Sioux City, Iowa (KTIV) — Sunday, June 6, was National Cancer Survivors’ Day, a day to celebrate a victory in the fight against cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the estimated numbers for 2021 show 1.9 million new cancer cases and 68,570 cancer deaths in the United States.
In Iowa, estimates indicate that we may see 20,000 new cancer diagnoses this year. In Nebraska it is 11,180. In South Dakota, that’s 5,330.
However, there is promising news in the fight against the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, five-year relative survival has improved dramatically from 39% in the 1960s to 68% among whites today, and from 27% in the 1960s to 63% among African Americans today.
In 2017, a breast cancer survivor, Melissa Jensen was 37 years old when she first noticed a lump in one of her breasts, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and four days before her 38th birthday. The cancer diagnosis came as a shock, but she was determined to beat it.
KTIV caught up with her in 2018, after her double mastectomy.
Melissa had to undergo four rounds of chemo, surgery, four more rounds of chemo, and hormonal therapy. She says there were days when she didn’t have much energy, but for the most part, her cancer treatment didn’t stop her from living. She wasn’t a fan of her bald head, but says she tried to live as normal a life as possible, even when her hair was falling out. Her family and friends were her driving force to get better.
We visited Melissa at her house last week. She is happy to report that her chemotherapy port has been removed and with two more clean bills of health every six months, she will graduate for an annual checkup. It is certainly progress.
Board games are a favorite of Melissa, Raegan and Chase Jensen. And the children like to help their mother with chores in and around the house. But in recent years, Melissa has worked hard to beat her cancer and get better so that she can really enjoy the good moments with her family.
“It still makes me a little emotional because it’s one of those things where they’re at an age where you worry about what you’re going to miss. And you’re going to screw them up when you’re not there,” says Melissa Jensen , breast cancer survivor.
Raegan was 8 and Chase was 6 when Melissa was first diagnosed, but even though they were young, they knew Mom was going through something serious. When Melissa’s hair started falling out, Chase wanted his mom to put it back on her head.
“Oh, that was so terrifying. I cried like a baby. Oh. I cried, like I felt like I could flood the house if I cried,” said Chase Jensen, son.
With Melissa going for checkups every six months, the next step in her cancer survival journey is to go to annual exams and be there for others who walk in similar shoes.
“I want to put it behind me, but at the same time, I want to give back, like I want to be there for other people and listen to other people and listen to what they’re going through and just be a sounding board,” Jensen said.
She doesn’t want to take anything for granted. Though she’s going through one of the toughest stages of her journey, ringing the bell that marked the end of her treatment at the June E. Nylen Cancer Center didn’t seem right.
“I didn’t ring the bell when I left. I felt guilty because there are still people fighting this. I didn’t want to rub it in that I was done,” Jensen said.
Seeing her kids thrive in school and their activities, spending time with friends and family, and knowing she hasn’t let cancer take control is all part of her emblem of survival courage.
Melissa is back at work and enjoying the activities her children are involved in. She says her support system is strong. That help included a cancer center patient advocate. Although she was initially hesitant to do this interview, Chase, her son, advised her to share her journey to help others.