“To know Jenn is to love her,” said Jenn Bohlander’s friend Colleen Pirozzi. From traveling to Antarctica twice in her role as Scientific Programmer at University of Colorado Boulder and receiving the Congressional Antarctic Service Medal for her work there, to completing several marathons and a triathlon, Jenn’s list of accomplishments is notable.
In addition, “she is first to offer a hand or sign up to help” for those in need said Colleen. Jenn has been a longtime volunteer for organizations including Meals on Wheels, The Green Chair Project, and Gigi’s Playhouse.
Most importantly, she is devoted to her family. Prior to living in NC, Jenn lived in Colorado where she met and married her husband, Brad, and had their amazing daughter Lauren.
And, in the summer of 2018, Jenn’s journey with lung cancer began.
Jenn loved running, but she started experiencing a cough after she’d finish a run. It was no big deal, but by the fall the cough was keeping her awake at night. Her doctor thought it might be allergies, but allergy medicine didn’t make a difference. Thanks to a good and caring primary care provider who wouldn’t give up trying to find an answer, a chest x-ray ultimately led to a chest CT in December 2018, and that was the first mention of possible cancer.
The next step was a bronchoscopy to get tissue samples; the samples were negative. But, reviewing the results, Jenn noticed most of the samples taken were not useable and asked her pulmonologist about the results. The pulmonologist wasn’t convinced, so ordered a more intense surgical biopsy. Four months after the initial CT scan, the biopsy results were ready, and Jenn – who did not smoke, was in good shape and was still overall healthy and strong – was told she had Stage IV lung cancer. Like many otherwise healthy people who receive a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis, the news was a shock.
The last four years since then have included ongoing treatments ranging from targeted chemotherapy pills to immunotherapy and now intravenous chemo every three to four weeks. Since the cancer is treatable but not curable, the approach to the treatments is to try and balance longevity and quality of life. The cancer metastasized to her brain which has led to targeted radiation treatments and a traditional (and scary) surgery to remove necrotic brain tissue. The cancer metastasized to her sternum twice and to her lower back once; radiation effectively treated these lesions.
Life looks much different now for Jenn, and her family. Treatments are tough, not feeling well is common, traveling is often difficult, and needing more rest more often is common. She’s had to stop working. Jenn cannot run any more, but enjoys walking and getting other exercise when she can. Her perspective has changed on what matters most and she loves spending more time enjoying family and friends, especially spending all of the time she can with her 20-year-old daughter. Jenn has grown in her faith and trust in God, and even through the pain and trials of terminal cancer, she has experienced much peace, joy and love. She is thankful for every day she has and every person in her life.
Jenn’s story is becoming more and more common as an increasing number of people who have quit smoking and people who have never smoked are being diagnosed with lung cancer. Many people are not aware that even if you don’t smoke and exercise regularly—if you have lungs you can get lung cancer! That’s why she’s an advocate for the broad availability of early screening scans and other methods that can lung cancer in its earlier stages when it can still be treated.