Jenny Samson Morgan was only 36 when she found a lump in her breast while doing a self-breast exam at her Mid-Missouri home. Even though her doctors reassured her that 90 percent of these type of lumps were non-cancerous, she couldn’t rest easy.
Only a few years earlier her husband, James, found out that he had a golf ball size tumor on his pituitary gland. Although it turned out to be benign, she was definitely no stranger to the fear, worry and “what ifs” that can become so powerful when faced with the unknown.
“I was prepared to continue to deal with James’ ongoing health issues but definitely not my own cancer diagnosis,” Morgan said.
After finding the lump in January, she underwent an ultrasound and biopsy at Jefferson City Medical Group and then learned she had Stage 2 breast cancer. After a double mastectomy at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia she started chemotherapy in March and was finished with her treatments in July.
“I thought this process would take forever but it went by really fast,” said Morgan, who underwent 21 weeks of chemotherapy at the Harry S. Truman Memorial VA Hospital in Columbia.
Morgan chronicled her experiences on her blog, www.jennymorgan.me, and also posted links onto her two Facebook pages, including Jenny Samson Morgan is a Rock Star, which so far has more than 3,000 “Likes”.
“My husband James set up my domain and the blog helped me keep everyone updated on what was going on in my life and my treatments,” Morgan said.
Candid and honest, her entry on the day she shaved all of her hair was reposted on The Huffington Post, a national blog, covering entertainment, health, style, technology and politics.
“My hair grows really slow and that was the longest my hair had ever been when I shaved it off,” she Morgan, who took that step rather than watch it slowly fall out.
Seeing how her story could touch others, she decided to use social media to spread awareness about the importance of self breast exams in the early detection of breast cancer. To do this, she plans on breaking the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest group of women performing a simultaneous self breast exam. The current record is 380.
“Between being uncomfortable, hot flashes, steroids and having to go to the bathroom every couple of hours, I was constantly waking up in the middle of the night and I found myself coming up with all sorts of ideas,” she said.
“Normally in the morning when I’m thinking rationally, I would dismiss most of these ideas, but the one to set the world record for simultaneous self breast exams was a good one and would motivate more women to do a self breast exams.”
Her friend Kay Holterman along with her Aunt Darlene Massman, who was diagnosed with breast cancer a month after her, are helping organize what they’re calling “Doe’s Night Out – The Breast Party in Town,” which falls on the first weekend of deer season and will be held on November 15 at the Community Center in Loose Creek.
Morgan has to follow many rules and guidelines to make the event official, including having nurses from Ellis Fischel Cancer Center serve as the required expert witnesses.
They will be selling tickets to the event and all of the money raised will go to the Community Breast Care Project, a not-for-profit foundation providing educational, financial and emotional support for Mid Missouri women.
That included Morgan who was raised in Westphalia and attended Fatima High School. After two years at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, she joined the Navy in the fall of 98 as a nuclear machinist mate. Four years later, she became a photographer’s mate, where she gathered intelligence and documented every day life aboard the ship.
After being discharged from the Navy, she finished school at Linn State Technical College and went to work as a radiation protection technician at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant near Raleigh, NC.
She met her husband, a web architect, in Raleigh and they got married in August of 2008. Two years later, they had their son, Carson, now 4-years-old, and it was around this time that James began losing his vision. Eventually he went to the doctor and found out that he had a pituitary tumor. He had surgery and then took a job at Dell in Austin, Tx. and the family entered a new chapter in their lives, only to have the tumor return and grow to the same size.
“James had another surgery but we decided that we needed to be closer to family in case it returns again,” Morgan said.
Their daughter, Millie, 2, was born in August of 2011 and eventually in the spring of last year they returned to Jefferson City.
James now works out of his home as the CTO and web developer for a company in Indiana. A stay-at-home mom, Morgan was enjoying spending time with their kids at their home off of Route C near Lohman. Then she found the lump. Her mother, Arlene Samson, who works in bookkeeping at the Westphalia Vineyard has been a huge help during her treatment process.
“I received money from the Community Breast Care Project and also another small charity, The Jamie Effect, and I realized that these small organizations make a huge difference for people going through treatments,” she said. “I started learning about other organizations that provide family vacations, flights to out of town hospitals for treatments, family portraits, and all sorts of things for cancer patients.”
She also learned that many of these small organizations were founded by someone who had cancer in the past.
“These people inspired me to come up with a mission. And after I did, I found out that this journey could actually be something that I could enjoy,” Morgan said. “Not trying to downplay cancer, because it is horrible, but I found myself in a situation where I could do something that helped others and me to focus on something other than my next doctor’s appointment.”
While the chemotherapy is over, it will take a while for her energy level to return to normal. An active family, they ride bikes on the Katy Trail and travel a lot with Carson who races on the Bicycle Motorcross, BMX. He’s just won a big race in Lincoln, Neb., and his sister has started riding the “whoops” (hills) on a strider on the small racing path they built in their back yard.
For now, Morgan rests up for her upcoming reconstructive surgery. After her mastectomy, the doctors insert water-balloons under the skin, and then they take a needle and inject saline in them that stretches the skin, creating a pocket for an eventual implant.
“At least I’m getting boobs out of this,” said Morgan, who has always been small chested.
She also submitted a video for Dancing with the Stars’ Mark Ballas, who had invited women to write in about why they were “Incredible” to be chosen to appear in his music video for his single, “Miss Incredible,” released in early August. The taping for his music video will be in Hollywood.
“I don’t dance but I feel like my experience and my efforts to spread the word about self breast exams and educate all women is pretty incredible,” she said.
Morgan’s efforts and posts have gained momentum, too, and women and men from throughout the U.S. have responded with encouragement.
“When I first came up with the idea to try to get on Dancing with the Stars, I definitely received some are-you-crazy looks. But I had it in my head that this could be the way to reach millions of people,” she said.
“Even if I don’t end up on the show, I still have reached thousands of people, which is a lot more than I would have if I had done nothing.”
She recently heard from a girl from London who had just started her chemotherapy. Doing some research, the woman had Googled “Shaving My Head for Chemo” and up popped a link to Morgan’s blog reposted on The Huffington Post.
“She’s also 36 with two young children and found a lump through a self breast exam,” Morgan said. “It seems like we were destined to meet.”
“Every time someone tells me they’ve done a self breast exam or that I’ve inspired them in some way that just confirms that I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing,” Morgan said.
November 15, 2014, at 6:00 pm at the Loose Creek Community Center
For more info on the Doe’s Night Out event, visit doesnight.eventbee.com
To read Jenny Samson Morgan’s blog, visit www.jennymorgan.me
Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Jenny-Samson-Morgan-is-a-Rock-Star/1430388470570920
(Photos for this story by Kris Wilson unless otherwise noted.)