INTEGRIS Health Celebrates a Warrior of a Woman Shattuck Woman Fights Rare Cancer Multiple Times

None of us know how much time we have on this earth, but Jennifer Petree is acutely aware that her time may be limited. She has stage four metastatic cancer.

Though it may sound grim, Jennifer views her situation as a blessing, because it has given her an attitude of gratitude. She has hard days of course, but chooses to focus on her blessings. 

“My family has been so supportive through all of this,” Jennifer said. “My husband, Chad, not only works hard but has also been my rock and the person I can depend on. I don’t know how I could have gotten through everything without him.” The couple recently celebrated 23 years of marriage, through the good times and the bad.

At just 46 years old, Jennifer already has a long history of fighting a rare and difficult-to-treat form of cancer, known as sarcoma. She was first diagnosed in 2006, right before her 30th birthday. “I had a growth on my left gluteus maximus, and for a while, I ignored it,” she said.

Jennifer could feel the growth getting larger and decided to have it looked at, nearly two years after she first discovered the lump.  

“I found out that it was sarcoma, and my entire gluteus maximus muscle was removed in an effort to get all of the cancer.” Jennifer’s initial diagnosis was sclerosing epithelioid fibrosarcoma (SEF), a very rare type of cancer that grows in soft tissue and bones throughout the body.  

“The diagnosis came as a shock,” she said. “Sarcoma is rare, and what causes it is unknown. It is not genetic or hereditary. I was far too young to have cancer.” 

She followed up surgery with radiation therapy. “I traveled to Elk City every weekday for more than a month for 35 radiation treatments. I thought things were rough then, but I had no idea what was to come.” 

The first surgery and therapy were successful, and after five years of follow-ups and scans, Jennifer was given the ‘all-clear’.

Then, in 2017, a decade after her initial diagnosis, Jennifer felt a lump growing on her right collar bone. It was determined that it was also SEF. After another surgery, she again went through radiation treatment at INTEGRIS Health Cancer Institute in Oklahoma City, under the supervision of oncologist Kiran Prabhu, M.D.

The following year, the cancer returned on her right collar bone, and she was referred to MD Anderson in Houston. “I received a new diagnosis of spindle cell sarcoma, which again is extremely rare. This sub-type of sarcoma is a soft tissue tumor that sometimes starts in the bone.” 

While she was at MD Anderson, scans revealed an additional tumor in her left lower lung. She underwent surgery to remove a portion of her right collar bone, as well as part of her lower left lung. They used a flap of skin from her inner thigh to cover the area removed from her collar bone. Additional scans revealed a tumor growing inside of her heart. 

In 2019 she underwent open heart surgery to remove the tumor, which was again identified as a type of sarcoma. From the time of her initial diagnosis in 2006, there had been significant advancements in the understanding of sarcoma. Jennifer’s newest diagnosis was ossifying fibromyxoid tumor (OMFT), which again is a rare subtype of sarcoma with unknown origins. 

The new diagnosis actually gave Jennifer hope, as it showed that science and medicine were making strides in sarcoma research, diagnosis and treatment. 

The following year, COVID-19 brought the world to a stand-still and halted Jennifer’s treatments. “Things were uncertain in early 2020, and we didn’t know when I would be able to resume treatments.” 

When she was able to go back to Houston, they found a recurrence of her cancer in her collar bone, left thigh and right lower lung lobe.  

In April 2020, she had surgery to remove her entire collar bone. But things were different this time, because of COVID. “My husband had been with me through all of my other operations,” Jennifer said. “This time, I was alone. I could not have anyone there with me, and not having that family support made things a lot more difficult to bear.”

Despite the surgeries and radiation, the cancer continued to return and progress. New tumors were located on her sternum, ribs and spine. 

In January of 2021, she began what would be five long, hard months of aggressive chemotherapy, Doxoruicin, sometimes referred to as “red devil” because of its bright red color and harsh side effects. 

“I stayed at an Airbnb for my chemo treatments. Members of my family rotated coming down and staying with me. I was very sick and weak during this time, but so thankful that I had family there with me. I felt blessed, despite how difficult it was.” 

It was during chemo treatments that Jennifer began to lose her hair. “I had been through a lot at this point, but having my hair fall out was really hard to accept. I finally had my sister take scissors to it, and then my daughter eventually shaved my head. We tried to have fun with it and keep a sense of humor, but it was very emotional.” 

She was able to return home to Shattuck in May of 2021 to let her body rest and recuperate from the treatments. 

In January of this year, Jennifer chose to continue her care and treatment with palliative chemotherapy closer to home. “We decided to continue my treatment at INTEGRIS Cancer Institute in Enid. I have a friend who had been seeing Dr. Sumbal Nabi and spoke very highly of her. I had always been very pleased with the care I received at INTEGRIS Health Cancer Institute in Oklahoma City, so I felt confident about choosing to continue my care with INTEGRIS Health.” 

In March, Jennifer took a break from treatment to spend time with her family and friends. “Chad and I went on our first cruise together with close friends, and I was able to help several friends plan weddings and graduation celebrations for their kids. I spent time with my family and just enjoyed life.”

Jennifer began another cycle of chemotherapy last month at INTGERIS Cancer Institute Enid with Dr. Nabi and her team. “INTEGRIS Health has been a blessing to me during treatment. The staff is amazing. I love Dr. Nabi and her team, especially (oncology nurse) Sandy (Gordon). She is such a special person.”

Chad and Jennifer drive two hours from Shattuck to Enid every other week for Jennifer’s chemotherapy. While radiation and surgery are no longer options, Jennifer is hopeful that an experimental treatment may become available. For now, Jennifer is taking things one day at a time and counting the many blessings in her life, like Chad and her two grown children, Robbie, 27, and MaKayla, 22.

Though her journey has been long and arduous, Jennifer remains steadfast in her will to continue fighting. “I want to tell my story so that maybe I can help someone else. I want to connect with other survivors and show the world that I am not a victim, but a warrior and a survivor.”

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