Listening to her dad never felt so good: a metaplastic breast cancer survivor’s story

Renee Javonsky with her parents and kids.

Renee Javonsky with her parents and kids.

Renee Janovsky never expected her mammogram to reveal breast cancer. After all, she was simply establishing a baseline at age 40. Instead, in September 2006, following an initial biopsy and tumor review, the diagnosis revealed triple negative metaplastic breast cancer, stage 1 with a high grade – a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. She was referred to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center by her father, Adrian Kramer. He was treated there previously and he insisted that she be treated at U-M.

“At the time, my children were two and four years old, so I had way more life ahead of me. I listened to my dad and went to Ann Arbor,” says Renee.

Lisa Newman, M.D., M.P.H., director of the U-M Breast Care Center, met with Renee, her husband and parents. Renee was immediately put at ease with her knowledge and manner of presenting information. Ten days later, Renee had a lumpectomy.

“Dr. Newman explained that because little was known about tumors that were both triple negative and metaplastic, there was no defined treatment protocol. She recommended chemotherapy and radiation, which is the same protocol for an aggressive non-metaplastic tumor,” Renee recalls.

Jeffrey Smerage, M.D., Ph.D., was her oncologist in the next phase of treatment, when Renee underwent chemotherapy. He too put Renee at ease with his straightforward explanations of recurrence risk and his sense of humor.

“The entire team at U-M, from the blood draw, to the nurses who worked with the physicians to the amazing team that work in the infusion area make you feel comfortable and at ease. Such compassion and caring, without being too “mushy” – they laughed with me each and every time I would have an appointment or treatment,” she says.

Because Renee wanted to get back to work, Dr. Smerage suggested she get daily radiation treatments at a partnering hospital closer to her home in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, so Renee learned to juggle six weeks of daily radiation with her duties as vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus at the Somerset Collection in Troy. She learned to recognize and deal with fatigue and to be patient about letting her body and appearance return to normal.

Renee continued to see Dr. Newman and Dr. Smerage until she reached the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis. She had one question, which she asked often: “When will you tell me this is never, ever coming back?”

Because triple negative metaplastic is such an aggressive form of breast cancer, it typically recurs quickly, so when Renee made it to the five year mark, the chance of recurrence declined dramatically. To her delight, just a few months after her 45th birthday and a full five years post-treatment, Dr. Smerage said though he couldn’t guarantee a recurrence, he felt confident saying she was cancer free.

That night, she posted on Facebook:

Top 3 things I’ve ever heard from a doctor:

  1. It’s a girl
  2. It’s a boy
  3. You are cancer free

There was no genetic test for triple negative breast cancer at the time of her diagnosis, but now there is, and Renee knows she is not passing a risky gene to her children.

Go Pink2“I will be forever grateful to Dr. Newman, Suzanne Post, Dr. Smerage and the countless number of people who helped me beat this cancer. I am here today, living my life, continuing my career and most importantly watching my children grow because of their encouragement, brilliance and spot on treatment plan. And thanks, dad, for great advice,” says Renee.

Take the next step:

  • Renee’s story of courage is being retold in a video to be debuted on Thursday, August 21 at the Somerset Collection in Troy. That’s the setting for “A Night of Fashion,” part of the second annual Maize and Blue Go Pink benefit event. It offers chic shopping and delectable dining to support breast cancer research at the U-M. The benefit is being done in partnership with The Forbes Company, owners of the Somerset Collection. Catherine and Nathan Forbes will roll out the pink carpet for Maize and Blue Go Pink on Thursday, Aug. 21. For more information about Maize and Blue Go Pink or to purchase tickets, visit maizeandbluegopink.com.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.