Robbi Jenkins wants to make one thing clear: She doesn’t get sick.
No strep. No pneumonia. No flu. The common cold doesn’t even bother trying to slow down the executive chef with the brisk walk, confident stare and no-nonsense demeanor.
About this series
This is one in a series of stories about survivors of cancer provided by Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Endowment Association. These survivors’ stories and photographs hang in the hallway leading to LMH’s Oncology Center. These stories offer hope to patients being cared for at LMH Oncology and their families.
So imagine how the 58-year-old reacted after settling in for her regular mammogram on Oct. 26, 2011. The X-rays penetrated her skin, just as they have once a year, every year, for the past 11 years. She answered the same questions, filled out the same forms.
But this time the mammogram led to a sonogram. And then a biopsy.
She knew even before the results came back.
“It’s not because I felt any different, or not because I’d felt a lump or anything like that,” she recalled. “I just knew. I mean, we’re not going to go through all of this if it’s nothing.”
It was breast cancer, and not just any breast cancer. An MRI pinpointed a second spot — “I had two ‘friends’ in the same neighborhood, the same breast,” Jenkins recalled — and that meant a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy.
But even with the cancer caught early, and her breast removed, Jenkins’ first-ever inpatient hospital visit wouldn’t be enough. Dr. Luke Huerter, her oncologist, had the tissue tested.
Diagnosis: Triple negative breast cancer.
Jenkins didn’t hesitate.
“Bring on the chemotherapy,” she said. “Let’s get going.”
“I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “I’m one of those people: Tell me what it is, tell me what it’s all about, tell me the good, the bad, the ugly. Tell me what we’re going to do. Tell me when we need to start. I get ahold of all that, I analyze it and I go: OK, let’s both jump off this cliff together. Let’s do this.”
During eight four-hour chemotherapy treatments over 16 weeks, Jenkins didn’t get sick. The nausea was tolerable, her fatigue manageable. She stayed home occasionally from work, but when she did make the 40-minute drive to Prairie Band Casino and Resort — where she oversees dining operations for a steakhouse, a grill, a buffet, a players lounge and a conference center that can accommodate events with up to 500 plated dinners — Jenkins climbed out of her car, squared her shoulders and strode into the office.
She wasn’t sick, after all. She was getting better.
“It’s like I tell my cooks: ‘If you show up, I expect you to be in the game,’” she said. “If you can’t be in the game, call off.”
Jenkins isn’t about to call off.
While neuropathy slows her down a bit, scans show that her cancer is gone. She draws strength twice a month from a cancer support group at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, and remains thankful for the professional, personal care she received and continues to receive at LMH.
“I didn’t feel like a number, ever,” Jenkins said. “If I did, this might’ve had a different ending.”