A group of people associated with the Cayman Islands Breast Cancer Foundation got together last week for a photograph to show their support for Jill Brzezinski-Conley, a guest speaker at last year’s Breast Cancer Gala who was recently admitted to hospital in the U.S.
Mrs. Brzezinski-Conley had been married for only six months when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32 in 2009. Since then she has undergone 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and surgery to remove a breast implant that became infected. She was in remission for a year before being diagnosed with stage IV cancer. The disease has spread to her bones, and very recently, her lungs.
Heather McLaughlin, chief administrator for the Breast Cancer Foundation, remembers when she first became aware of the woman who made such an impact on the audience at the gala dinner.
“I was watching the NBC ‘Today’ show in April 2013, and I saw Jill’s story,” Mrs. McLaughlin says. “I managed to contact her to ask her if she would like to come to the gala. She was instantly on board.”
Hoda Kotb, co-host with Kathie Lee Gifford of the fourth hour of the “Today” show, was also a guest speaker at the breast cancer gala, and was moved to tears by Mrs. Brzezinski-Conley’s speech, in which she acknowledged that her prognosis was now terminal, yet she was determined to remain positive. The two have remained in close contact since meeting here.
Mrs. McLaughlin organized the photograph when she heard that Mrs. Brzezinski-Conley had been hospitalized. “We wanted to show her our love and support,” said Mrs. McLaughlin. “She is such an inspirational person.
“Unfortunately, in light of some young women in the Cayman Islands being recently diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said, “we encourage those under the recommended mammogram age of 40 to perform regular self-checks and see their doctor if they have any concerns.”
The Cayman Islands Cancer Society provides vouchers for qualified recipients to receive free mammograms throughout the year.
“We are providing more vouchers to women than ever, in an effort to keep them healthy,” said Jennifer Weber, operations manager of the society. “Last year we handed out 400 vouchers, and we are not the only ones to provide them to the public. The Lions Club of Tropical Gardens also offers some in the month of October each year.”
Mrs. Brzezinski-Conley has created the Jill’s Wish foundation to raise money for families going through cancer so that they can focus on recovery rather than financial difficulties. She and her husband, Brad Conley, travel to speak at various events when she is well enough to make the journey. Her mantra is: “God had a plan for me, so I accept it, embrace it, I’m proud of it and I just rock it!”