During last year’s Relay for Life event at Elizabethton High School, Juanita Jarrett of Roan Mountain was undergoing her second chemotherapy session and was unable to attend.
She said her husband, Kenneth, and daughter, Wendy, participated in the Relay for Life walk. “She (Wendy) said, ‘Mom, when they did the survivor’s lap, a tear rolled down my cheek.’”
Hearing that, “I said this year I am walking,” Jarrett declared. “I don’t care if it rains. I’m glad to be alive.”
Jarrett, a teller at the Carter County Bank branch in Roan Mountain, said she first learned she had breast cancer on March 15, 2011. She took her last chemotherapy treatment on Nov. 18, the week before Thanksgiving 2011.
“I went in for a regular check-up,” said Jarrett, who noted that during check-ups she would have a mammogram because of cancer in the family. “They saw something suspicious.”
The mammogram was conducted at Sycamore Shoals Hospital in Elizabethton. She then went to Johnson City for a needle biopsy, which is used to test cells. Jarrett said two of her aunts had breast cancer.
“That’s why I had to have mammograms so early (at 37 years old),” she said. “I also had fibromyoma, so they kept going with the mammograms.”
Learning that she had cancer was devastating. “It’s like getting hit with a two-by-four,” Jarrett said. “It knocks the wind out of you. It was devastating. You think it happens to someone else, not you.”
The nurses at the Women’s Center in Johnson City talked to Jarrett and provided her with a book about breast cancer. It was difficult to tell her children, Jarrett said. “It was devastating for them,” she added. “We told my daughter three days before she left for a convention in Nashville. I had to tell her because I was afraid someone else would tell her before I did. It was hard on them.”
Jarrett had stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. She said her sister went to the hospital with her when the doctor removed two signal nodes. “It was a good thing because it wasn’t in my lymph nodes,” she said.
Jarrett said she also had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, which was her choice. “The surgery made me sore, but I did OK,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through it.”
In addition, Jarrett had four chemotherapy sessions. She underwent four Adriamycin and Cytoxan chemotherapy sessions. The sessions took place every 21 days. “That’s the kind that makes your hair fall out,” Jarrett said. “They call it the Red Devil.”
After the Adriamycin and Cytoxan, Jarrett took Taxol every week for 12 weeks. She said Taxol made her feel sick and it made her have a bit of neuropathy in her fingers and feet. Jarrett noted that her hair fell out as a result of chemotherapy.
On one occasion, Jarrett said she asked her son, Andrew, how he felt about his mother losing her hair. She said he responded by saying “you’re still my mom.”
Jarrett said she also had a wig horror story. She had gone home during lunch and fixed frozen pizza in the oven. Her daughter asked her to get the pizza from the oven. “So I got it out of the oven,” Jarrett recalled. “It went ‘poof’ and it scorched my wig. I was devastated. I went in the bathroom and had a meltdown.”
She then went to the hairdresser and had the wig trimmed. “They fixed it so I could go back to work,” she said. “It could have been worse. About a week later, I went back to work and they were all talking. I look around and I said ‘OK, what’s wrong?’” They bought me a brand new wig. Now that was heartfelt. I cried. They have all been really good to me. We are not co-workers. We are more like family.”
Many people have supported Jarrett over the last year. In addition to her family and co-workers, a special neighbor, who also had cancer, and church members have been supportive. “After I found out that I had it, one of my neighbors called me and said she had been through it,” Jarrett said. “It really helped me. She was wonderful.”
With chemotherapy treatment over and the cancer gone, Jarrett must go to the doctor every three months for a check-up. “He said it could come back with a vengeance.” Jarrett said. “Hopefully, that doesn’t happen.” After two years, she will then visit the doctor every six months. “He said after five years, I can fire him,” she said. “I want to fire him.”
Jarrett said cancer has put life into a new perspective. “The most important things are God, your family and your friends. Nothing else matters,” she said. “It makes you put your life into a new perspective. We take one day at a time. Nobody has a promise of tomorrow. I’m thankful for today.”
Jarrett continues to work behind the counter and the drive through window as a teller at Carter County Bank. She says throughout her cancer treatment, her customers have been supportive. “They would come in and ask about me and have been very supportive,” she said. “They have been wonderful.”
The cancer survivor now wants to help others by speaking about her situation. Jarrett kept a journal about her treatment. She also wants to become more involved with the Relay for Life, which will take place this weekend in Elizabethton. “It has made our family closer. It’s made us closer at work,” which Jarrett said was the most positive thing to come from having cancer.