Patient Story

Jan’s Story: Turning Diagnosis into Purpose

Jan’s Story: Turning Diagnosis into Purpose
Cancer Type Breast Cancer
I just love this group! And when it came time to ring the bell, several of these angels were right there with me.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis brings about uncertainty and fear. However, Jan embraced her cancer diagnosis with calmness, humor and an unwavering desire to continue caring for others. Her journey does not begin in a sterile patient room but in the bustling office of Hammons Hotels, the business of the well-known builder and developer John Q. Hammons who called Springfield home. It was during this time that she had a life-changing encounter with the founder of GYN Cancers Alliance (or GYNCA for short) Joy Lamberson-Klock.

GYNCA, an established nonprofit, was created by a small group of gynecologic cancer patients who understood firsthand the everyday struggles that come with a cancer diagnosis. The foundation provided a menu of services to women in Southwest Missouri, such as gas money to get to and from treatments and appointments and other essential expenses like support for utilities and rent payments. Jan’s encounter led to her serving on the advisory board of GYNCA, which gave her the ability to champion women battling gynecologic cancers. Upon the passing of GYNCA’s founder, she stepped up to serve as the executive director until her retirement in 2019.

Jan’s life took a turn two years later in the middle of 2021 when a routine mammogram revealed an abnormality in her right breast tissue. Cancer? This was a twist that she had not expected, but then again, as she had learned, life rarely follows a set script. The initial shock flooded her, but as a pragmatist, she felt a calmness wash over her.

“Having worked with gynecologic cancer patients, I was calm,” she recounts. “For whatever reason, I have always gone ‘calm’ when faced with issues until I know more information and facts. It served me well working with John Q. Hammons for more than 24 years. While the world panicked, I figured things out.”

Cancer was not unknown to Jan personally. While not a medical expert and outside of her experience working with GYNCA, both her mother and grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer. However, deciphering her own diagnosis felt like reading a foreign language. Each new term she learned was a piece of a confusing puzzle, and she relied on her humor to handle her new reality.

“I knew minimal information, particularly about the HER2-positive breast cancer,” Jan explained. “My mom had breast cancer in her fifties and with early detection, had only one breast removed, and no radiation, chemotherapy or medications were required during her healing journey. My maternal grandmother passed away from brain and breast cancers. Deep down, I guess, I was aware of the possibility I could receive a similar diagnosis.”

According to the American Cancer Society, HER2-positive breast cancer is a result of higher levels of protein that can grow at an accelerated rate. Regular screenings can detect breast cancer early and sometimes up to three years before it can be felt, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jan’s guiding light was Dr. Brooke Gillett, a Board-certified medical oncologist at Oncology Hematology Associates (OHA), a community-based oncology practice with three clinic locations in Missouri (Springfield-Lebanon-Monett). OHA is staffed by a team of skilled, compassionate Board-certified physicians who help patients receive care close to home.

Jan Robbins and Her Family

Jan went on to share, “My surgeon from CoxHealth and his nurse navigator recommended several oncologists, including the OHA group. OHA contacted me and suggested Dr. Gillett as a capable breast cancer oncologist. I was grateful for the suggestion because I was able to see her within a few days. As it turns out, Dr. Gillett practiced at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Having grown up in Utah, it was a great choice. Dr. Gillett has been a great fit for me, and those I’ve recommended see her are pleased as well.”

On the day of her first oncology appointment at OHA, Jan felt an immediate sense of comfort upon entering the office.

“From the minute I walked into the OHA office, I felt welcomed,” she reflected. “I have always been greeted with open arms and formed some awesome relationships with the lab techs, scheduling team, doctors, nurses, infusion team and even the volunteers who passed out blankets throughout my healing journey.”

Dr. Gillett explained that “Jan came to our office with invasive lobular carcinoma involving her right breast, which was stage 1, estrogen receptor-positive and HER2-positive diagnosed in June 2021. She had a very positive attitude from the start, and her prognosis is very good.”

Jan’s personalized treatment journey, created by Dr. Gillett, included 11 months of adjuvant chemotherapy to prevent recurrence after she completed bilateral mastectomies.

“We planned on 12 weeks of Taxol in combination with Herceptin,” said Dr. Gillett. “Taxol was discontinued after 10 weeks due to peripheral neuropathy, but otherwise, she tolerated the treatments well. She stayed on Herceptin until August 2022 to complete one full year of therapy. Jan also started endocrine therapy with letrozole during her treatment and continues to take it now. She is doing very well on this treatment plan.”

Over the months of Jan’s treatments, she got to know not only the care team at OHA but also her fellow cancer warriors. They became like family to her.

“I found some Longmire (the TV show) fans who were staffers and brought them Longmire shirts, and I still wander the halls and infusion rooms looking for my favorites to see how they and their kids are doing,” Jan said. “I just love this group! And when it came time to ring the bell, several of these angels were right there with me.”

Jan celebrated the conclusion of the chemotherapy treatments on August 3, 2022.


Jan with Wagon Full of Food

“[Jan] didn’t want to make a big fuss at her last chemo treatment, but so many people wanted to help her celebrate,” shared Jan’s daughter Kim. “I asked friends and family if they’d like to contribute to her by paying it forward to the future patients of OHA. So many people contributed money, and I made a huge snack run to Sam’s. [Jan] just thought I was bringing a Walmart bag of snacks, but I rolled in with a wagon full of them. She was laughing and simultaneously crying at the generosity of her family and friends.”

Following her cancer diagnosis, Jan rejoined GYNCA as executive director in January 2023, having continued to occasionally volunteer for the organization during her four-year absence.

“GYNCA needed me at the time, and I think I needed GYNCA again,” Jan smiled. “I liken it to a God wink! Unretiring and getting back to work at GYNCA as a survivor myself gives me a whole new perspective and understanding of what patients are facing — and it gives them hope to see me as a survivor. My presence as a cancer survivor, I believe, offers hope to many who are just beginning their treatment journey. In turn, it has clarified for me my purpose and intention. It was not long ago that I finally cried when I saw a picture of bald Jan in full chemo mode; it was a healing journey in and of itself. The good news is that my humor is still pretty wicked, and I try to extend at least one kindness to a total stranger each and every day.”

When asked what she has learned during her cancer journey, Jan explained, “Ask and then accept help and don’t feel guilty about it! My daughter and dear friend, Janell, got me over the hump on this one; I was so weak from chemo treatments that I just caved and needed assistance. Once I let go of the premise that I could do it all by myself, it was remarkable. Caregivers and family are always ready to step up with a meal, errands or transportation, so please do the hard thing — ask! Otherwise, they feel helpless. My care team rocked!”

Jan’s story starts with a cancer diagnosis but ends with a powerful reminder of the human connection that binds all. In addition to being a mother, she is a grandmother to four rambunctious grandsons, who call her YaYa, and thankful she can continue to be in their lives.

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