As Jeni Lloyd recounted the ups and downs of her life, I was reminded of an old children’s book called “Fortunately…”
Fortunately, Jeni was a talented young artist from Rhode Island, who was attending the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. Unfortunately, Jeni was mugged at gunpoint in her first semester and withdrew from the city school.
Fortunately, she ended up traveling around Europe, and was excited to apply to art school in Austria. Unfortunately, that plan fell through. Fortunately, that was because she fell in love with Thom Lloyd, married him, moved to Maine, and had two beautiful daughters. Unfortunately, Jeni had to find work, but she also wanted to be home with her girls.
Fortunately, Mary Kay Cosmetics was recruiting consultants. Unfortunately, Jeni neither wore nor liked makeup. Fortunately, she discovered that there was a lot more to the job than meets the eye — a huge diversity of women, an artistic outlet that made people happy, a down-to-earth “Maine” approach to makeup and skin care that let her be who she was. She excelled in the job. A year later, said Jeni, “I was driving a pink Cadillac up north with a canoe on the roof.”
Unfortunately, in her mid-30s, Jeni developed a highly lethal breast cancer. Fortunately, that was six years ago, and today she is healthier than ever. She has also become a tireless advocate for cancer education and support services, and is now in her second year working with Healthcare Charities of Maine.
In honor of breast cancer awareness month, Jeni agreed to share her story.
“None of my life makes sense,” she laughed when I remarked at some of the more divergent moments in her history. Somehow, though, Jeni has taken every pitfall and found a way out — not just surviving, but thriving and pulling others along on her upward-looking path.
In her mid-30s, Jeni detected something unusual in her right breast. Over the next year and a half, testing found nothing of concern, until one day Jeni discovered a grape-sized lump. Within a week, she had a biopsy and surgery, and heard the heart-dropping news that no one ever hopes to hear. Her cancer was HER2/neu positive, a very aggressive form of cancer with a low five-year survival rate.
Jeni struggled with anxiety and depression as she went through chemotherapy. The experimental Herceptin treatment was not yet FDA approved at that time, so at first she was not eligible to receive it.
“Then they told me I was approved to receive Herceptin through ‘compassionate care,’” said Jeni, “which basically meant that since I was going to die anyway it couldn’t hurt me. … I begged to be a guinea pig.”
In September 2006, Jeni finished her year on Herceptin.
“As long as I showed up and the medicine went in, I felt safe. … It was scary to stop.” Six years later, Jeni is feeling great, but the experience changed her focus.
Jeni had done extremely well in her Mary Kay business. She was in the running to become a national leader, and got an invitation to visit company headquarters in Texas. But Jeni thought of her daughters.
“I’m not missing anything with my kids, no matter if they never ask me again.”
She kept up her local business, but found that she didn’t care about achievement anymore.
“What mattered to me was the confusion in the cancer world,” she said.
Jeni began volunteering, especially working in cancer education and support services. It wasn’t long before her business skills and her charisma made her a prominent local advocate for cancer causes. In March 2010, Jeni went professional when Healthcare Charities of Maine hired her to run a fundraising event that August. She accepted, and raised more than $100,000. In 2011, the same event raised more than $230,000, “and it all goes to research that is done locally at CancerCare of Maine. It is so nice not to have to go out of state for trials and treatment.”
One thing Jeni especially appreciates about her new position is that she works on all kinds of cancer awareness, not just breast cancer.
“October is also liver cancer awareness month, but you don’t hear about that,” said Jeni. She hopes to expand education and awareness of many forms of cancer, and keep resources local whenever possible.
There is something captivating about Jeni Lloyd. You might have sensed it even hearing her voice on the radio; you certainly feel it in her presence. I asked about the difficulty of seeing tragedy and suffering, both inevitable parts of her work.
“I have flung that door wide open,” she said. It is her openness to the entire human experience, perhaps, that gives Jeni that sparkle. Her presence is filled with compassion, fueled by gratitude for the opportunity to offer hope and reassurance to others.
READER ALERT Do you have any “Thanksgiving in Maine” stories or special traditions?
Send them to Robin for possible inclusion in a special edition Thanksgiving column on Nov. 18. Send to 20 Summer St. Hampden 04444, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.