A Journey for HOPE

Jan Sidle and Jennifer Givins. Photo by Laura Chiles Photography.

COVER STORY | By Liz Johnson –

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Each year it is estimated that over 246,660 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die.

According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year from all walks of life. Finding a lump in your breast is not always a reason to panic. Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. But if a lump is discovered or any changes in breast tissue are detected, it should never be ignored. And for some, finding a lump does mean breast cancer and that diagnosis sends these women down a path no one hopes to tread. No two journeys are the same, but hope is a constant companion along the way.

A Fork in the Road

For Jennifer Givins, a wife and mother of five, her diagnosis came about from an injury while doing CrossFit.

“I was pushing dog sleds and felt a tear in my muscle on the left side. I remember how badly it hurt, but I chose to treat the injury and stop working out for a while,” shared Givins. “Fortunately, the pain persisted. In January of 2014, I went in for my well woman check-up and told my doctor about the injury. He recommended that I schedule a mammogram, so I did for the following week.”

What followed was a week of anxiety and nervousness for Givins as she waited for her mammogram results. “Everything was going fine during the mammogram, until the technician asked to reshoot the right side of my body. She took so many pictures of that area, I started to get upset, and I then asked her why she was focusing so much on that side when it was my left side that was bothering me.”

The technician then explained she wasn’t at liberty to discuss the matter, but said she noticed a small artifact on Givins’ right side. The technician explained that it could be anything, but she wanted to be sure.

For Jan Sidle, a mother of five with two grandchildren, her cancer was found during a routine examination. “Shocked, surprised is a few words that come to mind when I received my diagnosis,” shared Sidle. “I was in Ohio visiting my parents when I received the phone call. Cancer is a scary word for everyone. I was the first in my family.”

On the Attack

Jennifer Givins celebrating her last round of chemo.

Givins did not feel she had genetics on her side. Her mother, grandmother and great grandmother had breast cancer. Within 24 hours, she was tested for the BRAC 2 gene, known as the Breast Cancer 2 gene, one of the two best-known genes linked to an increased breast cancer risk. Luckily, the test was negative.

After watching her mother battle cancer with grace and determination, Givins was inspired to do the same. Givins met with an oncologist at the Katy MD Anderson Campus, and they decided on a more aggressive approach because of her family history.  She decided to have a double mastectomy and went through 24 rounds of chemo and 30 rounds of radiation. Later she began working on her reconstruction, which was a diep flap followed by implants a year later. It was a long journey that lasted for two years.

Sidle was very fortunate that her cancer was caught very early. Her treatment consisted of a lumpectomy with 35 days of radiation at MD Anderson.

A Safe Place to Fall

Jennifer Givins. Photo by Laura Chiles Photography.

Both Sidle and Givins were blessed with an outstanding support team of family and friends.

Sidle said, “My children each took a Friday and went with me to my radiation appointments. I am thankful for my children, friends, family and my church for their support during my surgery and treatment. They brought food, gave me hugs, gave me a shoulder to cry on, made calls of encouragement and showed lots of love. This is how you become a cancer survivor!”

Givins said, “I prayed daily for healing and supernatural energy. I was still able to work as a Pre-K 3s teacher at Crosspoint Christian School, where my younger daughters were enrolled, through the entire treatment.”

In addition to her children, Sidle’s friends went with her to her radiation appointments as well. “I do believe I’m the only one who gained weight having treatments. We went to lunch each day at a different place. Laughing is the best medicine for dealing with cancer. I thank my family and friends for helping me laugh every day.”

Givins was grateful for her husband, Casey, who sat through every appointment and treatment with her. Her mom stayed with her at the hospital all while going through treatment herself.

“My mother-in-law stepped right in and took care of the girls,” shared Givens. “I had a family friend come forth who had her family’s company make custom wigs for me to match my hair! The biggest part of it all were the prayers from family, friends, even people I didn’t know. My younger daughters learned to pray every night, every day, all the time. God is so good!”

Pay it Forward

For Givins and Sidle, the grace and gifts they received throughout their battle has inspired them to give back.

Before starting radiation, Sidle’s sister sent her a divinity robe that her ladies group in Pennsylvania made for breast cancer patients to wear while having radiation treatment.  She wore her bright yellow robe to MD Anderson while having her radiation. It allowed her to be totally covered, unlike the hospital gowns that are open in the back.

“As I sat in the waiting room waiting for my turn at the radiation machine, the other ladies would ask where I got my robe,” said Sidle. “They asked questions like where did you get that, and how can we get one. They were so envious of my yellow garment.”

Jan Sidle holding up a smock from Smocks for Life. Photo by Laura Chiles Photography.

Sidle’s doctor asked her if she could sew and told her it would be nice for the other patients. This is how Smocks for Life was born and is how Sidle and her daughters pay it forward to the ladies who have cancer. “It’s hard having cancer. It’s hard wearing the ugly hospital gowns,” explained Sidle.

The smocks are free to cancer patients. They are made from donated cotton fabric and made by volunteers who donate their time, thread and love. The smocks are given to MD Anderson Katy who distribute them to their patients when they check in for treatment. “We also give or send the smocks to anyone who contacts us through our website at Smocksforlife.org,” said Sidle.

Smocks for Life has sent smocks all over the world helping women or men to have a comforting experience while having radiation. The smock was designed for comfort, ease of undressing and dressing after treatment and keeping one’s dignity while having treatments. It opens in the front and sides with Velcro depending which sides or both their radiation is performed. Sidle still wears her smock to MD Anderson for checkups, even after 10 years.

For Givins, she has tried to pay the kindness she was shown forward. “Our family has volunteered and fed families at the Ballard House, a home for those battling cancer, and brought meals to those who are going through treatment or lost loved ones. I have reached out to those who are going through cancer to answer questions and will continue to do so. I would be happy to pray with you, listen to your story or answer any questions you may have.”

Both Givins and Sidle believe early detection is the key and encourage others not to put off mammograms.

Hope is Free But Priceless

Givins also offers hope for those going through treatment. While treatment is not something she would like to go through ever again, she does believe that it is doable. “Even for a then working mom with five kids, I couldn’t have done it without my support group. I would encourage people to reach out to those who are fighting this battle. Offer them your time, help watch their children, bring them meals, walk their dogs, go with them to their treatments, help them at home and pray. Praying is free, and it costs you nothing. Offer them hope.”

Smocks for Life

There are two ways to get involved with Smocks for Life.

Fabric ready to be cut out for the smocks.

Join a group of volunteers who come to St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Katy on the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 pm. Fabric and patterns are provided – just bring a pair of fabric scissors. Volunteers cut out the smocks and the Velcro, and instructions are placed into a kit for the sewers. If you sew, kits are available to pick up at Quilt-n-Sew, located on Mason Road. Sewers take home the kit, sew it together and return it to the church or Jan Sidle will pick it up. The smocks are then packaged for the patients.

If you would like to donate fabric or monetary funds, please contact St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, located at 20775 Kingsland Boulevard in Katy. Donations are tax deductible. The funds are used to purchase Velcro for the smocks or for postage to send the smocks to patients who request them.

For more information about Smocks for Life, visit Smocksforlife.org.