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My Mammogram Saved My Life

Jessica Rivera outside HCI

"I never would have thought in a million years that I would be sitting here talking about my journey with breast cancer," says Jessica Rivera.

Before the diagnosis that would turn her world upside down, life was going well for the business owner and mother of two.

"I had just started an interior design business that was really flourishing. We were active with the kids and sports and volunteering for school. I was living my best life," she says.

Up to this point, the only major health events Jessica had experienced were the births of her children, Maya and Kieran, and there had been no complications (unless you count the fact that Kieran arrived in the car on the way to the hospital). A disease like cancer seemed out of the picture.

Jessica Rivera with her family outside

"I don’t have any family history. I didn’t hit any of the factors that may somehow contribute to cancer," says Jessica. "It wasn’t like I was a heavy smoker or a heavy drinker. I breastfed my babies, walked every day."

Regardless, Jessica, who believes "your health is your job," scheduled a mammogram as soon as she turned 40. Screening recommendations say women should get a mammogram every year starting at age 40, whether or not they feel a lump or have any symptoms.

Jessica never expected the results to come back positive. Hearing the diagnosis was shocking and terrifying, she says. "It pulls the rug out from under you. It took me a long time to really work through the fear and the anxiety and everything else that comes with a cancer diagnosis."

Alongside those emotions, however, was a feeling of gratitude that she had been so proactive about getting screened. She learned the tumor was stage I grade III—meaning it was small but aggressive. It hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes, but there was evidence it was getting close. If the cancer hadn’t been found this early, it "could have been lurking for some time doing a lot more damage," she says.

After the diagnosis, Jessica chose to move her treatment to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), where she met with breast cancer surgeon Regina Rosenthal, MD.

"From day one, I felt like I was in the best, most capable hands," Jessica says. "Dr. Rosenthal took so much time explaining things to me that hadn’t been explained before."

The trust she had in her care team allowed Jessica to let go of some of the anxiety and fear. She worked closely with her doctors to choose the right treatment course. She had a mastectomy in 2019 on Friday the 13th of September ("I’m glad the universe has a sense of humor—and that I do, too"). She still had concerns about lingering cancer cells and voiced those concerns with her doctors. Together, they opted for an aggressive 16-month chemotherapy course. Chemo, Jessica felt, was worth the difficult side effects in order to give her more peace of mind.

"That was a hard decision," she admits. "But in the end, I felt like that was the best decision for me. I was responding to an aggressive cancer with an aggressive treatment."

Jessica Rivera with her family on a bed

When chemo left Jessica unable to do her normal everyday activities, the self-described Type A personality had to learn to accept help. Her husband, Sean, took care of the laundry, the dog, and everything else around the house. Her friends organized a meal train, which "was a small act of kindness that meant the world to my family and me."

Jessica says she realized in that moment that as much as she loves to give, others do, too. Accepting their help meant she was letting them experience that joy.

"I feel like the love you give is the love you get," she says. "And I had no idea how loved I was."

Jessica hopes to help other women by sharing her story and urging them to get their mammograms.

"I just can’t speak to it enough about how critical it is regardless of the current circumstances," she says. "Cancer is still happening. It doesn’t care that we have a pandemic. I wish it did because we all feel like we have a full plate right now. But I believe with all my heart that my mammogram saved my life. Get your mammograms. Regardless."

Schedule a mammogram online or call 801-581-5496 for scheduling assistance.

Cancer touches all of us.