Kadner: She refused to accept death sentence
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org August 8, 2013 8:42PM
Updated: September 10, 2013 6:24AM
With three young children, 29-year-old Jen Linares refused to accept a doctor’s verdict that she had only three to five years left to live.
“I had a life to live,” recalled Linares, during an interview in her Oak Forest home. “I had children to raise. Graduations to see. Marriages.
“I just started to fight. I became an advocate for myself. I decided to research. It’s 8 1/2 years later, and I’m still fighting.”
Linares discovered a lump in her breast one day and decided to see her gynecologist. He ordered a mammogram, and on her drive back home she got a call.
“We have to get you into surgery right away,” he said.
A lumpectomy was performed, and as Linares waited for the results, “I discovered a lump in my armpit, more lumps every day in my breast. It was horrible.”
A mastectomy was performed.
“From the day I detected the first lump to the mastectomy was less than two weeks,” she said.
Thinking the worst was behind her, chemotherapy was prescribed as a follow-up procedure, and Linares decided to see a local oncologist near her home.
In the meantime, a CT scan was done.
When Linares showed up in the new doctor’s office again, to begin what she thought would be chemotherapy, she got the nightmarish news.
“I had a tumor in my hip,” she said. “The doctor said my cancer had metastasized, spread beyond the lymph nodes, and there was nothing that could be done.”
Linares had something called estrogen positive metastic stage IV breast cancer.
“I had three to five years to live, and there would be no chemotherapy,” Linares remembered the doctor telling her.
A stunned Linares refused to accept that verdict.
“I went to three hospitals in the area, went to more doctors, and none of them would give me chemotherapy. They all said it was about quality-of-life issues now. No one does chemo if your cancer has metastasized.”
Linares refused to prepare for the end of her life.
“I went to the University of Chicago, and suddenly people cared about what I wanted,” she recalled. “They had an entire team of doctors, and they sat down and talked to me and asked what I wanted to do.
“To this day, I haven’t talked to an oncology nurse there. I talk to the doctors all the time about everything.”
They explained the options. They offered hope.
“I told them I wanted chemotherapy. And that’s what we did.”
She was placed on aromatase inhibitors to block her estrogen production and began chemotherapy. Eventually, she would have her ovaries removed to further reduce her estrogen.
And then she started radiation therapy to kill the tumor in her hip.
Today, Linares is an advocate for cancer victims.
“I go to workshops all over the country to talk to doctors and experts in the field of cancer research and treatment,” she said. “I want to understand how cancer works. What’s being done to find a cure or improve treatments.
“You know, all this money gets raised for cancer research, but where does it really go? Who gets the funding? What do they actually do?”
Most of all, she urges cancer victims to advocate for themselves.
“You have to fight, you have to research and you have to ask the questions,” Linares said. “Don’t accept on face value what anyone tells you.”
Linares met with me and was willing to tell her story to encourage people to register for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Sept. 22 in Lombard.
“All of the money raised goes to local hospitals and researchers right here in Chicago,” she said. “I think that’s important. We need to help the people that we’re going to need when we need help.”
More information can be found at komanChicago.org/komen-race-for-the-cure. Linares will be in charge of the committee for the survivor’s tent.
She’s also the state leader of the Illinois Young Survivor’s Coalition, which is hosting a symposium on breast cancer Aug. 17 at Northwestern University Hospital, 303 E. Superior St., Chicago, from 9 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
“It will feature specialists, doctors from almost every field of cancer, so people can get their questions answered and learn more about cancer and cancer research,” Linares said.
I told her I was disappointed there wasn’t something more convenient for Southland residents.
“I’m working on that,” she said. “We’re going to do something out here.”
Linares’ oldest child, Kyle, 19, is now in college at Iowa State. Her two daughters, Maddy and Emma, are 14 and 10, repectively.
“Emma was two years old when I had my mastectomy,” she said, “I was thinking a lot about that at the time.”
Linares, who was unemployed at the time of her diagnosis, now works for Q1 Productions, a company that puts on webinars, conferences and other educational programs for businesses in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. She’s toying
with the idea of going to law school.
“My goal now is to be a voice for change in cancer treatment,” Linares said. “I want patients to be heard. I want doctors and medical people to listen to them. And I want cancer patients to know they can fight for themselves to make sure they’re getting the right kind of care.
“And then I want to make sure the money raised for cancer research gets to the right places. That means keeping the money here in Chicago, where we go for help, where our doctors are located, in our communities.
“You know, there was no history of breast cancer in my family. No one had ever dealt with this. The diagnosis came out of the blue, and I knew nothing about it.
“But you can educate yourself. You have to fight for yourself. I’m still fighting every day.”