“I’ve become the person that I used to be scared of. The number one cause of cancer is having already had cancer. I knew that I would have cancer again later on in life. I just did not expect this recurrence,” language arts teacher Jenny Ingram said.
In early October 2015, Class of 1998 graduate, Ingram, was diagnosed with Stage Two Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. In July of this year, the Breast Cancer resurfaced as Stage Four.
“My primary care doctor called [after my appointment] and she was like, ‘Hey, is it a good time to talk?’ and I knew. I forget what adjectives she used; she said it looks ‘troublesome’ or whatever,” she said. “The scan showed activity in the lymph nodes on the lungs and then I had the bone scan and it showed tumors in the bones and that’s what really scared me. Apparently, you have a better prognosis if it’s just in your bones as opposed to visceral organs like the liver or the lungs. For me, it was seeing that it was in my bones that was like ‘Oh my God.’ What I thought were swollen lymph nodes were actually tumors. I was not one of those people that worried about a recurrence.”
When her friends and family heard the news, they were shocked and upset.
“The nightmare scenario that it would come back one day as Stage Four was something that we were all kind of dreading, so the fact that we’re living that now is scary. The thing that makes me feel good is that she’s just so strong; nothing really knocks her down. She gives us strength. She’s always smiling, she loves her job and she stays positive. It makes it really easy to help cheer her on in this,” Class of 2000 graduate and Ingram’s sister, Jessica Prosperi, said.
Initially, when Ingram learned about her cancer resurfacing, she was surprised because her bloodwork for the past five years didn’t show any signs of tumor growth.
After a patient finishes chemotherapy, they typically attend regular six-month appointments to check blood work and signs of resurfacing. In March 2021, Ingram had her last six-month appointment, which declared her officially five years “cancer free.”
In June 2021, Ingram scheduled another visit after experiencing mild pain and swelling in her left armpit, which concerned her since the cancer was in her left breast originally, in addition to increasing pain in her elbow that was broken in a separate incident. After voicing her concern, she was scheduled for a CT scan that confirmed her worries.
Ingram found that being diagnosed right at the start of summer was a blessing to allow her time to recover but also left her alone with her thoughts often.
“When you’re first diagnosed with a recurrence, it’s just so many doctor’s appointments. During the summer I could never sleep through the night and it’s not like I was waking up and panicking, I was just awake. I think it’s because I just didn’t have anything going on during the day. But now being back at work and having a routine, I sleep through the night, so that’s great. I’m not just home thinking about things that could happen; I’m back at work. I’m back to having a regular life as opposed to just sitting around and thinking about the what-ifs. Going back to work has made a huge difference,” she said.
Among other language arts classes, Ingram teaches Advanced Language Arts Research and Presentation (ALARP). The class is unique to the Rockwood School District and consists of Honors Language Arts classwork in addition to two semester-long research projects and presentations throughout the year. Freshman Cian Obrien is enrolled in Ingram’s ALARP I class and believes that she provides an environment for her students to effectively learn but also laugh.
“She’s very much no-nonsense, but there are times when she likes to have fun with her students where she’ll put a meme or a joke into her presentation to make sure we aren’t over absorbed [in the class] and still having a measure of fun,” Obrien said. “She fosters a sense of community. My whole class is very close with each other.”
After a month of chemotherapy following her diagnosis in July, Ingram switched to a trial treatment of targeted therapy.
“The metaphor that I created for cancer treatment is chemo is sort of like the scorched earth approach. There’s the military tactic of scorched earth: when you’re attacking the enemy, you just burn everything down, good guys and bad guys. You just destroy all of it so that there’s no potential bad there,” Ingram said. “Chemo just wreaks havoc on your body. It kills bad cells, and it kills good cells. The targeted therapy that I’m doing now targets the proteins and hormones that feed my cancer cells. I compare that to a sniper. They’re not going in and just burning everything down, they’re going in to just kill a protein or just kill a hormone cell or hormone. When I finished [a month of chemo], I didn’t see any changes in tumors or in the bones and the lungs and the lymph nodes. But after eight weeks of these two trial meds, I’ve had a significant decrease in the size of the tumors.”
Ingram has found that with this targeted treatment, she’s had a different experience than her initial diagnosis and treatment.
“I was originally diagnosed in October 2016, and the first chemo I had was a real heavy hitter. I just felt like crap in December. Between October and December, that was like the real heavy hitting chemo because they want to go in there and just hit it hard. I remember there was a day in December when I was helping students review for the final exam, and I was so tired just passing back work that I had to sit down in my chair. I was out of breath. And then we were going over a little review sheet, and I was so winded just talking. That night, I just laid in bed and was so tired. I’ve never felt that tired in my entire life,” she said.
