Jennifer’s Story

Survivor. Previvor. Teacher. A New Perspective on Life Thanks to Women’s College Hospital.

Written by Aaron Lam

“I was feeling very broken,” recalls Jennifer Stubbs Guy, who was experiencing serious challenges to her well-being in 2021. “It felt like there was a weight pressing down on me, like I was carrying a lead vest everywhere I went.”  

After being referred to the General Psychiatry Program  at Women’s College Hospital (WCH), she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

“In my naiveté, I thought that only people who went to war had PTSD,” says Jennifer. “At Women’s, they helped me understand the various forms of trauma I had experienced. They helped me recognize my responses to the trauma and implement new strategies that helped me move through it.”  

In the year 2000, when she was still a student at the University of Western Ontario, Jennifer experienced her first medical trauma when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 22. Jennifer underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The treatment was successful and she was declared cancer-free.   

“Skip ahead to 2019, and my mom is diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” recalls Jennifer. “In the midst of this, she was discovered to be a BRCA1 carrier. I was tested and found to have the gene too. That meant I was a ticking time bomb for getting cancer again – but a far more aggressive type the next time.”  

Jennifer is a “previvor” – a person who has inherited a gene that makes them more susceptible to getting cancer. In this case, the BRCA1 gene mutation put her at a much greater risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in her lifetime. 

“During the pandemic, imagine learning you have the gene that significantly increases your risk of developing the disease that is killing your mom. It was devastating.”  

With the knowledge of having the BRCA1 mutation, Jennifer underwent two risk-reducing surgeries – a hysterectomy, as well as a double mastectomy with reconstruction. However, the mastectomy was delayed when tragedy suddenly struck her family.  

Jennifer making a “W” symbol as she recovers from surgery. “W” symbolizes her gratitude for WCH, as well as her love of Wonder Woman.

“My mom went into cardiac arrest and I was in the emergency room, by her side as they tried to resuscitate her,” says Jennifer. “I got down on my knees and put her hand on my heart as they worked on her for 25 minutes. She was my biggest cheerleader and one of my best friends. It was a very traumatic event for me.”   

One month later, while Jennifer was still grieving the loss of her mother, a diagnostic scan revealed a mass growing in her left breast. A biopsy was taken for testing, and Jennifer underwent her double mastectomy and reconstruction. After the surgery, she was happy to learn that the test results proved negative for cancer.  

In the months following, Jennifer underwent physiotherapy to recover from the mastectomy, as well as a regimen of hormone therapy. This resulted in the onset of early and abrupt menopause while she was still in her early forties.  

“The grief of losing my mom, combined with the hormonal adventures of early menopause and the physical nature of healing after surgery, were more than I’d ever dealt with,” Jennifer recalls. “I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning due to the pain, the traumatic memories and the deeply profound sadness that I was experiencing.”   

That’s when her team at WCH referred her to the General Psychiatry Program and she was diagnosed with PTSD.   

“I am an educator by trade and a lifelong learner. Through the program, I learned about mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). These skills were instrumental in helping me with post-traumatic growth and moving forward.”  

As her therapy progressed, Jennifer began to put her newly acquired strategies into practice. 

“They taught me how to put my fight-or-flight system on pause when it was in overdrive,” Jennifer explains. “My system needed to be rewired. Once the fog of my traumatic experiences was lifted, my mind could start to process things differently.”  

Today, Jennifer is in a much better place in her life. She is back doing what she loves in the classroom, working for the Waterloo Region District School Board.   

Jennifer’s experience with WCH has inspired her to pay it forward, and she has enrolled in courses at the Brown University School of Professional Studies to become certified as an MBSR practitioner so she can help others in need.  

“I think of Women’s College Hospital as being my mothership – a base and touchpoint that’s always there for me. Skills training, a weekly commitment to sit with difficult thoughts, and the support of my community all played a role in the rewiring of my brain on fire. With the unwavering support of my husband Steve, my post-traumatic stress disorder became post-traumatic growth, and I’m excited about what lies ahead.” 

Jennifer would like to thank the following for their support: Dr. Shira Thomas, Kate Mlodzik, Dr. Michelle Jacobson, Dr. John Semple, Dr. David Lim, Emma Rinaldo, Dr. Evan Klajncar, Dr. Marisa Leon-Carlyle, Dr. Orit Zamir, Todd Tran, Dr. Pamela Lenkov, Hannah Nguyen, Leslie Molnar, Tania Obljubek, Lisa Woolgar, Nicole Watson, Kristin Long, Lauren Hill, Mary Gilroy, Dr. James Khan, Dr. Cameron Purdon, the Waterloo Region District School Board, Dan McArthur and Lisa Scozzafava from the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP), Ali Lyon from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), and her community of friends and loved ones. 

Learn more about the BRCA1 gene mutation

Listen to our “Mind the Health Gap” podcast episode on BRCA and women’s cancers