Friendship + Breast Cancer: Michelle + Jillian’s Story

By: Natalie Lennon, 2018 Summer Communication/Marketing Intern

In a lot of ways, Jillian and Michelle are your average best friends. They talk on the phone at least eight times a day, watch their favorite TV shows together, and enjoy spending quality time with one another.

One thing makes their extraordinary friendship even more special. Jillian is 25, battling breast cancer and Michelle is right by her side.

With a friendship that has lasted 17 years, the two are more like sisters than best friends.

“We are very lucky to have each other,” said Michelle.

Jillian and Michelle’s special bond goes beyond words, so cancer is definitely no test to their friendship.

“This has been the single most difficult experience of my life,” Jillian shared. “I imagined my twenties to be much different and never in a million years did I expect that I would have to spend my days sick or run down from chemo or going to radiation everyday for five weeks.”

Despite one obstacle after the other, Jillian has not once felt like giving up. She knows she has so much to fight for and with Michelle by her side, not even cancer can knock her down.

“There is always a silver lining,” Jillian said. “I have a new appreciation for life.”

Jillian added, “As horrible as this experience was, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Although it’s hard to imagine them being any closer, Jillian’s diagnosis has opened the door to deeper and more emotional topics, such as body image and illness.

“Tragedy always seems to bring people closer together, but for us it was really just being the friend that we both knew we always were to each other,” said Michelle.

Jillian and Michelle’s friendship has transformed and deepened since Jillian’s diagnosis, and it has helped Michelle to understand how to support a loved one battling cancer.

“It is important not to treat them like they are a victim of cancer, because they aren’t,” Michelle shared. “Be their shoulder to cry on, but don’t forget to laugh and enjoy life together. It is key to keep a sense of normalcy during a time that is anything but normal.”

If this power duo has learned anything from the experience it’s that no matter what life throws at them, they are always there for one another.

“When Jillian was going through chemo, hair loss, radiation and a long list of terrible things that no 25-year-old woman should ever have to go through,” Michelle said. “She never made me feel like I couldn’t vent about my seemingly insignificant problems.”

Talking about non-cancer related issues helps to take Jillian’s mind off things, and the two still enjoy grabbing a drink, trips to Walmart and spending any free time they have together.

“No matter how sick you feel, cancer does not define you or have control over you,” Jillian said. “Michelle always jokes that the time we spent together going to the city for surgeries and going to Memorial Sloan Kettering for treatments were some of the most fun times we had because we were always cracking jokes and laughing.”

Michelle’s endless support has helped Jillian to change what cancer means to her. It has given her the ability to control her perception of an illness she has no control over.

Although she’s experienced almost every side effect from chemo and radiation, Jillian refuses to let cancer get the best of her.

“You never really know how strong you are until it is your only choice, and I showed cancer that I am a force to reckoned with,” Jillian shared.

After all, with an unstoppable team like Jillian and Michelle, breast cancer doesn’t stand a chance.