In 2002 Connie Jenkins was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent treatment, recovered, and was believed to be cancer-free. So it came as an unwelcome shock when in 2015 she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
“I felt like that wasn’t fair,” Connie says. She’d just retired and was now back in the fight of her life.
In order to remove the cancer, Connie had to undergo a radical hysterectomy. Her tumor was 27cm and had metastasized. Doctors found a tumor on her colon and a spot on her liver that had to be removed as well. To make matters worse, the test results from Connie’s tumor biopsy revealed that she had Stage 4 sarcoma (an uncommon group of cancers which arise in bones, muscle, and connective tissue). She had to have 26 treatments of radiation and 24 treatments of chemo.
“My surgeon, Dr. Santin, told me that I had a mean cancer,” says Connie, “but I beat it.”
Connie feels she has a new chance at life now and she’s doing everything in her power to prevent cancer from returning again. For one, she is more mindful of what is in her food.
“I’m trying to eat a proper diet to keep cancer away,” she says. “I’m taking medicine and natural things that help the body too. And I’m staying away from diet pop.”
That last one has been particularly hard for Connie, but it’s all worth it if she stays healthy. Surviving cancer twice and getting this opportunity to enjoy retirement is a blessing to her, and Connie’s community of Fort Benton is thankful as well.
Connie is well-known for having a big heart and dedicating time to community fundraisers, projects, and celebrations. When she beat cancer the second time, the town held a benefit to help Connie with her medical costs. The event was titled “Connie Jenkins Celebrates Life” and the City Council proclaimed the day “Connie Jenkins Day.”
According to Deb Figarelle, her colon cancer diagnosis was hardest on her family. As a registered nurse, Deb knew what to expect and how to fight it. For her family, there were more unknowns.
“My husband was in the military. My kids still are. At the time, my daughter was getting ready for deployment but she said she wanted to stay with me,” Deb explains. “I said, ‘You go fight your battle. I’ll fight mine.’”
Though Deb’s battle with cancer was no easy feat, Deb notes that she has been very lucky. Her cancer almost went unnoticed.
“I needed a prescription refilled but my nurse practitioner insisted I have a physical first,” says Deb. “When I went in, I explained to the doctor that I had been having stomach aches. They gave me the option to have a colonoscopy. I thought, ‘why not?’ just to be safe.”
The results of the colonoscopy revealed a tumor that would need to be surgically removed. Deb was rushed into surgery and the tumor was sent to pathology. Two days later, Deb was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
“My family was more upset than I was,” says Deb. “I took it as it came.”
Deb had sick days and vacation saved up so she was able to take some time off to focus on getting better. After months of chemo, she was cancer free.
“My husband went and hugged the nurse practitioner who made me get a physical,” says Deb. “She saved my life.”
Deb and her husband went into retirement for a time, but eventually Deb went back into nursing.
“In a way it was kind of a blessing that I got cancer,” she explains. “Before that, intensive care was all I knew. After I retired, I moved to Fort Benton and worked for the health department and clinic. It was a new avenue.”
For the past five years, Deb has worked at the Benefis Walk-in Clinic in Great Falls and she absolutely loves it.
“Cancer couldn’t stop me,” she says.