Monique Cohen was a healthy, busy mom of three when, in early 2011, she noticed a lump during a breast self-exam. A lumpectomy revealed it was benign, but a follow-up mammogram six months later found anotherbreast lump.
"'You have cancer.' Those are the three worst words you'll ever hear in your life," she says. "The first question you ask is, 'Why?' I did everything I possibly could to stay healthy. I exercised regularly. It was not in my genetics. But the fact was that I had cancer and we needed to do what was necessary to eradicate it."
A neighbor told Monique to make an appointment at MD Anderson, a suggestion echoed by a family friend.
"It's the best care in the nation for cancer, and it's in our backyard," says the Austin, Texas resident. "When you're faced with a diagnosis as serious as cancer, why wouldn't you go to the best?"
Before traveling to Houston for Monique's first appointment, Monique and her husband Jamie shared the news of her breast cancer diagnosis with their children.
"The hardest thing you ever have to do as a parent is to tell your children something like this," Monique says. "You know it's going to be difficult for them and they're going to be scared, and as a parent and a mom, you're not supposed to do that to your kids. You're supposed to protect them."
After initial tears, the family decided to approach Monique's breast cancer with positivity and humor.
"I said we were going to joke about it, because that's what we've always done, and we are going to remain positive through this whole thing," Jamie says. "And that's what got us through the year."
Place of hope
The Cohens were scared and stressed when they arrived at MD Anderson.
"But once I met my team of doctors and they all knew me, they knew my diagnosis, they knew the type of breast cancer I had ... things quickly were set into motion to get rid of this," Monique says. "The sense of optimism and hope immediately put me at ease."
Jamie agrees, comparing MD Anderson to a beehive. "You're in this system with these caring hands, and they pass you along to the next person," he says. "The anxiety just left, and there was this calming feeling."
Monique's breast cancer treatment included six months of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation. Her MD Anderson oncologists collaborated with her local physician, so she could receive treatment close to her Austin home.
One year later, Monique is cancer-free.
"I knew that it'd be a tough road, but there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to get through this with the support and strength of my family, friends and everyone around me," Monique says.
Coming full circle
Wanting to make sense of his family's cancer experience and help others facing similar journeys, Jamie has worked with his employer, Jason's Deli, to rally its support for MD Anderson's efforts to end cancer. He says the compassion the company showed his family during his wife's diagnosis and treatment was incredible and rare.
Throughout the next year, Jason's Deli will donate 10 cents to cancer research from every specially marked water bottle it sells. The Cohens' photo appears on water bottles being sold now through December 2013.
"We've had many long-term employees who have been touched by cancer," Jamie says. "We want to do more to help the communities that we serve. We want to raise awareness about cancer and to help MD Anderson so other people don't have to experience what we've gone through."
A new appreciation for life
The Cohens consider this effort to raise cancer research funds to be among the gifts that resulted from Monique's breast cancer diagnosis.
"When I was first diagnosed, friends told me that there would be blessings from this, and I thought they were absolutely crazy," she says.
"But they were absolutely correct. I've met people who I wouldn't have had contact with. I've discovered the strengths of my family and my friends and the people around me who are compassionate and want to do whatever they can to make my life easier."
"I appreciate life more; I appreciate my family more. And I just want to live bigger now."
For more information about Jason's Deli's support of MD Anderson's fight to end cancer, visit http://www.jasonsdeli.com/strike-through-cancer.