Jenny Vanderlinden, 51, is battling stage 3 ovarian cancer. She will speak about her struggle — and her ongoing sense of adventure —on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
Vanderlinden and filmmaker Blake Babbitt are creating a documentary to raise awareness of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, which can cause breast and ovarian cancers, and the benefits of early detection. The film, “I Heart Jenny,” will follow Vanderlinden’s ups and downs as a breast cancer survivor, as well as her challenges as a Colorado mother of four living with a terminal diagnosis.
“My mom was told she had a 50 percent chance of living for two to three years” after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1989, says Vanderlinden. “She lived for 10 years. My mom died on Nov. 3, 2004.” That Thanksgiving, Vanderlinden was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and went through six months of chemotherapy.
“I come from an Eastern European Jewish background,” she notes, but she is not Jewish. Vanderlinden underwent BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing as a response to testing positive for those genetic markers. She had a double mastectomy in January 2005 and a full hysterectomy the following January. “I was feeling positive,” says Vanderlinden. “It should have worked. If someone told you there was a 96 to 99 percent chance of winning the lottery you’d be out shopping.”
In April 2011, Vanderlinden was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after going to a hospital emergency room. Her symptoms were a distended stomach and unexplained weight loss. The horrible irony is that after two surgeries a few remaining cancer cells can still activate the disease, which is what happened to Vanderlinden. “The last two years,” she says, “I’ve had one chemo after another. I’m very good at living in the moment.” As Vanderlinden feels up to it, she travels with her children. “I know what you remember, and my family remembers the family trips,” she says.
During the JCC discussion the cameras will roll, inviting attendees to be part of the filmmaking process. “I hope to inspire people to make changes in their lives,” says Vanderlinden. She commends the Basser Research Center for Inherited Cancers at the University of Pennsylvania, founded in 2012 by a $25 million gift from Jon and Mindy Gray. Gray’s 44-year-old sister, Faith Basser, died of ovarian cancer. The center’s research on cancers caused by BCRA1 and BRCA2 mutations, she says, “gives me hope for my daughters and granddaughters.”