by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER
Aurora -- Good things were happening in Jen Schreck's life.
She and husband Mark had adopted sons Sam, now 11, and C.J., now 9, from Guatemala. The family moved from Thompson to Aurora in April 2005.
In January 2006, though, her life took a dramatic downward turn. She was diagnosed with stage 4 of HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer, which is incurable. It restricted her to a wheelchair because she felt so weak.
"I was given a year to live," she said.
On top of that, she needed help from family and friends in taking care of her two sons.
"The disease had spread so far that it was in my shoulders, pelvis, lungs, liver, bones -- pretty much everywhere," she said. "I was so far gone. I couldn't lift my arms above my head without excruciating pain, and I couldn't walk. I was miserable."
However, she said her life was saved by a medicine called kadcyla.
"I am a miracle," said Schreck, 41. "I have long surpassed how long doctors thought I would live."
The path she traveled, though, was filled with plenty of bumps.
SCHRECK'S Rocky road
Schreck, who grew up in State College, Pa., as Jen Byers, vividly remembered the day -- Jan. 1, 2006 -- when her life turned upside down.
"I sleep on my stomach," she said. "But that night, when I layed down, it felt like I was on a small bouncy ball. I had no idea why."
She climbed out of bed and smoothed out the blankets, but it still felt the same. Cancer had arrived.
By Feb. 2, she was starting chemotherapy. The treatments seemed endless.
"Some [treatments] were OK as far as me going through them. Some were just plain awful."
Schreck said the worst was a red gelatin-type chemo medicine that was injected into her arms and veins. She took 12 rounds of it.
"You had to eat a popsicle with it because you would get mouth sores otherwise," she said. "I have never felt so sick in my life. It knocked me to the point where I didn't know if my legs could support me in the grocery store."
Schreck, who had done research in order to get into a clinical trial, learned about a medicine called kadcyla through a Boston physician, who referred her about three years ago to Dr. Patricia Lorusso of the Karmano Cancer Center in Detroit.
Schreck took part in a clinical trial in which she took kadcyla through an IV injection every three weeks.
"IT SAVED my life," she said. "After the second dose of kadcyla, I was out of the wheelchair. I could feel it in my body. I stood taller, and I could walk better. I felt like a wind-up doll."
For two years, she traveled to Detroit and Columbus to get the medicine because that is where the treatment centers were. Now, she is able to obtain it at the Cleveland Clinic facility in Twinsburg.
"It's simply amazing," she said. "It's not chemo, it's target therapy. It hits just the cancer cells and nothing else.
"This medicine has given me back my life," she said. "I am actually living. I am not just existing anymore. I can do things with people like going for walks or going out to dinner or even on hikes. I can't do hard-core exercise because my bones are so bad [from the disease] that I can't put any stress on them.
"But I try to do as much as I can," she said. "I can go to my boys' soccer games and not have to be in a wheelchair. Every day, things mean more to me than to most people."
For her, the recovery is bittersweet, though, because she has talked to other people who said the medicine hasn't worked as well for them.
"I have been told so many times that I should have died by now," she said. "It's hard to live with that."
Schreck has received plenty of help from family and friends along the way.
"MY HUSBAND has been a true blessing," she said. "He has stood by my side for more than anything I would ask somebody to do."
She also praised the residents of Aurora for their support.
"There isn't anything that people haven't done for us," she said. "People that I didn't know came out of the woodwork and have become very good friends. We have been so lucky to come into this community."
Schreck believes just being able to talk to other cancer patients provides a lot of comfort, "knowing that a lot of other people are in the same boat. People know they're not alone."
Schreck said one main thing that motivated her to keep going was her two sons.
"We had waited so long to get these boys," she said. "I wanted to see them grow up. Now, I feel like I can be there and help them enjoy being kids. I can get off the couch and be with them. It's fun to watch them grow.
"I cannot tell you how much it means to me to get the word out that there are more options now than ever with cancer, and it is not necessarily a death sentence," she added.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC