Jennifer Thorn has worked hard her whole life running a family law practice and raising her family, but in April 2021, just as she began to enjoy her success, she faced a new challenge.
After experiencing pain while lying on her side, Thorn, 48, of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, visited her primary care physician who ordered bloodwork and scans, eventually determining that Thorn had late-stage ovarian cancer. Thorn knew she wanted to seek treatment at Dana-Farber because of its reputation as a leading cancer treatment center, and scheduled an appointment with Joyce Liu, MD, MPH, associate chief and director of Clinical Research in the Gynecologic Oncology Program at the Institute.
For Thorn, the road was rough from the start. She followed the recommended regimen of carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy, but it was quickly found that her cancer was not responding to the regimen, unusual for cancers like hers.
“My mom says I’m special,” Thorn jokes.
Liu and her team quickly moved to another treatment — carboplatin and gemcitabine — for Thorn’s cancer.
“Spoiler alert: it worked. I’m still here,” says Thorn, reflecting on this transition.
The treatment shrunk her cancer enough for it to be resected by surgeons, who also removed her ovaries, parts of her intestines, and her spleen, and created a stoma, an opening in the belly area that allows waste to leave the body.
After two years of treatment, Thorn has plenty of wisdom to share. From small things, like avoiding using the internet for medical advice — “Nothing good can come from that,” she says. “Go to your doctor.” — to the more essential recommendation to hold onto hope.
“You got to get up every day and put your best foot forward,” she says.
Thorn, who now intimately understands the gift of life, finds joy even through her continuing gemcitabine treatments and the associated side effects. Thorn has even found humor in her survivorship, nicknaming her stoma Sally, and characterizing it as a grouchy sidekick. The fact that she can laugh about this radical adjustment is a sign of acceptance, she says.
Her care team has been with her through her challenges. “[Jenn] has had bumps in her treatment and she has taken that in stride,” says Becky Bowler, AGNP-C, a nurse practitioner in the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Dana-Farber. “We’re proud of her.”
Liu is also fond of Thorn. “Jenn’s resilience and positivity are a gift,” she says. “It is such a privilege to be her oncologist.”
Thorn had always thrown herself into her work, striving for excellence. But after her diagnosis, she realized there is value in balancing work with family. These days, she spends just as much time taking her daughter, an aspiring actor and writer, to workshops in Los Angeles, attending her son’s lacrosse games at Bentley University, and walking her dogs with her husband as she does in the courthouse.
“My diagnosis has changed my priorities,” she explains. “I have to focus on things that I might not be around to do.”