Unique Spirits and Sweets Speaker
Unique Spirits and Sweets, presented by Memorial Foundation, is an event held to support the programs, services, and technology needs at the Harold and Dixie LePere Breast Health Center of Excellence in Shiloh.
The event began in 2016, but due to COVID, it was cancelled the past two years. Dr. James Clanahan, medical director of the Breast Health Center and surgeon with Lincoln Surgical Associates, said the event heightens the awareness of breast cancer and women’s health in the community. Through this event, Memorial Foundation has raised nearly $158,000 for the Breast Health Center.
“The event features wines to taste, food to enjoy, silent and oral auctions, and a brief program. As the Medical Director of the Breast Center, I’m honored to serve as the master of ceremonies, and the highlight of the evening is introducing the speaker who then shares her breast cancer story,” Clanahan said.
This year’s speaker, 45-year-old Jennifer Thompson, is a two-time breast cancer patient currently undergoing treatment. She is co-owner of DE Signs in Waterloo and was diagnosed with triple positive stage 2 breast cancer originally on October 3, 2016. Dr. Clanahan chooses the guest speaker each year and said he likes to ask someone with a different story than previous speakers and someone who has personally inspired him by how she has handled her journey.
“The reason I asked Jennifer is because of how much she went through, how long she went through it, and, more importantly, how she handled it, all the while inspiring her friends, family, and certainly her doctors.”
In late January of this year, Jennifer received a call telling her that the cancer had come back, just shy of reaching her 5-year mark of being cancer-free. This time, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer inside her lungs. Doctors caught it after a routine CT scan when she had her gallbladder removed in June 2021.
“I was surprised it was in my lungs because I had no shortness of breath, pain or exhaustion,” Thompson said. “I had a biopsy on January 19, 2022, and a few days later, I got the call and was told the cancer came back.”
She said that even though the cancer is now in a different location, the Breast Health Center will do the treatment because it’s the original breast cancer that travelled to her lungs. Even with a new diagnosis, Thompson holds on to her positivity and zest for life. She credits her attitude to the support system surrounding her, including her husband, brothers, family, friends, animals, and, of course, the Harold & Dixie LePere Breast Health Center of Excellence.
Thompson experienced numerous complications throughout the entirety of her first cancer journey but still managed to maintain an upbeat attitude.
“You overcome obstacles one day at a time,” she said. “You can’t let it bring you down, or it will make your treatment harder. You get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other, and trudge through your day.”
Thompson said Dr. Clanahan likely chose her because she has a unique perspective on her cancer journey.
“I think the attitude I have with my treatment can show people how being optimistic about the future will help with the treatment and will make you healthier faster,” she said. “It’s important to hear different perspectives about people’s treatment and journey through cancer. I think it not only helps the doctors think of different avenues for patients, but it also hopefully inspires people going through it.”
When asked to give advice to those struggling through a new diagnosis or going through the process now, Thompson said to expect the unexpected.
“Make sure that your support system is in place because you’re going to lean on them more than you want to, but that’s why they’re there,” she said. “You may not feel like it now, but you still need to live life. You need to go out with your friends and go to the movies. You can’t hole up in your house. You have to just live.”
Thompson said that if people could take one thing away from her journey, she’d want it to be hope and that even in dark times, good things can happen.
“Even when you’re given horrible news, good things can come out of it because I have learned a lot throughout my journey,” she said. “I learned how strong I actually am and how brave I can be. I learned how to face my fears. Pain lasts for seconds. It shouldn’t rule what you do.”
When thinking about her future and the next round of chemotherapy and treatment, Thompson said she’s ready to get started, ready for it to be over, and that this is simply a hiccup in her life.
Dr. Clanahan said the Unique Spirits and Sweets event is important for the community because it reminds people of the magnitude of breast cancer and its effect on not just the patients themselves, but their families and friends as well. He wants people to take away from this event that breast cancer isn’t like an appendectomy where it’s removed and gone forever. There are permanent and lasting physical and mental changes that affect every patient and the people around them. He said the feeling of never being quite safe from cancer is very personal for each patient, and this event helps us educate the community.
“Everybody knows someone who has had breast cancer, be it their wife, their mother, their daughter, close friend, or even a neighbor that they’re not close with but they know is going through something,” he said. “This event brings people together and offers unified support to the community that’s dealing with this.”
Dr. Clanahan said the Breast Health Center had 19,000 visits in 2021 for mammograms, biopsies, and mammogram follow-ups, among other reasons, which shows the magnitude of the Center’s impact on the community. He said the event allows us all to get together as a forum to appreciate those going through breast health issues and recognize everyone who helps them through the process.
“It allows us to recognize the workers in the Breast Health Center who work hard every single day as advocates for our patients,” he said. “When you call it the Breast Center, that’s just a term, but it’s really so much more. It’s such a team effort involving not only radiology, but also surgery and oncology, along with a very supportive administration. We all work together to give our patients the best possible treatment.”
Dr. Clanahan also said that while this event is educational, it’s also just a great event to attend to enjoy a night out and give back.
“This is a fun night,” he said. “It’s a night to become educated, but it’s also a night to give something back, and not just monetarily, but by showing your support for the Breast Health Center.”
Thompson wants everyone struggling through a diagnosis or treatment to know that they’re not alone.
“If someone like me can find the strength to fight through this, and obviously I wasn’t as strong pre-cancer as I am now, then I know they can, too.”
*This story went to press prior to the event date of March 24, 2022; therefore, we cannot report the number of funds raised in support of the Harold & Dixie LePere Breast Health Center of Excellence.