A few weeks shy of my 29th birthday, I discovered a pea-sized lump in my armpit. After an abnormal ultrasound and mammogram, I scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson’s Undiagnosed Breast Clinic for additional screening. That’s where I first met Tiffiny Jackson, a nurse practitioner in the clinic.
I let Jackson know that while I had no immediate family history of breast cancer, I had beaten early-stage melanoma at age 22. A series of tests confirmed what I feared – I had stage III breast cancer.
As I let the news sink in, I desperately wanted to be with my family. However, my parents and relatives live thousands of miles away and were unable to make the trip. That’s when Jackson stepped in. She kept me company after the clinic closed, explained the next steps, and because we shared the same faith, we also prayed together. She provided the comfort I needed to reassure me that I could beat cancer again.
Preparing for breast cancer treatment
For me, the two weeks between my diagnosis and the start of treatment were full of distress and worry. I had some uncertainties about chemotherapy, and I emailed Jackson questions day and night. She always called me to patiently address my concerns.
During one of my initial rounds of chemotherapy, I was happily surprised when Jackson took time out of her day to check on me. Her actions not only demonstrated how much she cared; they also confirmed that I’d picked the right place to beat cancer again.
After six months of chemotherapy, I had an eight-hour surgery to remove infected breast tissue and 45 lymph nodes. A follow-up pathology indicated that my cancer was gone. I was overjoyed and sprinted to Jackson’s office to share the positive results. She said she was thrilled I was now more than her patient. I was her survivor.
Beginning my cancer-free life
After six weeks of follow-up radiation, it was time to ring the bell at MD Anderson, a tradition that radiation patients use to mark the end of treatment. It’s one of the things that makes MD Anderson special. But as I’ve learned, it’s people like Jackson who make MD Anderson truly shine. Jackson made me feel like I was more than just a patient. She made me feel like I was part of her family.
As I rang the bell the beginning of my cancer-free life, Jackson was by my side – just as she’s been all along.
Christina Davis is a member of MD Anderson’s Young Adult Advisory Council and Cancer180, a program that coordinates social outings where young adult patients, survivors, caregivers, family and friends in their 20s and 30s can connect with other young adults affected by cancer.