In a way, breast cancer is responsible for turning Jennifer’s hair midnight blue.
Jennifer May always had been a strawberry blonde, even though she secretly envied those women who were courageous enough to have “fun-colored” hair.
But at age 40, May was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost her hair during her treatment. May saw her bald head as a clean slate.
“I said when it started to grow back that I was going to color it a fun color,” she recalled. “I don’t know if my family believed me or not.”
May’s first post-cancer haircut was in December.
“We went with a purple color,” she said. “… It was fine to get my feet wet. It’s like when you hear people talk about getting a tattoo, that once you get the first one, you want more. Once I had the color, I wanted to go bolder.”
Over the summer, May experimented with pastels, shades of purple and fuchsia before settling on midnight blue.
“They know me pretty well at the local Sally (Beauty Supply) store,” May joked.
May, now 42, lives in Washington Township with her best friend, John, whom she married 18 years ago. The Marlington High School graduate, mother to 21-year-old Vince and grandmother to 2½-year-old Armoni, is a 16-year veteran at Diebold Nixdorf where she works as a materials analyst.
Since she was in her mid-30s, May has been tested annually for breast cancer. Her mother had been diagnosed with the deadly disease around 2001, so she wanted to try to detect any tumor as soon as possible.
She was nearly due for her next mammogram in 2015 when May discovered a lump on her breast while in the shower. Her doctor, Russell L. Ramey of Mercy Medical Center, said the lump didn’t fit the traditional profile for cancer because May said it was painful. But it was fast growing—nearly doubling in size in a few weeks—so he wanted to test the tissue to be sure.
May remembers answering Dr. Ramey’s phone call on February 12, 2015. She had been at work when he said the word “cancer.”
“That was a tough phone call,” she said. “Needless to say, I went right home.”
A series of difficult phone calls followed as May told her parents (who live out of state) and her brother (who lives in Columbus) and other loved ones near and far.
“I told them I’m going to be fine and I felt really good about my doctor and we were going to get treatment right away,” she said.
Her mother wanted to join her for the first chemotherapy treatment, but May insisted that she wait to visit until Easter.
“You shouldn’t have to see me like that,” May told her.
The day after her diagnosis, May underwent genetic testing to determine whether she possessed one of the genes that has been linked to breast cancer.
The results, which showed she did possess the gene, cemented her decision to have both breasts removed.
“I was glad that I had that information, so I could feel comfortable that I was doing something that hopefully was going to prevent any recurrence and that I wasn’t doing something extreme that I didn’t necessarily need to do,” she said.
In hopes of shrinking the tumor before surgery, May received 15 rounds of cancer-killing drugs between March and August. Three surgeries followed—a double mastectomy in September 2015, a hysterectomy in December and breast reconstruction in April.
Following May’s double mastectomy, her insurance company notified her that it would cover the cost of removing one of her breasts—but not for the removal of the other.
“They called it a duplicate charge,” May said an awkward phone call to the insurance company cleared up the confusion.
“I told them, ‘I promise they won’t be an issue anymore, but you gotta pay for the other one,’ ” May recalled. “… You just have to laugh about it.”
May, who celebrated one year of being cancer-free in September, now takes fewer things for granted.
“You may have scars, whether they are emotional or physical, but the most important thing you can do is appreciate life and that we get to live it. Because not everybody does.”