There’s no shortage of extraordinary moms in the Triad! Today we feature our fifth mom in this week’s series of profiles. Her name is Jennifer Houlihan. Jennifer recently underwent a life-changing experience that, unfortunately, is all too familiar for some women. As a breast cancer survivor, Jennifer strives each day to love more and to fear less. It’s this motto that has helped Jennifer become the courageous and positive role model she is to herself, her family, and other cancer survivors.

Here is Jennifer’s story.

Jennifer is the manager of government relations and regulatory affairs for Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. She has been married for 12 years and has two boys, ages 4 and 6.

A little over two years ago, Jennifer felt a lump doing her monthly self breast exam, and scheduled a doctor’s appointment. Her physician sent her for a mammogram thinking it would be nothing, but according to Jennifer, everything happened very quickly from there.

“I had a biopsy which confirmed the presence of Stage I Breast Cancer, and within two to four days, I was meeting with my treatment team which consisted of a surgeon, plastic surgeon, oncologist, and radiation oncologist,” she said.

Jennifer was 34 at that time, and her sons were just two and four.

Knowing her grandmother had both breast and ovarian cancer, Jennifer sought genetic counseling. Although her genetic test came back negative for the breast cancer gene, she was already convinced to move forward with a double mastectomy.

“My surgeon had told me that I would have to have a mastectomy on my right breast given the amount of cancerous cells present,” she explained.  “I felt with my age and family history it would give me peace of mind to have both done.  I also could not imagine the asymmetry that I would have had I not done both.  I received tissue expanders immediately following my surgery and approximately 6 months later had my implants done.  I am still glad I made the decision I made and do not regret it.”

Not surprisingly, the entire situation was a wake-up call for Jennifer to evaluate every aspect of her life from her physical health and what she was eating, to her spirituality and emotional health.  She has always considered herself healthy in terms of exercise and diet, but now she makes that a priority.

“I cherish my time with my boys and husband, and plan more activities with them and realize what a gift it is to have them in my life.   I have also taken up more volunteerism with kindergarten tutoring and pursued my hobby for English Country Dancing.  I just want to take care of myself and family as best I can, give back to the community and include things in my life that bring me joy and happiness. “

A co-worker of Jennifer nominated her for this profile saying Jennifer’s “determination and positive outlook make her a perfect candidate.” And although I’ve only chatted with Jennifer briefly by phone and through email, these qualities are immediately evident.

“I have decided to be as proactive as possible in my care, and to see the  positive in my situation.  I’ve used this experience to reevaluate my life and relationships and want to grow from it.  I also feel that there is nothing holding us back from the things we want to achieve but ourselves,” said Jennifer.

When asked to offer advice to readers who may be experiencing a similar situation, Jennifer says, “Listen to your instincts, appreciate the family and friends you have in your life, and make time for the things you care about.  Making decisions about surgery and a course of cancer treatment can be difficult and there are a lot of resources and people out there willing to help.”

Thank you for sharing your story with us today, Jennifer. And may you be blessed with good health this new year, and for years to come.