As an office manager and operations administrator for H&R Block, Michelle Jones knows that life can be taxing.
But when the burden is physical and emotional, the bottom line can be devastating. And much more threatening.
In February 2013, as many clients gathered their receipts and pondered their deductions, Jones noticed swelling. And it wasn’t in a client’s write-off column.
“I noticed that my left breast was swollen,” the Grandville, Michigan resident said. “I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ I went to my OB-GYN and told her, ‘My breast is kind of swollen and it hurts.’”
Her doctor asked if she had hurt herself or participated in any rough activity.
The OB-GYN sent her for a mammogram. Luckily for Jones, an appointment came available within the next 30 minutes.
“I thought the Lord must be saying, ‘OK, Michelle, go to this appointment,'” she said. “I had a feeling there was an issue.”
Her mind spun. Her fear exploded.
Her husband, William. Her teenage sons, Will and Marcus. She had to be there for them. She had to beat this.
The water. She always loved the water. Going to Grand Haven. Or Saugatuck. Could she gather hope and strength from the ever-churning waves?
“Everything was like a blur at that point,” she said. “Once they tell you it’s cancer, you know how Charlie Brown’s teacher talks? That’s what I heard. I couldn’t focus on anything. When I found out, it was a Wednesday. Once they told me, I was like, ‘Let’s get this cut out today.’”
The following day, Jones met with the multispecialty team at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center then Jayne Paulson, MD, a breast surgery specialist in the Spectrum Health Medical Group.
Dr. Paulson said Jones had an aggressive type of tumor that did not show up on a mammogram. The mammogram showed enlarged lymph nodes that were biopsied and showed cancer. Ultimately, an MRI unveiled Jones’ breast cancer.
“I cried because it was something I had no control over and I didn’t know what was next,” Jones said. “I love Dr. Paulson because she explained everything to me.”
Her husband, William, and her mother-in-law and sister-in-law all joined her at the appointment.
“They heard everything, too,” Jones said.
Dr. Paulson told them she would consult with other members of the multispeciality team. She suggested Jones and her family go to lunch and when they returned, the team would lay out the plan.
The plan: start chemotherapy right away.
She did. And continued chemotherapy for 15 months.
The team of doctors compared cancer spreading to dandelions blowing in the wind.
“They explained and showed examples of how dandelions could blow and get in different parts of your body,” Jones said. “I’m sure they thought, ‘She’s glassed over, she can’t hear me.’ I had a great team. I trusted them and I would do whatever they say to save my life. They knew this was scary for me.”
Jones asked each of her doctors to pray for her.
She battled cancer, as well as her own fears. Would she survive? Would she be around for her family?
“I was like, ‘My kids are young and they need their mom,’” Jones said. “I have to do everything to make sure that I’m here for them.’”
But in case she didn’t make it, she wanted to to teach them life lessons, including how to treat a woman.
She set up simulated dates with both of her boys.
“I wanted them to be good guys and to know how to date and not be a jerk,” Jones said. “I wanted to show them. We got dressed up and went to dinner. They had to open the car door for me. Gentlemanly things.”
In September, Dr. Paulson performed a lumpectomy.
“The tumor was underneath my nipple,” Jones said. “Dr. Paulson said, ‘I’m going to have to take your nipple. The way she cut it, she formed my breast around so the areola looks like I have a nipple. My husband is like, ‘She’s an artist.’”
Following surgery, Jones underwent radiation.
On a Friday, she returned to Dr. Paulson’s office for a followup.
“She told me she doesn’t give bad news on Friday,” Jones said.
“There was no cancer,” Jones said.
These days, she only has to see Dr. Paulson every three months.
Dr. Paulson said the chemotherapy and radiation addressed Jones’ risk of developing breast cancer again in her breasts or anywhere else in her body.
“She has now reached her five-year mark being disease-free, which is a big emotional landmark,” Dr. Paulson said. “She has a warm personality and her laugh is infectious. When she enters our office, even when maybe she wasn’t feeling the best, she smiles and laughs with everyone. When she leaves, everyone in the office feels a little warmer and happier.”
Jones is feeling happier these days. In a deeper kind of way.
“This was a big wake-up call for me,” Jones said. “I really like to just spend time with my family because life is short.”