With Jane Armentor
by Nicole LaCour
Fighting cancer changes your life. From the day the doctor gives you the diagnosis, things get weird. Maybe it’s looking forward to having strange chemicals put into your body and being disappointed when your white cell count is low and you have to skip a session. Maybe it’s laughing with your daughter in the wig room at Miles Perret as you try on different styles. Maybe it’s finding yourself wishing you had a more commonplace cancer, so you had someone to talk about it with. Maybe it’s the numbness in your feet and wearing shoes that you used to make fun of when your mom wore them. It’s drastically changing your diet and appreciating spring like you never have before. It’s having a party to shave your head and scheduling a rotation of friends and family who refuse to let you go to chemotherapy alone. Fighting and living with cancer brings weird things into your life.
Jane Armentor is used to things being a little weird. When she began college at USL in 1975, everyone thought she had a weird accent. She landed in Lafayette by way of a couple of years in England by way of eight years in Iran. “I loved it there,” she remembers. “In the winter, the snow would start at the top of the mountains and by the time it snowed in town, the mountains were covered in white. It was beautiful.” But an unusual childhood didn’t prepare her for hearing the news that she had stage IV pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to her liver. Jane had coaxed the initial news out of her doctor on the phone while she was at work. A lifetime smoker, Jane went to her car and reached for her habitual comfort.
“I get into the car, I have this news. I didn’t call anybody. I lit a cigarette and I as I started to leave, I said out loud to myself, ‘Really, Jane? You just found out you have cancer and you’re going to smoke a cigarette?’ I threw it out of the window and that’s the last one I’ve ever had.”
Her doctor told her with or without treatment she would probably only have 3-6 months to live. That was 15 months ago. Seeing Jane today, sporting her stylish, short do, taking part in MPCS’s MilesStrong program, planning beach trips and a Bette Midler concert, you see a woman who personifies survival. Jane is fighting, surviving and living with cancer.
It took her a little while to come to MPCS. She kept thinking she didn’t have time, until her daughter and friends urged her. “They drove me crazy, asking me, ‘When are you going to do something for you?’ So, I finally came. Coming to Miles Perret is a way to do something for me. I love it here.”
When Jane was first diagnosed she felt a need to connect with someone who had the same kind of cancer that she has. Since hers is rare, she found herself with a rather weird envy of people with more common cancers. She wanted to connect with someone who understood what she was going through. When she finally came to MPCS, she found something even better. “When I retired and I could finally come here, I thought I was searching for someone with the same type of cancer as me. What I found was really beautiful people with all types of cancer. That’s what I was really searching for. I was searching for togetherness and the bonds you share and their experience, strength and hope. You have that bond and connection with men and women who have struggled with something.”
Here, Jane meets people in all stages of the fight; just diagnosed, receiving treatment, just finishing treatment and long-time survivors. And all of them supporting each other every step of the way.
Support is something everyone needs when cancer makes your life weird. Having a sister who’s a nurse has been a blessing, Jane said. “When Sally talks, they listen.” Her friends, daughter and sister never allow her to go to one treatment alone, even though she sleeps through most of them. “We have lunch before or after. We go to the gift shop and get a little flair. I know they talk about me behind my back but that’s ok,” Jane laughed.
Perhaps the weirdest thing about cancer is the positive ways it changes your life. “I appreciate everything so much more,” she said. “The leaves on the trees. Right now everything is blossoming. If I want to have marshmallows in my hot chocolate, I’m gonna have them. I might even put four marshmallows in my organic hot chocolate.”
When Jane returned to the doctor who gave her the original prognosis, she said he was in shock. He walked into the room to check on her medi-port. “He was almost giddy. He kept saying, ‘I can’t believe how good you look, I just can’t believe it.’” They looked at her original scan together, both amazed at how well she was surviving.
Jane’s diagnosis means she will be fighting and living with cancer for a long time. Facing your mortality has its own weirdness. “I made a bucket list for last year. I have one for this year.” With plans for the beach, to see Bette Midler, to visit an aunt in Oklahoma and grandkids in Austin, Jane said she’s booked until June. And then it’s time to make a new list. At 58, it’s pretty weird to plan your life in 6-month intervals. With a healthy glow, great sense of humor and comfortable shoes, Jane is enjoying life one bucket list at time.