Breast Cancer Patient Achieves Her Dreams Thanks to Dana-Farber Care 

Written by: Dana-Farber Editorial Team

When Jennifer Fullerton was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, her mind immediately went to the worst-case scenario.

“I thought I was going to die. That first day all I could think was ‘why me,’” Fullerton says. “My mom very poignantly told me, ‘Today you can say ‘why me,’ but tomorrow, ‘why not me’. And you are going to beat this.’ I never have forgotten those words.”

Indeed, the breast cancer experts at Dana-Farber gave the newly married veterinarian from Bermuda the confidence to imagine a future that, 15 years later, has turned out to be all that she dreamed of. 

‘They’re expecting your call’

In one whiplash week in 2007, Fullerton’s life turned upside down. She detected a large lump in her right breast on October 3. The next day she had an ultrasound and mammogram. The following Monday, she had a core biopsy and on October 9 — the day after her 29th birthday — she learned that she had breast cancer. 

Fullerton was reeling from the news. Her doctor in Bermuda scheduled her for a lumpectomy the following week, but one of the veterinarians she worked for counseled her to seek a second opinion.

“He told me, ‘I’ve already called Dana-Farber. You need to speak to the international office. Here’s the number. They’re expecting your call,’” she says.  

The following week Fullerton flew to Boston for her first appointment with Erica Mayer, MD, MPH, director of clinical research for Dana-Farber’s Breast Oncology Program.

“I felt safe with her,” Fullerton says. “She talked to me about my life 10 years down the road. The fact that she kept talking to me in such a positive way gave me a huge amount of confidence right off the bat.” 

Jennifer Fullerton
Jennifer Fullerton

Mayer discussed with Fullerton not only the treatment plan for Fullerton’s stage III breast cancer, but also her family plans. After a double mastectomy, axillary lymph-node removal and breast reconstruction, Fullerton went through a round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to preserve embryos for when she and her husband, Marc, were ready to try to have children. 

Fullerton started flying back and forth to Boston every two weeks for chemotherapy, followed by six and a half weeks of radiation.

“Dana-Farber has set the standard of medical care for me,” she says. “It’s the care you receive from the moment you walk through the door. They’re the kindest people, and they always look you in the eye. When you’ve been that person that nobody wants to be caught staring at, it makes a huge difference when someone looks you in the eye and smiles at you. They know how to make you feel comfortable and looked after.”

The long game 

By the end of May 2008, Fullerton was ready to transition to a long-term treatment regimen. Dr. Mayer had discovered that Fullerton was positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, which increases the risk of multiple tumor types, especially breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. 

Fullerton started a five-year regimen of tamoxifen, a drug given to many patients — especially premenopausal patients — with breast cancers that express the estrogen receptor, which drives breast tumor growth. Because of the BRCA2 diagnosis, Fullerton also started a five-year regimen of Lupron, putting her into a menopause state and augmenting the efficacy of tamoxifen.

Over those years, Fullerton became a partner in the veterinary clinic where she worked.

“I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 10 or 11, and I used to come to this very hospital to watch them doing surgery through the operating room window,” she says.

Weekly physical therapy helped her regain some strength and range of motion on her right side. 

As the five-year mark approached, Fullerton and her husband were ready to start their family, and she stopped the lupron and tamoxifen. Her son Jack was born in April 2014. The next three years were difficult ones, with lost pregnancies and Fullerton’s mother passing away from ALS. But in December 2017, Fullerton gave birth to twin boys: Burke and Bennett. 

Soon after, before her 40th birthday, she had her ovaries removed as prescribed by Dr. Mayer as a precaution due to the BRCA2 mutation.

“Dr. Mayer is a hero for me,” Fullerton says. “She saved my life.”

Fullerton and her children Jack, Burke, and Bennett. 
Fullerton and her children Jack, Burke, and Bennett. 

Dana-Farber’s recently opened Center for BRCA and Related Genes is now helping patients like Fullerton with comprehensive clinical care for patients with BRCA1/2 or other similar mutations, regardless of tumor type. Mayer is among the team of specialists working closely together to offer patients the latest therapies and clinical services, including access to innovative clinical trials.

“We are so thrilled with Jennifer’s progress over the past 15 years; despite facing adversity, she has persevered and done extremely well,” Mayer says. “She has set a wonderful example of balancing effective cancer therapy with achieving her personal and professional goals. Research continues in Dana-Farber’s Breast Oncology Center to help young women like Jennifer have children after breast cancer treatment and pursue healthy cancer survivorship.”

‘Breast cancer hasn’t stopped me from achieving my dreams’

These days, Fullerton and her family are very much on the go. She now owns the veterinary clinic.

“Marc runs the business side of it so that I can be a vet and devote my time to doing what I love to do,” she says.

On a recent clinic day she performed not one but two emergency C-sections to deliver litters of puppies. The family loves to spend time out on the water and visiting with relatives all over the island. 

Over the past year, Fullerton has worked with a healthy habits coach to resume her hobby of running and lost 42 pounds. “I’m stronger and healthier than I have ever been,” she says. Jack is following in his mother’s footsteps as a runner; they just completed a 5K together — although 8-year-old Jack has proved to be much faster than his mom.

“Breast cancer hasn’t stopped me from achieving my dreams,” Fullerton says. “I have a beautiful family that I always wanted and for a while questioned whether I would ever have. I own the veterinary hospital by myself. I think my cancer experience gave me the confidence to achieve more and an appreciation of life that I might not have had otherwise.” 

1 thought on “Breast Cancer Patient Achieves Her Dreams Thanks to Dana-Farber Care ”

  1. You have no idea how much reading your story has helped me today. After seeing my radiation oncologist today and hearing her say the cells could be in my blood stream, I have been devastated.
    Your story has given me some hope. Congrats on your life, your family, and lastly, for beating cancer!
    Thank you for sharing.

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