by Grace Sall
Freshman Anna Ulferts was in the passenger seat of her family car when she found out. The car was off and parked in the garage, and her mom was in the driver’s seat. There was a silent pause, but then Ulferts heard the news.
Ulferts was 12 years old when her mom told her she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. On Sept. 8, 2015, doctors told her mom, Jenny Schwery, that she had stage 0 breast cancer. Stage 0 is not the most detrimental; according to cancercenter.com it is categorized as a noninvasive carcinoma in situ. But after going in for surgery, the doctors discovered that Schwery actually had stage II cancer. This meant that she would need to receive chemotherapy and radiation for the cancerous cells at an invasive level.
“When I was first told that I had cancer, the first thing I thought about was my kids. Would I be able to see them grow up, graduate from high school and college, get married and have children of their own? I knew I had to fight, fight for them and fight for me,” Schwery said.
For 20 weeks Schwery had chemotherapy once a week. After that, she had to have 33 separate radiation treatments, required for five days a week for six weeks.
Ulferts’s mom is known by many; she has worked at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Grade School for many years. There she is known there for her ability to pull out any loose tooth presented to her.
“This isn’t something that happens to you, but to other people,” Ulferts said. She was shocked. Her younger brother Drew was only 5 years old at the time, and the whole family dynamic changed.
Time for Ulferts and her brother’s activities, such as golf and swimming, was taken up by treatment and doctors’ appointments. Schwery had to prioritize.
“Life is too short and fragile! I hugged my kids and husband a little tighter and a little longer,” Schwery said.
However, after losing her hair to various rounds of chemo and radiation, things started to look up. The cancer was disappearing.
Ulferts’s mom has been in remission for two years now. “The fear of the unknown is a brutal reality,” Schwery said. She wants people to know that the cancer patient is the same person as she was before, so treating them that way is crucial.
Ulferts says that after the whole experience she and her mom learned to appreciate each other more. “We need to celebrate each other,” Ulferts said.
Schwery still works at St. Vincent de Paul as a seventh and eighth grade teacher aid, but her most important job is being a mother to Ulferts and her brother.
“If I were talking to someone whose family member just got diagnosed, I would tell them that things are going to change, but when you take a minute to look at the support you are given, you feel a little more stable. Take it one day at a time, don’t think about the weeks or months ahead, but right now,” Ulferts said.