On this Mother’s Day weekend we would like to introduce you to a very special Mother/Daughter Team who have a special message to share. OCSA first met Jenny O’Brien in 2010, our first year. She was the marketing director at the St. Charles, IL Visitors Bureau and was so supportive of the first OCSA Dog Walk and helped us immensely with our outreach to the Fox River Valley Community. Her mother supported us every step of the way…now learn more about these two incredible women!
Let’s get started with Geralyn. This incredible, brave woman is inspiring to talk to and spend time with.
Can you tell us about yourself?
First, Jenny and I would like to thank OCSA for giving us the opportunity to share our cancer journey. “OUR” because cancer truly is a family illness. Everyone who loves and cares about you will be affected and will be part of your healing process.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 at the age of 42 with a second diagnosis of breast cancer in the opposite breast in 2013. My paternal grandmother and aunt both died from breast cancer, my father was a survivor of esophageal cancer but my sister died from lung cancer and had had colon cancer five years before. In 2013, I tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene…bringing many new challenges to me and my family. After chemo ended in 2013, I had a mastectomy and also my ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed because of my high risk for ovarian cancer.
I cherish being a wife to Mike, mother to Jenny and Michael, sister, aunt and friend. In addition, I love being an Oncology Esthetician at two cancer resource centers, Living Well Cancer Center in Geneva and Waterford Place in Aurora, where I provide safe facials with individual adjustments based on surgeries and treatments each cancer patients receives. I train estheticians to work with cancer patients and continue my education by attending annual seminars at Oncology Spa Solutions.
As a breast cancer survivor and testing positive for BRCA 2 you inspire so many. Can you share some of your positive memories?
I truly believe the support survivors can give each other is enormous and by supporting others helps in our own recovery. I spent many years after my first diagnosis being a Reach to Recovery volunteer supporting other breast cancer survivors just beginning their journey. I like the ripple effect of seeing other survivors giving back and supporting each other. I had a client who was having a hard time after treatment ended with the physical side effects from her surgeries as well as the emotional effects of the fear of cancer returning. I recommended she try the yoga class which has been vital in not only my physical recovery from all my surgeries but my stress and emotional recovery. She was a reluctant yoga student but one day I saw her helping a new yoga student who was newly diagnosed with some really sweet, encouraging. Integrative services (www.integrativecancer.org/) can be a vital part of our collective recovery. It’s important to incorporate stress reducing activities into our everyday lives, because if we don’t take care of ourselves we cannot take care of others!
What advice would you give to the women who have tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation?
It is very important to have a genetic counselor involved in your decision to have BRCA mutation testing. The genetic counselor can help you weigh your options and provide a medical understanding of BRCA mutation for you and your family. Remember, being tested positive for the BRCA mutation does not mean you will get cancer. Embrace your BRCA diagnosis as it will be a key component in your medical history. Be sure to pursue a consistent dialogue with your physician who is the “overseer” of your medical success. Most importantly, balance your day with family and friends and be sure to laugh! I highly recommend that you read the book by Vicki Girard entitled There’s no place like HOPE, it’s a wonderful guide to “beating cancer in mind-sized bites.” Other resources include: www.ovariancancersymptomawareness.org/; www.brightpink.org & Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) @ http://www.facingourrisk.org/index.php
And now we’d like to introduce you to Jenny, Geralyn’s daughter and wonderful supporter of OCSA.
Can you tell us how you met the folks from OCSA? We seem to remember the adorable Molly and the first ever “Pet Friendly” Scarecrow Festival in St. Charles, IL.
It seems so long ago, so I hope my memory serves me right! But I believe Vallie and I connected when I was working for the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, and I had created a new event for Scarecrow Fest – Canine Corner. I did this after coming up with our Pet Friendly Travel initiative. Vallie and OCSA ended up having a booth at Canine Corner, and I really enjoyed learning bout OCSA and their mission. My mom and I attended a few events after that for OCSA, including the annual dog walk with Molly J
We were so happy to learn that you own and operate Dream Dance Academy in St. Charles, IL. Can you share the story of how this dream of yours became a reality?
Owning a dance studio has always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl! I have been teaching since I was 18, but always in addition to my full time job after college. I loved my marketing career but I found every time I left that job to go teach after work, it never felt like WORK. I was determined to figure out how to make teaching full-time a reality….and something clicked one day and I followed my gut intuition to just go for it. You never know unless you try, and I here I am today with a thriving, successful dance studio living out my true “pinch me” dreams every day with my students.
We understand that you and your “girls” will be volunteers at the Annual OCSA 5K Dog Walk in September. What do you hope they learn from the experience?
We are excited to volunteer and help in any way we can! Our dance company (performance and competition team) does one “give back” a month, as I think it is incredibly important to teach them how to use their voice and position to make a difference in non-dance related things, too. Through each volunteer and give back opportunity we do, we want them to learn leadership, team work, and how important it is to help others. Our give back this month was for Lazarus House and each child brought an item from their needs list. They also made “smile cards” for anyone at Lazarus who may need their day brightened a bit.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey with genetic testing and the BRCA gene?
When my mom tested positive for BRCA2 during her second cancer diagnosis, I immediately was tested. I could probably write pages on this topic because of all the emotions I went through, but in the end although I was found to NOT have the mutation – it was still a roller coaster of emotions and I learned so much. My story can be found on my blog that I plan to keep up as I still once in a while get messages from people who come across it, who are in my situation or in that “waiting” zone. I am glad to be able to help others, or even educate them – it is a confusing topic that can be a lot to take in and understand. You can follow my blog at: http://brcatoempower.blogspot.com/