Cindy Jacopian’s recommendations to others with breast cancer are to: “Keep living your normal life thru all the trauma. Stay very active even when you don’t feel like it. Live your best life during treatment.” I initially read these words she wrote and thought, “Yeah, right on. Live your best life.” But, after meeting her, she impressed upon me the importance of these words and I left the interview totally in awe of her ability to do just that (I also left planning to make some changes to my own life).
Cindy has triple-negative breast cancer, which is more aggressive, harder to treat, and more likely to recur than other breast cancers, and yet she’s facing it with grace and incredible strength. She’s had a lumpectomy and is in the process of undergoing 5 months of grueling chemotherapy which began with four infusions of a chemo drug called AC. “AC, it was tough…AC, that’s the red devil. That’s the hardest chemo that there is and I started with four rounds of [it]. It was really tough because the side effects are just huge.”
Her protocol calls for doing 16 rounds of chemo followed by six weeks of radiation treatments in Feb/Mar. At the time of the interview Cindy had 4 more chemo treatments to go. And through all this, she is playing pickleball. Yes, pickleball. She even moved her future radiation treatments to Meridian so she’d be closer to the courts.
EXERCISE IS THE BEST MEDICINE
Cindy played pickleball just two days after her surgery. And she continues to play every day, Monday-Thursday, then after playing Thursday morning she heads over to her chemo appointment where she spends her afternoon. She takes the weekend to recover then she’s back to playing ball the following Monday. It’s something she refuses to give up.
“I [don’t] let anything affect my play…no one takes it easy on me and I don’t take it easy on myself. Bring it on.”
Since her diagnosis, she’s played in three tournaments. And her exercise regimen is paying off. Instead of her White Blood Count going down during treatment, hers is actually going up. And, on her twelfth chemo session when her nurse asked her what her energy level was, she replied 100%. What?
“Chemo is all about managing your side effects and cancer is all about managing trauma.”
This is not to say that there are no setbacks, that there is no trauma, that she doesn’t feel down or depressed sometimes. She explains that it hasn’t been easy. There is always another trauma to face, first it’s learning you have Cancer, then it’s smaller, but still hard to face, traumas like losing your hair, eyelashes, and toenails. She even contracted neuropathy from the treatment which she treats with acupuncture.
“So, like your hair falls out. That’s really big. The thought of your hair coming out is horrific, like nobody can fathom that, especially a woman. It’s very traumatic. But you get past it. You get over it. And then, you’re okay.”
Cindy is okay. She is strong and amazingly resilient. “…the thing I did was to just get out the door and get on the court…you always feel better.” And when she does face those traumas, she not only has the support of her family and friends, but also the entire Treasure Valley pickleball community.
After the initial trauma of finding out she had breast cancer, Cindy thought, “So, I was diagnosed in June of this year. And then I was like, October is breast cancer month. I want to do something, to make something good out of something crappy. Yeah. And I had this vision of, let’s get the pickleball community together, let’s raise some money.”
Cindy did her homework. She wanted to donate the proceeds of her event to a local breast cancer organization and decided on Flock Cancer Idaho. She assembled a small team, and they planned a fundraiser. The team received over 90 donated items worth about $20,000, everything from golf rounds and a stay at Tamarack to YETI coolers and sunglasses. The event was a hit with over 200 people attending. And they raised just under $13,000. SCORE!
WHERE ARE ALL THE BALD PEOPLE?
Cindy knew if she went bald to the fundraiser, she might make more of an impression; that it would be the right thing to do, but she was nervous.
She had four wigs when she started chemo, she has yet to wear one. She did try on a wig one night to see how it looked and almost had a meltdown. She went through all the emotions looking at herself in the mirror. “I was like, this looks fake. I look dumb. This doesn’t even look like me.” She thought about burning it but resisted and she wondered, if one in eight women get breast cancer, where are all the women without hair?
Cindy spent days worrying about if she’d have the courage to appear sans hat or scarf. She was super nervous. But she’d conquered wearing a scarf by showing up at the pickleball court with a ‘doo-rag’ scarf on her head. “Nobody really looked at me. And I thought, okay, I passed that test and off we go.”
Then the night before the event she went to Eagle to pick up some cookies for decorating. She was walking back to her car when she saw a couple walking toward her. She first noticed the man, who had a limp, then her gaze settled on the elegant woman who was wearing a full-length down coat and was smiling lovingly at the man. “…I was like, wow, she’s really pretty and she didn’t have anything on her [head].”
Cindy was like, “…yeah, I can do this.”
SUPPORT IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
The picklers* didn’t stop their support of Cindy there. The day before her first chemo treatment she got roped into going to a place she didn’t normally play. She walked in and to her surprise there were over 100 people with Support Squad t-shirts on, just for her. They continue to wear the shirts on Thursdays, her chemo days. “I walk into the gym, and there’s…40 people that go, Hey Cindy, how are you?” And often when picklers are absent from play on chemo day, she’ll receive a text message with their best wishes; attached will be a picture of them wearing their shirt, wherever they might be.
Cindy has found a local breast cancer community but the the main source of her amazing support is from friends of other local pickleballers – many of those who are complete strangers. “There are women that I’ve never met that have gone through it, and they’re checking in on me like all the time. They’re very empathetic.” When someone in her network asks about recommendations for their own journey, she doesn’t tell them to find help with their grocery shopping or lawn care. “I would actually say the opposite of that, I mean, you gotta keep going. You gotta keep living. You gotta keep moving. You gotta keep living your life as normally as possible while managing your side effects.” You’ve got to live your best life.
*footnote: A pickler is defined as a pickleball player, or one who is especially obsessed with pickleball.