CLEVELAND — Jessica Atwood, a Fairview High School teacher and mother of two, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2021 and started treatment in early September.
But Atwood’s battle with the disease started long ago. She was 15 years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Breast cancer has been a part of my life, far longer than I would ever wish upon anyone else,” she said. “My mom, unfortunately, succumbed to the disease back in 2016, but she still saved my life because of her fight with breast cancer.”
Her loss pushed Atwood to seek mammograms at 35 instead of the recommended 40.
“That early screening is what caught my cancer,” she said. “With my family history, my mom was actually genetically tested back in 2007 and tested negative. But when I was diagnosed, they ran me through the gambit of tests and I tested positive.”
Atwood says she was shocked learning the BRCA-1 gene did not come from her mom.
“So, everyone, I mean, seriously, everybody's jaw hit the floor. My dad's test came back positive with zero history of cancer on that side of the family. Zero.”
The reality was frustrating to Atwood. She says if she knew earlier, she would've done whatever she could to prevent her diagnosis.
“So, there was this period of time where I was really angry," she said.
As Atwood went through treatment, she says support from The Gathering Place is what helped her through.
“Currently, we have three different breast cancer support groups,” said Mary Fisher-Bornstein, a social worker at the Gathering Place.
The organization offers support services to anyone for free. Many of them are now offered online because of COVID-19.
“We can meet with people individually or in groups. But I think the most important thing is that we meet with people where they are," said Bornstein.
Atwood is now at a place where she says she can now celebrate the good and the bad.
“I never want people to, you know, look at me and go, oh, well, yeah, it turned out great for her. Well, it also turned out bad for me. My mom didn't make it.,” Atwood said.