Jenny Saldaña is an actor, comedian, writer, cancer survivor, activist and obsessed with Wonder Woman. Here she is in her own words:
“You’re too young!” “It’s only a cyst!” “You don’t have a family history!” “You’re wasting our time!” “Stop being a drama queen!”
These are the words I heard throughout all of 2005. I knew something was wrong, I had insurance, I spoke the language, I was educated, yet they all ignored me. Finally on January 3, 2006 I walked into the Irving Cancer Pavilion at NY Presbyterian Hospital and I was heard and validated. I was biopsied (something the other places never offered) and the next day, I heard the words that changed my life forever: “You have cancer.”
Those words haunted me; gave me (what I thought was) an immediate expiration date, and blessed me all at once. The blessings came later, and it took me a while to see them, but I’ll get to that.
I had invasive ductal HR2Nu positive carcinoma in multiple sites so the breast couldn’t be spared. Devastated is not severe of a word to express how I felt when I found out about I was going to lose a breast. I’m a boob girl! I considered them one of my best physical assets (besides my Colgate smile) and now I was going to lose one. Agony is still too mild of a word. Cancer is the only word severe enough to describe cancer. As I’m find of saying, the problem with cancer is that…it’s cancer.
I opted for a TRAM reconstruction where they take the muscle, tissue, fat and skin from the stomach to reconstruct the breast. Yes it looks more natural, it will gain and lose weight with me, but it was a much more serious surgery and longer recovery. I don’t regret it, and call it my tummy tit! (Or belly boob, depending on my audience)
Then came fertility conversations; short term disability conversations; hair conversations and ‘what if’ conversations. For example, “You can take a chemo where you won’t lose all of your hair, but it would shut down your ovaries. Or you can save the ovaries and lose the hair.” Really, these are options for a 34-year-old? I kept the ovaries and lost the hair. I was on the fence about having kids and this just kept me there. I got a pixie cut so I wouldn’t lose long hair and clog my drains.
My chemo, yikes! I endured Taxol – sure, no barfing, but I was tired, had neuropathy and chemo brain! Nulasta was hell. Herceptin made me dog tired. And yes, cancer made me pay: it took 60% of my pay + 100% of the same pre-cancer bills = bankruptcy.
But now the blessings…
I gained a pair I never thought I’d have.
I left the corporate world to pursue my acting, writing and comedy.
I have been able to help other women at the beginning of their cancer journey, hold their hand and show them my boobs.
I listen better.
I feel more.
I care less about the small stuff.
I’m fearless, mostly…cancer still scares me, that will never change.
I’m a better comedian
I’m a better actor
I’m a better writer
I’m an activist
I’m cancer free.
I’m still Jenny from the block!