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Breast and Cervical Health Check

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Jenny Hargrove

Anchor River resident Jennie Hargrove took up beadwork last year to keep busy while undergoing chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sitting still was a bit unfamiliar to Jennie who, at 38, loves to camp, fish and comb the rugged beaches along Kachemak Bay. An active volunteer in her children’s school, Jennie also sews and paints ceramics.

But it was making beadwork jewelry and gifts that became a passion during her cancer therapy. “I was making things for everybody - holidays, birthdays, anniversaries all become very special when you think one might be your last,” says Jennie, who was diagnosed during the summer of 2001.

After finding a lump in her breast, Jennie called the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic in Homer, where she’d gone for routine health exams all her life. The clinic is one of a growing number of health care clinics that enroll women in Alaska’s breast and cervical cancer early detection program, known as Breast and Cervical Health Check.

Jenny and her husband, Leland, have no health insurance. The couple was relieved to learn that the screening exams would be covered by the federally funded program.

Results of Jennie’s mammogram were suspicious, and she was soon referred to a diagnostic provider in Anchorage. It was in Anchorage, while she was trying on wigs with her husband, young daughters and a close family friend, that Jennie received a call on her cell phone, confirming the diagnosis.

What had been a lighthearted moment suddenly turned somber. Even though Jennie and her family had suspected cancer, the room grew quiet as the news sank in. “I started to sweat and feel tingly and really dizzy all over.” Jennie recalls.

It wasn’t long before Jennie, once again accompanied by family and friends, made her first trip between Homer and Anchorage for chemotherapy treatment. Like other women who are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer while they are enrolled in the Breast and Cervical Health Check program, Jennie’s treatment was covered by Medicaid.

Designed to quickly kill growing cancer cells, chemotherapy can temporarily deplete patients, making them feel nauseated and weak. The side effects of chemotherapy vary, depending on the dosage and patient. Jennie reacted almost immediately: Less than 100 miles south of Anchorage, Jennie began vomiting and stayed sick the rest of the way home.

Back in Anchor River after her first chemo treatment, Jennie opted for short hair. Therapy typically causes hair loss and Jennie – who had waist-length hair like her daughters – found that even her short hair would fall out. “About three weeks later I was running my hand through my hair and it just started to come out in clumps” she recalls. “My oldest daughter came over and knelt at my feet and ran her fingers through my hair and cried.”

Cancer-free a year after her ordeal, Jennie says she has refocused her life to include the things that matter. Classes in anthropology, drawing and yogo that she never seemed to have time for are on her schedule. She spends more time with her daughters, Tarah, 15 and Julian, 9. She feels more assertive.

“Life is a journey and when you have cancer, it’s just part of the journey,” Jennie says. “There is life afterwards.”

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