By Lauren Wanko
“You go through so many emotions at the same time. It’s shock, it’s denial, it’s like a grieving process,” said Jennifer Lukowiak.
At 38 years old, Lukowiak, a Colts Neck resident, found a lump in her breast. It was an aggressive, fast-growing cancerous tumor. The mother of two had no family history. Soon after being diagnosed with breast cancer the fashion executive went into what she calls ‘warrior mode,’ armed for what was to come: a lumpectomy, chemo, radiation and medication.
“When you finally look in the mirror and you don’t have any hair, you don’t have any eyelashes, and you don’t have any eyebrows, you are looking at a cancer patient. You have arrived,” she said.
Determined to help other young women battling the disease, the New Jersey native wrote a book, “Does this Outfit Make Me Look Bald”, and began blogging about life with breast cancer.
The New Jersey Department of Health indicates there were 7,070 cases of invasive female breast cancer newly diagnosed in 2012 and 1,312 residents died from the disease in the same year.
“The positive aspect though is that since the late 90s we’ve seen an increase in overall survival in breast cancer,” said Meridian Cancer Care‘s Doctor Kenneth Nahum.
Dr. Nahum says that’s due to early detection, preventative medications in high risk groups and better treatment for early and stage 4 breast cancer.
“We’re going through basically a renaissance in oncology with newer drugs, better methods of treatment, both with radiation surgery and medicines. Patients are doing better. Patients are living longer,” he said.
Dr. Nahum says one of his patients has been living with stage 4 breast cancer for the past 20 years.
“People always ask me, ‘when are we going to cure cancer?’ What we’ve seen is that through the years we’re converting cancer into a chronic illness. In all forms of cancer, but specially breast cancer,” Dr. Nahum said.
He says some risk factors include family history, certain genes like BRCA 1 and 2, increased alcohol consumption, poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity and breast abnormalities.
Five years after Jennifer’s initial diagnosis she got yet another unwanted call. Her doctors found a different cancer in her breast.
When asked what it like to go through it all a second time around she said, “It was like a kick in the teeth.”
She had a double mastectomy, followed by chemo and medication. It caused severe side effects, which is when Dr Nahum suggested a plant-based diet.
“There’s been a number of studies that have been suggested that patients, if they eat more fruits and vegetables, that vegans may have a lower incidence of developing breast cancer as well as developing a re occurrence of breast cancer if they’ve already been diagnosed,” he said.
After changing her diet, Jennifer says she felt her symptoms disappear in days.
“Food truly is nourishment. It’s ‘what is this doing to my body,’ ‘how is this going to make me feel,’ and that really makes you feel much more in control of how you live you’re life,” Lukowiak said.
It’s been three years since her second battle with cancer. Lukowiak is still on medication and is in remission.