Jessica Stewart. Determined to beat Breast Cancer while making a difference in other people's lives.
TORRINGTON: To understand what makes Jessica Stewart tick, you’ll just need to read the next couple of paragraphs.
Stewart and I serve on the Fit Together Steering Committee, a group centered in Torrington that does a remarkable amount of behind the scenes work in our schools and communities, helping them towards a goal of living active and healthy lives through education and training.
One day, before a recent monthly meeting, we were discussing an idea I had about getting shoes for some of our grammar school children who participated in the Torrington Kidsmarathon the year before in less than desirable footwear.
I was going to put word out to the community seeing if anyone was willing to donate new or
gently used sneakers that we could get to the kids in need.
Little did I know that I had sparked something that comes so naturally to Stewart; helping others.
Within minutes after the conclusion of the meeting, Stewart had reached out to folks that she knew, and the shoe drive was off and running.
44 pairs of shoes and a private $500-dollar donation later, we had exceeded any and all expectations, another Stewart strength.
Her reaction and drive were remarkable. She had heard of an issue and felt she could do something about it and did something about it, in a big way.
Jessica Stewart is clearly a person who loves doing for others before herself, but a recent diagnosis has put her in a unique situation, one she is uncomfortable being in because of her natural instinct to take care of others.
In late June, Stewart went for a routine mammogram that came up clear.
The routine and scheduled part should not surprise anyone who knows her, she is one of the most fit and energetic individuals you’ll ever meet and doing pro-active things come natural to her.
She describes what happened next.
“When I get a mammogram, I always have an ultra sound,” Stewart said. “The doctors spotted something on that test and told me I needed to come back for a biopsy.”
After waiting a week for the results, the frightening news came back. It was early stage Breast Cancer, but the best news was that it was caught early.
“I was crushed, I was devastated.” Stewart said. “My whole world that I once knew came crashing down around me.”
It was then that Stewart started to experience the extraordinary care that makes our local cancer support system so well respected around the region.
“My doctor, Dr. Stephanie Durstin, was amazing.” Stewart explained. “She went above and beyond what she needed to do and has comforted me with her words at all hours of the day since. Dr. Durstin made an appointment with my surgeon, Dr Timothy Gostkowski who would do the surgery that removed my tumor and three lymph nodes in a standard procedure. When I met him, I left with ease because his words comforted me, and I trusted him. I had surgery a few days later for a lumpectomy.”
Stewart is married to her husband of 19 years, Jim and has four children, Drew (17), Dillon (14), Daisy (11) and Dawson (8) and the news was not easy for any of them to take but after some tears and rest, a new mission took shape.
How could Stewart take something so powerfully negative and make it an experience that could help others, making it a positive one in the long run?
Simple. By continuing to do what she has done here entire life. Being proactive.
“I have spent most of my life active,” Stewart said. “I grew up eating well and playing sports. As an adult I love to eat local and healthy foods. I know I have to make this into something positive.”
Her job reflects who she is.
As the 5-2-1-0 Coordinator, her job is to reach out to our local schools and help children and adults learn to live just that way. Now, I have to ask. Does everyone know what those letters stand for?
Five fruits and vegetables a day, two hours of screen time, one hour of exercise and the big one, zero sugary drinks. You knew that though, right?
That’s not her only job and passion.
“I’m a fitness instructor and I teach children and adults daily the importance of a healthy lifestyle.” Stewart said. “I work at the YMCA teaching indoor cycling and Odyssey Group fitness where I teach cycling as well, something I love to do.”
Still, there have been dark days for a person not used to having many, but her support network has been tremendously strong and consistent.
“I have an amazing husband that has kept me going on most days with his positive attitude,” Stewart said.” We have been married for 19 years and he’s the love of my life. I have four beautiful kids, one of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell them, but I was advised to tell them that it’s early and as much as this was bad, I would be okay.
As I write this on Wednesday, July 18, Stewart received some tremendous news from her doctor.
She would not have to undergo chemotherapy, which she had been dreading. The plan of attack at this time is for the cancer to be treated with radiation and medicine, news she was hoping to hear, and it came true.
“It was such a load off of my mind,” Stewart said.
“I am going to Torrington Cancer Center and will start treatment in a few weeks.” Stewart said. “I am told that a positive attitude is the best and I’ve spent my entire life being positive.”
She is looking at six weeks of radiation treatment, five days a week with medication for five years.
Still, it’s not easy keeping away the demons at times.
“I won’t lie it’s so hard to be up when something so bad just happened.” Stewart said. “I’m trying to figure it all out and hoping with each day that I can get further and further past it.
What is Stewarts message to anyone reading or hearing her story?
“Early detection.” Stewart said. “So important, I can’t stress the importance of going early. Charlotte Hungerford Hospital has many amazing programs.”
Stewart cannot say enough great things about the doctors, nurses and staff at CHH.
“Everyone at the hospital took such good care of me.” Stewart said. “I met a nurse named Tammy Rouleau who is a breast navigator who has supported me with her words and her hugs.”
Rouleau also works with an inspiring project at the hospital that has helped so many and Stewart describes it.
“It’s called the Pink Rose fund,” Stewart said. “Its goal is to give mammograms and ultra sounds to people that may not have the best insurance or don’t have insurance at all. It is a truly amazing program.”
Having a positive attitude about all of this cannot be understated and, in that department, Stewart gets an A-plus. Her doctor took note of her passion in his message about the journey she now finds herself on.
“I’m an avid runner and I was told by my doctor that this was going to be a hill run,” Stewart said. “And I needed to run to the top. I’ve been blessed with a support group like no other. Old friends and even new friends that have gone through this awful journey.”
Despite the family having insurance, the medical bills will certainly add up and to that end, a fundraiser is being planned in early September (stay tuned to LCS for details) to help offset those costs, but Stewart also wants to make it about helping others.
“I like to think things happen for a reason and being that I find the biggest joy in helping others,” Stewart said. “Maybe this will inspire someone to go get a mammogram or change their diet or maybe even sign up for a road race. Maybe donate to a cancer charity, something, it would make me happy!”
Is there an overall message?
“I think everyone needs to remember that life is a gift.” “And that we all should try and make a difference.”
More details will be coming out soon on how Stewart plans on giving back during her own battle so check back on Facebook to our LCS page for information about the event as it takes shape.
Trust one thing, the Pink Rose will be featured, front and center at the event.