During her initial treatment, she actually felt a lot better as she started to psychically look worse.
“In movies and television shows, chemo patients were just sick all the time and puking. I didn’t experience that. By the time I started the January to March round of chemo, that wasn’t as hard on my system so things got a little bit better. I looked worse because I had no body hair. I think I can pull off bald; I like bald and you just kind of look like a punk rocker. But then when you lose your eyebrows and lashes, then you look like a cancer patient. I just looked really sick even though I felt better. My fingernails got yellow and brittle. They never fell off, but I did have the majority of my big toenail fall off,” she said.
During her treatment this summer, Ingram completed one month of chemo before beginning her targeted treatment for her hormone-based cancer.
“Anybody can go online and look at chances for survival for stage four cancer. I have a 72% chance of dying within five years, but the medication that I’m on right now wasn’t even around when those statistics came out. When I talk about it, I get emotional. For the most part, though, I really don’t worry,” Ingram said.
Ingram gives back to community through fundraising, awareness
“I remember Jenny and I were just walking through the park and she wanted to find a way to celebrate being done with chemo but also find a way to help others,” one of Ingram’s close friends, Tanya Srouji, said.
This idea sparked The Breast Dance Party Ever (BDPE), an event organized and hosted by Ingram along with the help of her close friends Emilie Hensley and Srouji. The first dance took place in 2017 and the second in 2018.
“She wanted to find an organization that directly helped women going through the [treatment] process [for Breast Cancer]. So she found Gateway to Hope and we figured it out as we went. She ended up on the phone with the Caramel Room downtown and the woman that she spoke to had a connection with someone who had Breast Cancer and they donated a venue to us. Once we got that, we got the ball rolling,” Srouji said.
Ingram chose Gateway to Hope as the charity to raise money for as a result of its locality in the St. Louis area and the services it provides. She heard about the program since it was an organization co-founded by one of her doctors.
“The last thing that somebody needs to worry about when they’re going through cancer treatment is money. When I was going through treatment, I moved in with my folks, so I didn’t have to worry about paying for food and utilities and all that. But, I just thought it was really important that I contributed to helping people out because what if I had been a single mom who didn’t make very much money? What would I do? I wanted to help an organization that provided financial assistance to people who were struggling to make ends meet, and then they had a cancer diagnosis. The last thing you should have to worry about when you’re dealing with cancer is how you’re going to pay your bills,” Ingram said.
After that, Ingram contacted friends and family to find silent auction donations, food, drinks and music. Then, the event was underway.
“Before the event when we were just standing in the space. After all the work we put into it, seeing it all come together was like ‘Wow, we’re doing this’,” Srouji said.
But Ingram’s involvement in Breast Cancer organizations doesn’t stop there. In addition to the BDPE fundraiser, she also participates in Gateway to Hope campaigns and was awarded the Stephanie Phillips Survivorship Award for Outstanding Courage and Leadership in the Fight Against Cancer by the Coaches Vs. Cancer Organization, which is affiliated with the American Cancer Society.
Family organizes GoFundMe page to support
“When Jenny was first diagnosed over five years ago, we offered to help her out and her reaction was that she wanted to fundraise for other people that were going through cancer treatment. She chose a local charity that was founded by the practice group of one of the doctors she was seeing. She was fighting for other people from the start,” Prosperi said. “I felt like her karma was due. Money is kind of the way to make somebody’s life the easiest in the quickest fashion. I didn’t want her to be stressed about bills or her mortgage. I was not surprised that there were a lot of people that responded to it knowing how many people she had helped over the years. I was surprised at just how massive the response was.”
Prosperi initially set up a GoFundMe as a way to raise money for Ingram to utilize as a cushion for any medical expenses that arise.
“When you get that first bill for over $1000 for something, it’s just really overwhelming. It sucks that has to be a part of her getting better. The financial part of it is stressful but that’s why this GoFundMe has been such a blessing for her because it’s a way for her to have some security so she doesn’t have to think about the difficult financial part and focus on what she needs to do to get better,” she said.
When Prosperi initially launched the fundraiser, she set a goal of $5,000. The total amount donated, as of Oct. 13, 2021, is $34,760.
Although the number is much larger than she originally anticipated, she’s not necessarily surprised at the amount of support that Ingram has from the community.
“It’s overwhelming, this diagnosis and the uncertainty of the future but knowing that every day she just has this huge hug of support, helps us know that she’s gonna be okay,” Prosperi said.
She also hoped that the funds raised could help support any decisions Ingram might have to make about her treatment plan.
