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Jovan Franklin: “Breast Cancer Can Strike Anyone!”

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Some people tried to put Jovan Franklin into a box, and their decisions nearly cost the woman her life.

This 34-year-old wife and mother of three was running a successful small business, J. Nicole Photography, capturing families, especially children, and expressing their stories of growth and change. It fit right into her degree of broadcast and journalism but offered just enough difference to suit her goals in life.

But in December 2017, those objectives took a major turn. Jovan noticed a painful growth in her chest. Given that she was keenly focused on exercise and good eating, she brushed it off as a sore muscle. “I thought it was the winter months and maybe it was due to working out, but the pain spread to my armpit in a couple of weeks,” recalled the Lee’s Summit, Missouri, woman. “I went to the doctor, and they put it off for another three weeks and treated it as an infection. But the medications weren’t working and the pain was not letting up. Finally, they did a biopsy and gave me the news over the phone. I had invasive ductile carcinoma and I was in Stage 3. My tumor was eight centimeters, about the size of a grapefruit.”

Unlikely Patient
Typically, a woman similar to Jovan would not fit into the boxes usually associated with breast cancer patients. She was fit and focused on living a clean lifestyle. She was young; breast cancer does not normally strike someone in their 30s. But most importantly, breast cancer does not run in her family. So this potential conclusion was not at the top of the list for the physicians treating her at that time. Unhappy with the slow response and the care she received, she moved on to another medical team.

 “I got a second opinion at St. Luke’s, and on my 33rd birthday, the breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed,” she said. “Within four days, I had my first chemo treatment and continued those treatments for the next several months. Given my experience, I always stress that you should get a second or even a third opinion.”

Jovan’s chemo treatments stretched from February through June 2018. The doctors told her this breast cancer was one of the most aggressive but very curable. At the time, the tumor was too large to do surgery so the strategy was to shrink it with chemo and then remove it. In July, Jovan underwent a mastectomy on her left breast to remove the tumor and a small amount of normal breast tissue around it. The pathology report stated the tumor was successfully removed. Radiation began in October to help Jovan lower her risk of the cancer’s coming back. In August 2019, she underwent successful reconstructive surgery.

Genesis of an Idea
While she was lying in bed recovering from her first chemo treatment, Jovan was inspired by her family to look for something more from this experience. They urged her to share her story with others so they might be more aware that breast cancer can strike anyone. Most importantly, they wanted her to educate the public that the concept of people fitting into certain boxes with breast cancer should not exist. That’s when she came up with the idea of Pink
Celebration KC.

“Our goal is to help fund mammograms for women 35 and under with little to no insurance. Medical guidelines say you will not get a mammogram until you’re older than 40 or you have some type of family history,” shared Jovan. “But now we’re seeing women who are going through different breast cancer diagnoses at earlier ages, many under the age of 35. In addition, we’re finding that younger women are being diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4 breast cancer, and it’s already metastasized, which means it has spread to other sites in the body.”

Jovan is in the beginning stages of setting up her nonprofit, yet the support she has been given and what she gives to others is outstanding. “Pink Celebration KC is a support system. I encourage women to reach out to us if they have questions. Women with breast cancer can be very private about their diagnosis, and cancer may be a bad word for some. We’re offering a safe haven to talk with like-minded individuals,” she commented. “So many people are scared to ask for help and learn about what organizations are out there to help them. That’s what we try to accomplish when women reach out to us.”

Let’s Talk about It!
Not only has Jovan and her team of volunteers positively impacted women in need in the Kansas City metro, but she’s also helped others from outside the area by sharing her story openly and honestly. It has become a vital part of her own healing process. “It’s important to share your story because you don’t know who else you could be impacting. Over this past year and a half, I’ve touched lives all over the world. People have reached out and told me how I’ve helped them with my story. I’ve given inspiration to them to share what they’re going through or the consciousness to understand what’s going on with their bodies at 32, 42 or 52. 

“Another woman could be struggling with her own type of ‘cancer’ and that could be depression, domestic abuse or other negative things. It’s okay that things happen as long as you continue to find the good in your situation and turn that negative into a positive,” she advised. “I had no family history and lived a healthy lifestyle, but cancer doesn’t care. I tell others to be aware and be in tune with their bodies to monitor it. If something doesn’t feel right, go with your instincts and follow up on those things. Your family, friends and colleagues are good people who will help you in times of need because you can’t do it alone.”

Jovan encourages others to share their stories through events she hosts with Pink Celebration KC. She hopes women recognize the level of support they can receive at these get-togethers and the opportunity they have to educate themselves about breast cancer. She offers galas and happy hour discussion sessions during which women can hear from experts on breast cancer and from everyday survivors of this disease.

“In just two months, I put together my first Pink Celebration KC brunch with 50-plus women in attendance. We had so much support that my entire event was an in-kind sponsorship, including the caterer, DJ and about a half dozen vendors to help women with health and beauty products and treatments,” she shared. “There were six panelists, such as a former provider, nurse navigator and survivors. The audience heard their stories as we shared our trials and helped others learn about breast cancer. At the time, I was 33 years old and others were at the ages of 45 on up. Women of different ethnicities shared their stories and put cancer myths to shame.”

Jovan’s Happy Hour events also attract crowds for hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and information. Her panelists at one event included Jovan’s radiologist, who’s also a breast cancer survivor. Another panelist flew in from New York and shared her survivorship story and the fact that she was also misdiagnosed even though she is a doctor.

Persist and Persevere
While she’s still assembling the legal paperwork to formally establish her nonprofit, Jovan has valuable advice for women who might consider setting up their own charity to help those in need. “It’s important to get a mentor and reach out to other nonprofits or business owners that are active in the community. Engage in conversations with them, and don’t be afraid of someone telling you no,” Jovan said. “Reach out to TV, radio and bloggers. Develop your own story or niche because it’s a plus when you’re trying to develop your own nonprofit.”

Jovan is busy taking care of her family, running her photography business, focusing on caring for herself and watching over her nonprofit. She’s working hard at making Pink Celebration KC a success, not only for her but for the many women she will positively touch in the future.

“The latest trend is that people want to get together and talk about fashion and the arts over happy hour. They don’t want to talk about things that are sad. No breast cancer, sex trafficking or domestic abuse. They don’t want to embrace them,” Jovan remarked. “At Pink Celebration KC, we’re trying to put beauty and grace at the forefront instead of the ugly words: breast cancer. It’s about the health and happiness of women and how we care about our bodies. It’s about how we’re trying to embrace our own individual beauty.”