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Writing the Punchline

An eternal optimist, Jessica believes there is good in every situation, and seeks to help others find that good, in their own way, in their own lives, every day — even in the face of a cancer diagnosis. Jessica was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 1, 2016 at age 32. At that time she received two important pieces of advice: come at your diagnosis from a place of healing and develop a mantra to help you through the tough times. This advice contributed to her journey in ways she can’t fully articulate but summarizes today as: #bettereveryday. Bringing that mindset to life, Jessica and her husband Reed have co-founded the 501c3 non-profit organization #bettereveryday, which is dedicated to providing support, resources and inspiration to cancer patients and those closest to them.

Wonder Elsa and her Mom walk into a church…

It’s not the start of a bad joke. These are the real events of the day of my last chemo.

I don’t hold anything against the grandmother and granddaughter who quickly excused themselves when they saw us enter the otherwise empty church to give our thanks. I mean, here I was, walking into the holiest of places in an Elsa wig and a Wonder Woman shirt -- with a cape. Looking back, Wonder Elsa was the most extreme of my superhero costumes. I really had saved the best for last and I was pulling it off in a seriously intimidating way, if I do say so myself. Evidence below…

That wasn’t Wonder Elsa’s only appearance that day. I also hit up our jam-packed small-town bakery and the IR department at the hospital for a quick pic line installation (and pictures with doctors and nurses who found the whole get-up quite hilarious) before heading in for treatment.

The worst joke ever.

Looking back, the events of that day were kind of fitting. After all, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32 — on April 1, 2016. Talk about a bad April Fools’ Day joke.

The irony I find in this story now is that when I was age 6 I wouldn’t leave the house if my socks didn’t match my underwear. I was that kind of OCD. And here I was wearing this total get-up — walking into a church of all places.

Cancer does that to you. And by “that” I don’t mean “make terrible fashion decisions.” I mean “pushes your own limits” and makes you think “Why not?” And for that, I’ll be forever thankful.

Gladly becoming the punchline.

The day of my first treatment – the day of each of my four chemo treatments, actually – I received a care package from my team at work. The first box really set the tone. It was chock full of amazing, thoughtful things including a pair of superhero socks, with capes. Strangely, I was surprised my first thought was “I am going to wear these to my treatment” and not “Surely I can’t be expected to wear these without any matching superhero underwear…” but alas, I did wear them to that treatment.

And I wore similar crazy socks and get ups to every treatment from that point forward.

Why? Just like a superhero that puts on a cape can do anything, when I wore the socks, I also felt like I could do anything. Not because I had the innate ability to see if people's socks matched their underwear (#superherogoals) but because when I had the socks on people didn’t look at me with pity in their eyes because I was a young person with cancer. Instead, they smiled, laughed, complimented my socks and asked me questions like “that obnoxious rainbow bob isn’t your REAL hair, is it?"

Truly exemplifying how cancer had changed me, I can honestly say I wish I could have said yes. And these conversations – while seemingly small – gave me the strength I needed to get through treatment days. Even if some times I was the literal punchline of looks or jokes.

Sharing the joy.

For all these reasons, when I finished my treatment I wanted to pay forward the love and strength. A friend of mine and I decided to fundraise to make our own chemo care packages. We set a goal of 20. We earned enough to make 100. And we didn’t stop there. Today, through our not-for- profit organization #bettereveryday we have distributed more than 420 care packages (each with a pair of superhero socks) to chemo patients in 31 different states — and we’re just getting started.

When you’re going through something like cancer, you can draw inspiration and strength from a number of places – some unexpected.

My recommendation is to embrace your inner Wonder Elsa -- you never know where she might take you.

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