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Jess Keller discovered a lump in her breast while she was taking a shower. She wasn’t doing any kind of self examination, but she recognized the lump as something new.

She went in for a breast examination the next day and scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound. She was 38. She had no breast cancer in her family. The doctor saw no need to panic, so she didn’t get an appointment until three weeks later.

During those three weeks, Jess told herself that everything was fine. She had friends who found similar lumps, went in for examinations and the lumps turned out to be cysts. After all, Jess was healthy. She was active, and she breastfed all three of her children. Surely she was fine.

A day after her mammogram, her doctor informed her that the lump was not a cyst, but they wouldn’t know anything else until they did a biopsy — an event that Jess called “terrifying.”

Two days later, the doctor’s office called and informed her that she needed to come in at 8 a.m. the next day.

“I immediately knew what that meant,” Jess said.

She was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, and she had her lumpectomy on Aug. 1. Jess has since had approximately 16 chemo infusions. Following her chemo, she’ll endure radiation and eventually hormone therapy.

Jess said this journey has taught her many things, a big one being that self care is more important now than it has ever been. She’s used her “break from normal life” to read, listen to podcasts, go to therapy, get massages and she’s even tried acupuncture for the first time.

“It is easy to lose yourself when you don’t recognize the person in the mirror — when your world has been flipped upside down and your new normal involves never-ending appointments, treatment plans, prescription refills, and somehow trying to maintain some normalcy for your family,” Jess said.

But, she has continued to run — one of her favorite outlets. Although she doesn’t typically hit the pavement in the first couple of days following her treatments, she gets back out there.

“I’m taking it one mile at a time,” Jess said.  “Knowing that I am not totally losing myself and the things that I love has kept me looking forward.  Cancer has taken so much from me, but this was something I was not going to give up easily. “

Jess hopes that her story can teach people two things: 1) Cancer doesn’t have to be a taboo topic and 2) If you know someone who has cancer, reach out and treat them with empathy.

Along with support from her family, friends and the community, Jess said she’s also received help from the First Health Cancer Care Fund.

“Throughout this ugly season, there have been moments of incredible joy and gratitude. I can say that I have never felt so loved and uplifted in my life,” Jess said. “There is a saying that I have grown to love in this new cancer world I am living in: ‘no one fights alone.’ That could not be more true. In my case, I have a whole army.”

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