Jessica Mangir, 26 is a cancer fighter and survivor who was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer last year. One year later, Jess speaks candidly about her experience of illness and the losses and gains along the way. Jess is no stranger to cancer. She was three years-old when her mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer, and was her caretaker at ages seventeen and twenty-four when the cancer returned for a second and third time. Jess lost her younger brother to leukemia in the midst of her own treatment. Despite the pain and setbacks that she has experienced, Jess looks toward the future with hope and determination, finding unwavering support and comfort from her family along the way.
While rates of colon cancer in young adults have been steadily on the rise in the past few years, the symptoms are not immediate red flags to a healthy young person. Jess admits that she didn’t think anything of her symptoms, and likely had cancer for about a year before being diagnosed. Her treatment path began after her and a friend got food poisoning, only Jess never got better. After seeing a gastroenterologist, two different cancers were found in her colon. She had surgery one month later and began planning for her future immediately. Knowing that she wanted to have children later in life, Jess underwent fertility treatments before beginning chemotherapy.
Making Sense of It
Her mother’s example and advice prepared Jess for approaching the treatment process with composure. Jess also credits her wonderful team of physicians and nurses at Lankenau Cancer Center for their comfort and patience after the loss of her brother. Jess explains,
“After my brother died, I was anxious every time I went in to get chemo, because every time I go in, it’s someone else’s last time. I would have to watch someone have their last time…knowing that my brother never got to have his last time. We were going to celebrate that together. I knew I would get better and I would have to do that without him…”
In the midst of this difficult time of loss, Jess had a great support system in both her team of medical professionals and her family. After years of what Jess refers to as “fire drills for cancer,” Jess’s family knew how to support her and helped to ease the burdens of treatment in the face of financial hardship. Despite the setbacks and lingering anxiety that Jess experiences, she has gained perspective through her experience, coming to a deeper understanding of herself and of her relationships to those around her. Jess is the friend who will always provide a truthful reality check. She jokes that her cancer experience has made her a “meaner person,” but her propensity for giving tough love comes from her caring heart and realist mentality.
Advice for the world
If you, like me, have ever wondered how to be a better communicator and supporter of a peer with cancer, Jess has simple advice: show compassion and patience. Jess did not respond to chemotherapy treatments in the way that many might imagine; she experienced no hair loss or outward signs of frailty. We are often informed by the extreme physical representations of cancer seen in film and literature, but Jess reminds us of cancer’s “invisibility” at times. As supporters of our peers with cancer, we as young adults should be attentive to the various ways in which this illness manifests itself. The internal side effects can be equally debilitating without being outwardly evident.
As Jess takes on the daily challenges associated with her symptoms, she has found new and meaningful ways to unite her passions with her cancer experience. After chemotherapy, Jess experienced fogginess and was unable to work. She has since returned to her job teaching SAT and ACT preparatory classes, as she pursues other teaching opportunities at the college level. Jess explains, “Because I’m in academia, I’ve found myself interested in different topics than I used to be since I had cancer…I’ve been much more inclined to talk about it in academic settings.” After graduating from Cabrini College, Jess went on to earn her Master’s degree in English from Arcadia University and is now finding ways to incorporate her cancer experience with her lifelong passion for literature. She is increasingly interested in exploring what she refers to as “the invisible aftermath of cancer.” In doing so, she aspires to return to Cabrini, where she would like to teach first-year students about “people who are differently-abled in invisible ways,” as she helps these students cultivate their writing skills.
Jess joined YACC to meet other survivors and to share with them the experiences of this invisible aftermath. She hopes to gain a sense of community, while sharing with others both the triumphs and frustrations associated with cancer treatment. Jess is now in the process of learning whether or not she is in remission, a common reality of colon cancer which is characteristically slow-moving. In the midst of this liminal state, Jess maintains her perspective as she boldly expresses, “It sucked having cancer, but that was six months of my life…my mom taught me that.” The YACC community is exceedingly grateful to have Jess as a panelist for our upcoming Cancervention as she shares her narrative of survival and endurance through adversity.