Jennea Sire

If you ask any cancer survivor, they’ll tell you that their support system was crucial to their recovery. In Jennea Sire’s case, it wasn’t just the people in her life that helped her through, but two special pets as well.

In 2011 strange lumps began appearing on Jennea’s torso. A doctor inspected these lumps and recommended that she get a biopsy, reassuring her that they probably weren’t cancerous. Dennis, Jennea’s husband and ever the optimist, thought this was great news but Jennea couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. After going on vacation to take her mind off things, Jennea returned to the doctor for a biopsy. Within a week, it was determined that she did in fact have lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

Following Jennea’s diagnosis, she invited friends and family to visit. She thought it would comfort her but it overwhelmed her instead.

“They were in some of the saddest states I’d ever seen them in,” she explains. “I was trying to make everyone feel comfortable. It was too hard to see everyone like that.”

For the sake of everyone, Jennea asked her guests to leave. The only company she needed was Dennis and their golden retriever, Lucy.

Sadly, Lucy passed away during Jennea’s cancer treatment. “That was harder on me than the cancer,” she says.

About four months into chemo, Jennea’s sister-in-law, Margo, came to visit. She had been through cancer too and she came bearing a gift – a new, female dog.

Jennea was so saddened by the loss of Lucy that she didn’t think a new dog would help, but the animal was days from being euthanized, so she and Dennis decided to take her in. They named her “Lucille” in honor of Lucy, and she has helped the Sires through one of the hardest times in their lives.

“Pets are so loving,” says Jennea. “They help you feel better.”

Jennea is thankful that she had such a wonderful medical team to treat her cancer, but she has no doubt that her recovery was aided by her loved ones – her friends, family, and of course, Lucille.

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Julie Flesch

As the Medical Director of Indian Family Health Clinic, Julie Flesch had a unique perspective on her breast cancer diagnosis. “It was like watching in the mirror as a car was about to rear-end me,” she says. “I was prepared for it, I knew what was going to happen, but it was still going to be bad.”

By the time Julie’s cancer was discovered, it had metastasized into one of her lymph nodes. Julie decided to schedule a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of cancer coming back. The procedure was successful, and after six chemo treatments, Julie started down the path to reconstruction.

“There are a lot of new procedures and medications now,” Julie explains. “You have to have faith in the medical system and yourself throughout all of it. One of the biggest things is to be informed.”

Because she was prepared, Julie was able to stop her cancer from spreading. It’s one of the many reasons that she encourages regular exams. Many of her patients at the Indian Family Health Clinic think that because they feel healthy and don’t have a family history of cancer, they don’t need to be screened. Unfortunately, Native Americans (on average) seek fewer cancer screenings than other races and when they are diagnosed with cancer, it’s often in higher stages because the cancer was not caught early on.

“People say ‘I would know if I had cancer.’ No, you wouldn’t,” Julie contends.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, Julie believes it’s important to remain optimistic. From personal experience, she knows how easy it is to want to feel sorry for yourself, but it doesn’t help the situation; you have to accept it, prepare, and stay positive. Julie smiled as much as she could through her cancer treatment and it was with a smile that she came out on the other side.