A Very Special Substitute!

How one Yuba City woman fought back against cancer and won!

By Jake Abbott/ jabbott [at] appealdemocrat [dot] com

Jill Clark, 42, sits in the Rideout Cancer Center courtyard on May 31, where she said she would go during treatment to get some fresh air. Clark will go through her last treatment today before speaking at Rideout’s ninth annual Cancer Survivor Celebration at 6 p.m.

For cancer survivor Jill Clark, today marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Just more than a year since being diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2016, Clark, 42, has successfully battled through the many obstacles associated with beating the disease.

"As a Type-A person, this experience has helped me learn to let a lot of things go," Clark said. "It has helped me realize what's truly important in life and to not let anything stand in my way."

Today, Clark will go undergo her last treatment before being able to put breast cancer behind her.

However, Clark doesn't want to forget about her experiences over the last year. Instead, she wants to help other people going through a similar experience.

"I feel like I got cancer for a reason, so that I could help others and be there for them during their fight," Clark said.

Diagnosed but determined

Clark noticed a lump in one of her breasts last year — what she said felt like a pebble. She wasn't sure what it was at first so she had a physician take a look. An initial MRI scan showed there was something there, but it was still too early to tell if it was cancerous.

Instead of waiting for a report to confirm if she had cancer, she decided to have it removed. Three days later, the report came back and she was told she had stage 1 breast cancer.

"I wasn't really surprised by the news, but my poor husband — we had only been married about nine months at that point — it was like a gut shot for him," Clark said. "I'm the type of person that when I heard, I thought 'OK, let's move forward and get this done. When can I start chemo?'"

The same month Clark was diagnosed she had a partial mastectomy to remove the abnormality. Shortly after, she started treatment at Rideout Cancer Center in Marysville.

"Everyone at the cancer center is awesome. They've all become my friends. Their love and compassion is endless. I cannot begin to tell you how many nurses I cried to, and they either listened or gave me advice. I believe those nurses were put on this earth to do that work, and I'm thankful for them," Clark said.

Clark knew Rideout Cancer Center was the right place for her after she had gone to a consultation at the Stanford Cancer Center in Palo Alto. The treatment program the physician advised she follow was virtually the same program Rideout offered. One added benefit of choosing Rideout was its close proximity to her family and home in Yuba City.

"For instance, there would be days that I would get extremely dehydrated, so I could go to Rideout and be treated then go home that same day. To have to be sick and not be able to be in your own bed, that would be pretty hard. So it's a huge benefit to have a local cancer center. We are lucky," Clark said.

Even with a cancer center just a few miles from home, Clark said every day was a whirlwind.

"We just jumped in and didn't look back," she said. "Every day was different, but I never woke up with a fear of dying or a fear of it coming back."

'Doesn't discriminate'

Clark, who has been in law enforcement for about 20 years, splitting her time between dispatch and patrol, is highly active and treats her body like an athlete would. She would run multiple miles a day and train Crossfit every week.

The hardest part for her during treatment was the fact that her body wouldn't allow her to do the things she was used to enjoying.

"I think the hardest part was getting out of shape and losing my hair," Clark said. "I got to a point where I couldn't even look in a mirror. I thought I was the ideal candidate of someone that shouldn't get cancer, but cancer doesn't discriminate. It was also really hard to have to rely on other people to do things for me."

Still, she didn't let the disease beat her down. She tackled every treatment — a total of six rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation — and treated every day like a celebration.

She would wear a tiara to each session, sometimes even fake mustaches, and her support group of family and friends would wear shirts that would put a smile on her face no matter what she was going through.

Moving forward

Shortly after being diagnosed, Clark was given advice by a therapist that, she said, helped her through the experience. The advice was to start two different journals. One journal focused on gratitude and the second focused on the effects of treatment.

"The first journal helped me be appreciative of what was going on. I remember chemo as a really dark time, but when I went back through my journal it highlighted how beautiful a time it actually was. The second journal really helped give me confidence to battle every day knowing that I had gone through similar experiences before," she said.

Though she plans on going back to her part-time law enforcement job in the next few months — something she had to step away from when she was diagnosed — she wants to continue being a helpful source for others.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help or to lean on others for emotional support. For caregivers, I'd say the most important thing is to just show up. Cancer patients have a hard time asking for something because they don't want to impose, but even just being there with them while they are going through that experience can be enough."

Clark said she plans on wearing her tiara again today as she finishes her treatment at the Rideout Cancer Center.

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday, Rideout is hosting its ninth annual Cancer Survivor Celebration today starting at 6 p.m. at its treatment facility in Marysville. Clark will be one of three survivors who speaks during the event.

Much like how her 10-year-old son, her husband, her family and friends were there for her during her cancer battle, she too wants to be a beacon of light during someone else's dark times.

"I consider myself to have had a lucky experience," Clark said. "I want to give back and help others like those that were there for me."