"My name is Jann Grace, I’m 75 years of age and a cancer survivor. Growing up, I loved being out in the sun so I could get a deep, dark California girl tan. Growing up in MI, there wasn’t enough sun so I started using tanning beds. Oh, yes, for 30 glorious years I faithfully tanned and enjoyed my CA look despite the lectures from my OB GYN not to use tanning beds. I was in my mid 40’s and didn’t have a dermatologist yet."
Jann moved to HSV after 30 years in Texas where she played golf and any outdoor sport you can imagine. After reaching the 60 year milestone, Jann noticed a couple dark spots on her body and was told to get them check out. The dark spots on her back were melanoma and a couple of years later another melanoma appeared on her forearm. Thanks to a wonderful dermatologist and aggressive treatment, she is now melanoma free! Jann decided she had to behave and hasn’t set foot in a tanning bed since. However, she still continued spending several hours a day outdoors pursuing golf and other sports.
In 2010, Jann found a lump in her left breast and didn’t think anything of it since a previous lumpectomy was benign. This one wasn’t. Her doctor and radiologist asked to speak with her and point blank she asked her doctor if he was going the say the “C” word and he said “yes”.
After surgery, Jann learned the tumor affected 38 lymph nodes which were taken out. Jann was left with a “dead” arm since then. In 2021, Jann woke up with a ‘blown-up arm’ and knew it was lymphedema. Most patients who have lymph nodes removed get lymphedema within the first year of having their lymph nodes removed. Not Jann! Her body decided to wait TEN years before this happened. Jann can still do most things with the affected left arm including playing pickleball, golf and household chores and cooking! It is just a very heavy arm that Jann wears in a compression sleeve to help with swelling.
Jann received chemotherapy and radiation at MD Anderson in TX. She was able to select her own doctors, including a breast specialist and a well-known surgeon and his working partner. Her radiologist was in partnership with these two doctors to make it a 3-partnership for all her treatments. Grace noted her health insurance enabled me to do this. This trio saved my life yet again. Grace woke up one morning with the words “double chemo” and presented it to the specialists and they investigated her background, genes, health history, and found she qualified for a clinical trial that required blood work done every Monday to measure her white blood cell count read and, if good, she could continue with treatment. Grace maintained her physical health through all this and passed the weekly blood test. Jann was a healthy woman with cancer! She received chemotherapy for 6 months followed by radiation for 7 weeks, but she did it and thanks God every day for being cancer free.
Skin cancer runs in Jann’s family, her father, brother, and uncle have had skin cancer. Jann continues to get checked every six months for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer. Jann would not wish any cancer on anyone. Skin cancer is more serious than most people think it is and she hopes people will think twice about the consequences of being sun beautiful!
This moving tribute, excerpted here, was written by Anne and Rob's daughter Katie Hodak.
My mom died 4 months ago.
Life can certainly be absolutely befuddling at times. Although I still cannot find the words to describe the life force of my mom, there are a few things that keep coming into my thoughts. She was unique. She made life rich for those around her. She was strong. She was the second of eight children growing up in south St Louis. She was a hell raiser in Catholic school and was always getting in trouble. She was set up with my dad for a Greek weekend, and when I asked him what he thought of her, he said, “well, I thought she was quite a character.” Turns out he was right. See, she never bemoaned herself, in fact, I’m not sure most people would have known that she was ever sick or in pain. She was strong as steal which made watching her fade away even more heart breaking. That strong, robust, vivacious “life of the party” rapidly got chiseled away by cancer.
My mom told me about her cancer diagnosis about 16 years ago by saying “so the funny thing is that I have breast cancer.” Always with a sense of humor. She was not one to feel sorry for herself. Not ever. She was in remission from HR+ HER2- lobular stage 3 breast cancer for over 15 years. It wasn’t until a year ago that she broke her clavicle bone turning over in bed and lost all energy that we discovered it had metastasized to her bones, significantly. Last March, we thought it was over. She could barely walk from one chair to the next. But we were wrong. Her PET scan in May indicated the bone cancer was practically squelched. She graduated to oral chemo with occasional IV chemo maintenance. And those last 9 months were amazing. She had an incredible summer and fall, enjoying her friends, family, and neighbors, perhaps like never before. We visited her in Arkansas, arriving to a giant bounce house hoisted up in the front yard. We had a great visit.
It was just before New Year’s that she started to feel pain in her stomach and nausea, and she got the news that the cancer had spread to her liver on a Tuesday. She agreed to schedule a liver biopsy the following Friday to determine if there were any specific treatments available. She was a realist, and she was so smart, but I think the speed of this cancer took even her by surprise. My mom was supposed to live forever. But that was not reality. The reality was that the strong chemo on Tuesday likely retracted tumors lining her stomach, causing a perforation that was painful and sudden. There was no way of suspecting how aggressive the cancer had been. The surgeon addressed the immediate perforation on Friday, but he knew she would never leave the hospital. The cancer had virtually consumed her liver and peritoneum entirely. We (and she) did not know that at the time, and probably for the best.
The hardest part of watching her fall still was watching my dad’s heart break multiple times a day. The other hardest part was knowing that my kids deserve so much more of a grand mommy like her.
The day she died, we had seen both the surgeon and her oncologist. Her oncologist walked in the door with welled up tears; I gave him a hug and thanked him for those last really good 9 months. I thanked him for sending my parents into the hospital on Friday so that I could get to say goodbye. He said he will always remember mom’s “positive thinking” as he pointed to those words on her chemo blanket laying on her lap. After I belabored and confirmed (yet again) exactly where the cancer spread and how aggressive and insidious it had been, dad and I felt a bit more resolve. There was nothing wrong with having been hopeful, there was no way of knowing how extensive the cancer was, and now there was just sadness. Her strong and amazing spirit had a beautiful send off. We prayed, we listened to music, we sat together, we reminisced. She wasn’t alone, she was in our arms then and in your hearts now, and she will stay that way forever. It is my hope that she is gabbing away, eating Italian cream cake and taffy, hitting holes in 1, quilting the authentic beauty of the world and knowing that she was loved fiercely…as much as she fiercely loved.
Help us honor Anne's memory by joining us at the 21st Annual Village Walk for Cancer Research on Saturday, September 24 at the Balboa Pavilion. The opening ceremony starts at 8 am. All who register will receive a free T-shirt and can participate by walking, kayaking, or biking up to five miles at your own pace.
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