The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Jean's Story.
- Jean was shocked to receive her cancer diagnosis after a routine doctor’s visit. Since her diagnosis, she has chosen to have the best attitude she can to get through the toughest of days and to always show compassion to others.
- "I don’t have a choice in this diagnosis, my choice is my attitude."
"I was a flight attendant for American Airlines, I started in the mid-70’s. It was a lot different back then! I have been retired for 4 years."
What have you learned about yourself since your diagnosis?
"What I’ve learned is that I’m strong, and I’m tougher than I thought I was. My diagnosis was a shock. I went into a routine doctor’s visit, and this came up in a routine blood test. I have multiple myeloma. To say I was blindsided, I mean I didn’t come in with any pain. Low and behold, you’re living your life, you’re doing great, and then a couple weeks later the tests come back and it just says abnormal. I got a call from my doctor and he explained I needed more testing, and he referred me up here [to MGH]. The cancer was sort of hidden at this stage, I didn’t have any symptoms, but here I am. My doctor pretty much put years on my life. It can go on, it can smolder for a very long time. Apparently it was in my system for a very long time. I owe a lot to him. It’s not good news, but you have to see the blessings."
"I am strong, and I’m tough, and I learned attitude. People tell me I have a great attitude. A friend said to me that I seem to have settled into a good attitude. And I said to her, you know what, I kind of have no choice. She said ‘you seem to be at peace with it.’ I don’t have a choice in this diagnosis, my choice is my attitude. Do I have my deep dark moments? Oh yeah. What I try and do is just be thankful; I thank God every day. And sometimes I say ‘why me?’; and then I think how many other people say the same thing. You can go through life like that, or you can go through life thinking that each day is a blessing. That’s how I choose to live mine. Everything I read is that attitude is everything, I try and hold on to that."
What has been your best experience so far?
"This is the best. I did get a second opinion; that’s standard with this type of diagnosis. And I came here, and I thought, I don’t belong here, I’m different. So, I went to another institute for my second opinion, and I came running back here. Nothing against the other institution, the other doctor I saw actually knew my doctor here at the Cancer Center. With multiple myeloma, it’s a small group. I am coming to learn that. I’m still learning every day about my diagnosis. Both doctors were trained together, and he told me I was in good hands. This is my comfort place. At first I felt like this place wasn’t for me, and now I think ‘I’m going to the hospital, I know people, I see friendly faces, this is my comfort zone now.’"
"A lot of people know me, not only that, I am getting fantastic care. No matter how or where my journey takes me, I really feel as though I could not be in a better place. Dr. O’Donnell is my doctor, she could not be any better, her team could not be any better: the social workers and the infusion nurses. I walk in there and they all know me, ‘Jean, how are you!’ Do I want to be here? No…but I do feel that I have this comfort here. I don’t know why you would choose to be anywhere else."
Has this experience changed your outlook on life?
"It’s a club that I didn’t ask to join, nobody asked to join, but you’re in, and you have your club membership, and it’s free. We all share that."
What has been your greatest struggle?
"The initial shock, and then as I settled into the news, the more I learned this is the real deal. It’s a very serious illness. This is the real thing. I didn’t have any symptoms, but here I am."
"I would probably have more to learn from other people. I’m no expert, I am compassionate, but now even more so. I now take a moment to think ‘that person over there is probably dealing with something that I know nothing about.’ I take a few more moments now, and I stop to think maybe they have something going on. I consider that now. I can’t give any advice to others, but to me it’s the compassion towards others and what you have been handed. I try and make the best of it."
I don’t have a choice in this diagnosis, my choice is my attitude.
This interview took place on January 18, 2017 and has been edited for clarity.