Pink ribbons and full “Beast Mode:” A Mayor’s Office breast cancer survivor’s story

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Jodi Buckalew remembers hearing the diagnosis “breast cancer” on March 26, 2014, then a full-body sensation “like a fire hose aimed right at me – medical information, so many treatment words like ‘chemo,’  and other words I didn’t even understand. It’s all so much to take in.”

Jodi’s cancer was highly aggressive. There was scant time to process all of those words or to ponder many options. She had gone to a hospital emergency room on a Saturday with chest pains, which turned out to be pneumonia and pleurisy. But the ER physician was suspicious of lumps he felt in her neck during her exam. Four days later she went for a mammogram and a biopsy.

She had Stage 3, Step B breast cancer – just a hair’s width away from the most aggressive Stage 4. Only three weeks after receiving her diagnosis and with constant support and love from family and friends, she began the first of her six chemotherapy treatments, then had a double mastectomy, followed by 28 radiation treatments and reconstructive surgery.

Jodi, one of two administrative assistants to Mayor Biskupski, is talking about survival for Breast Cancer Awareness Month AKA #pinktober.

“All you can do is fight cancer like a son of a b*tch. That’s all you have,” she says.

No-nonsense talk is Jodi’s trademark, but she is equally known for showing patience and concern for constituents and other visitors to the Mayor’s Office.

After surviving for 2 ½ years, Jodi has grown a passion for raising awareness about breast cancer, and supporting those who are fighting it.

“So many millions of women have lived with this disease. We all seem to know someone who has been affected by it. Awareness truly makes a difference. This is a battle we can’t stop fighting until we fully eradicate breast cancer,” Mayor Biskupski says.

Jodi knows this. She recently bought out a discount store’s entire inventory of pink ribbon sticker packets. They are stacked on her desk, where she hands them out to city employees and anyone else who’d like a ribbon to wear that day.

While a diagnosis of breast cancer is far from the death sentence it was just a few decades ago, the American Cancer Society and other prevention organizations continue every effort to raise public awareness through traditional and social media campaigns.

The statistics flow. For example:

  • The leading risk factor for breast cancer is simply being a woman. Women are 100 times more likely to be at risk than men.
  • But men do, indeed, get breast cancer. About 2,150 men in the U.S. are diagnosed annually.
  • A top risk factor for breast cancer is simply growing older. Nearly 79 percent of new cases and 88 percent of deaths occurred in women age 50 and older.
  • More than 3.1 million alive today in the U.S. have a history of breast cancer.
  • The risk of overweight women developing breast cancer after menopause is 1.5 times higher than in leaner women.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of monthly breast self-exams. Women discover 8 out of 10 breast lumps themselves through this process.

The statistic Jodi can best speak to is this one: 85 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women who have no family history of the disease.

“I have no cancer in my family. I had a clear mammogram the year before,” she says.

Her oncologist has told her “I’m glad you couldn’t breathe the day you came to the ER. It saved your life.”

Jodi’s prognosis is hopeful for now – regular scans have come up clean. Still, she will not call herself a survivor until at least five years have passed. “I tell people I am surviving. That’s all I can say for now.”

She highly recommends confronting breast cancer with every ounce of positive energy available. Early on, Jodi and Trent, her husband of 29 years (he’s better known as Bucky), chose the slogan “Beast Mode” to get them through the fight.

Before they knew it, friends were buying t-shirts emblazoned with “Beast Mode” (including the Mayor, who was working at the time with Jodi in Salt Lake County and was one of the first to wear a shirt). Their daughter Ashley shaved her head in solidarity with Jodi losing her hair. Friends joined her en masse to participate in cancer awareness walks.

“I couldn’t have done this alone,” she says.

Today, Jodi’s life is about living in the moment – walking barefoot on the beach, playing with her 7-year-old grandson, Tanner, good seats at University of Utah football games.

There’s no time for sweating the small stuff.

“Uh no,” she says.  “I don’t worry much about the dust in my house.”

#pinktober

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