Center. The perspective she brings to the center as a breast cancer survivor – at such a young age, no less – is invaluable to prospective patients.

In fact, it’s because of Jennifer that a Young Survival Coalition (YSC) chapter has returned to Bakersfield. During her breast cancer battle, Jennifer found great solace, comfort and kinship in this group of young women facing so many similar situations. However, over time, the local organization had dissolved – which was something Jennifer wanted to address.

“As soon as I started at the Adventist Health Breast Center, I just knew that I needed to bring YSC back,” Jennifer says. “YSC’s mission is all about sisterhood, support and resources – we work with survivors, caregivers and the medical research, advocacy and legislation communities to increase quality and quantity of life for young women with breast cancer.

“We are here to educate, empower and connect our local young ladies who have been diagnosed with breast cancer – we want them to know we are in this together.”

So, on a warm summer night, Jennifer and her united sisters – some still at the beginning of their breast cancer journeys – gathered at House of Flowers in downtown Bakersfield. There, they turn stems of beautiful blooms into crowns of victory.

“It’s amazing what two hours of creating and spending time with friends can do for the soul,” Jennifer says..