GILBERT, Ariz. (Feb. 1, 2024) – February is National Cancer Prevention Month and this year, Banner MD Anderson is highlighting a few of our patients and employees who have faced, or are currently facing their cancer. A new story will be shared every Thursday this month.
Jenna Collins, an ambulatory care nurse at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center says she has always been diligent in staying on top of her regular screenings. She also stayed in great health, so she never thought she’d be facing breast cancer at only 35-years-old. During her annual breast exam in February 2020, doctors didn’t see or note anything of concern, and Collins hadn’t felt the need to perform self-exams monthly, so she was shocked when she accidentally found a lump on her breast in August 2020. Since it was the height of the pandemic, she almost didn’t get it checked out.
“I had stopped breastfeeding a couple months prior to finding [the lump],” Collins said. “I thought it could be a clogged duct or an infection. I wasn’t going to get it checked out. But I was thinking that I’ve never had a cyst. I’ve never had clogged ducts. So I really should just go get it looked at.”
At that August appointment, a mere five months after her annual, Collins was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. During what was supposed to be her bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts), doctors saw that the tumor had spread to her lymph nodes and realized Collins had stage three breast cancer. She immediately underwent six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“I think about it every day. I live with it every day. It's always in the back of your mind - is it going to come back? When is it going to come back? Is it 20 years from now or is it tomorrow?” Collins said.
She accepted a nursing role at the same facility in the spring of 2021. After previously working with surgeons, Collins was excited about the opportunity to work with cancer patients directly. She says she wanted the chance to speak with and really relate to her patients, who sometimes come into the facility nervous, and afraid.
“I'll say to them, ‘I've done this, I've been in that chair, I’ve had chemotherapy, and we're gonna get you through today,’ and you can see their body relax a little bit,” Collins said. “I also tell my patients that this diagnosis changes everything; it changes everything in our lives. But if we harness it and utilize it in a way of motivating us to live, how we want to live and doing things that we find joy in versus letting it consume us, it can be a very, very beautiful way to live,” Collins said.
Collins has been in remission since March 2021. She regularly shares her story on social media as a way to motivate her followers and their friends to stay on top of their routine cancer screenings. She says followers will sometimes also message her questions about their personal health concerns. When she’s not working, she takes the time to thoughtfully answer. Collins says she does this because, in her words: “Cancer doesn’t pick and choose. Anyone can get it.” She wants everyone to realize that if something in their body feels wrong, to talk to someone about it, trust their gut and see a doctor – and she wants to support them in that process.
“Anybody that goes to get a check and then finds something, or that they hear my story and then start doing their exams, even if they never find something, but they continuously do it. That’s my thing: Promise me that you'll just make that step to do that stuff to stay up on your health,” Collins said. “If sharing my story on Facebook inspires just one person to schedule that exam, then I’ve done my job.”
About Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center
Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center delivers cancer care to patients through the partnership of Banner Health and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Banner MD Anderson offers focused disease-specific expertise in the medical, radiation and surgical management of the cancer patient; an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to patient care; access to clinical trials and new investigative therapies; state-of-the-art technology for the diagnosis, staging and treatment of all types of cancer; oncology expertise in supportive care services. For more information, visit www.BannerMDAnderson.com.
About Banner Health
Banner Health is one of the largest, secular nonprofit health care systems in the country. In addition to 30 acute-care hospitals, Banner also operates an academic medicine division, Banner – University Medicine, and Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, a partnership with one of the world’s leading cancer programs, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Banner’s array of services includes a health insurance division, employed physician groups, outpatient surgery centers, urgent care locations, home care and hospice services, retail pharmacies, stand-alone imaging centers, physical therapy and rehabilitation, behavioral health services, a research division and a nursing registry. To make health care easier, 100% of Banner-employed doctors are available for virtual visits, and Banner operates a free 24/7 nurse line for health questions or concerns. Patients may also reserve spots at Banner Urgent Care locations and can book appointments online with many Banner-employed doctors. Headquartered in Arizona, Banner Health also has locations in California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming. For more information, visit bannerhealth.com.