“It’ll just be a nice pad for her for the next few years as she’s doing this ongoing treatment. Every time she has to write a check for a hospital bill she never has to be worried about it. She’ll never have to second guess [getting] an extra scan or trying extra treatment. I never wanted her to not get the care she wanted because of financial concerns,” Prosperi said.
Ingram’s friends have also acknowledged the financial relief the fundraiser has helped their peace of mind to know what she is taken care of.
“To go to all these doctor’s visits all the medical bills, it just seems like so much but she doesn’t complain about it. I had surgery a couple of years ago, which was so minor, but having to go through that and deal with health insurance companies was such a nightmare. Thinking about her having to deal with any of that makes me sad, I don’t want her to have to go through all of that. I was so happy with the GoFundMe,” Hensley said.
Undefined honors, raises money for Ingram
One event that came as a result of Ingram’s diagnosis was an Undefined Improv show in her honor.
Junior Micah Bounds had Ingram as a teacher his freshman year for ALARP I and also performed in the show.
“Freshman year I remember she would talk about her previous battle with breast cancer. It was really cool that I got to be part of her journey because I wasn’t a part of her first one,” Bounds said.
He also recalls that Ingram created a welcoming environment in her classroom, starting with her openness about her journey.
“It was interesting to have a teacher who was so open about it. It made me feel more comfortable to share something that is personal to me in class, whether in a presentation or a personal conversation,” he said.
Theatre teacher Natasha Fischer found out about Ingram’s resurfacing through an Instagram post and at once wanted to contribute in any way she could.
“I immediately reached out and said ‘What can I do?’. Her sister had posted this stuff about her GoFundMe, so I donated what I could and then I thought, ‘I have to do more’,” Fischer said. “A lot of people don’t know this but I suffered from postpartum depression after I had all three of my kids. I struggled every day to get up and get out of bed, I struggled to feel like I had a purpose. It was a lot that I was dealing with emotionally and mentally and I would always turn to her [social media]. It sounds weird and crazy like I’m a stalker but she always posts really funny things. I would go to Jenny’s page all the time. When I saw the [post about her cancer resurfacing] it was just jaw-dropping, I cannot believe that this is happening and she was still positive. She’s the most positive person I’ve ever met in my life.”
In addition to hosting a show in Ingram’s honor, Fischer wanted to contribute on a more personal level, so she decided to donate her hair during the show in support of Ingram.
“I knew [Ingram] had donated her hair because she had sent a post out about what was happening and I got very moved and emotional about it and then she posted about shaving her head with her sister. In that moment I was like ‘Yeah I’m gonna cut my hair for her’. I don’t know what specifically told myself to do that but I just decided. Originally, I was going to do it to my shoulders because I had 12 inches up to my shoulders. She took that first cut and was like ‘Oh my God I think I went too short’ and I was like ‘I don’t even care’. Someone showed me how much money we had raised right before that and I was like, ‘You know what? Just cut it all off. I wanted $1,000 [raised] and we went past that so just take it all off’, so she did,” she said.
Fischer also put together a video to show Ingram during the intermission of the show which was a compilation of staff members sharing what Ingram meant to them. Originally, she was hoping the video would be five minutes long. It ended up being 12.
“So many people wanted to say so many things. That’s how loved that woman is in this school and how much she has touched people. I hope she knows how appreciated she is. The whole show I just wanted her to feel loved and if she felt even the tiniest bit of love from that moment, I did my job,” Fischer said.
Softball hosts annual Pink Game, Ingram throws first pitch
Every year, Lafayette softball holds a Pink Game against Marquette High School in honor of Breast Cancer awareness and research. This year, it was in Ingram’s honor. Senior Abby Charlton had Ingram her freshman year and has since maintained a strong connection with her in the classroom.
“When I found out about Ingram and the pink game was coming up it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to raise money for her. I approached our Booster Club mom and asked her if we could have the proceeds go to Ingram,” Charlton said.
She also made bows for everyone on the team to wear during the game with Ingram’s name printed on them.
“I felt like making the bows would be a good way to honor her and show our love and support,” Charlton said. “[This year’s pink game] was a lot more meaningful because with COVID last year we weren’t able to have the same experience that we had this year. This year it was kind of back to what it used to be. For me personally, it was a lot different because it was my first real pink game on varsity. I felt like the energy this year was so much more lively. We were all so pumped, I think all of us lost our voices the next day. It’s a big game anyway because we play Marquette but we had a long conversation before the game about what we were playing for that day and that we needed to play for the right reasons and not just play for us, but for everyone who has battled and is battling cancer. I think that gave us a lot more motivation and energy.”
Although the game is annual, this year the game included something new: a first pitch thrown by Ingram.
“When brainstorming on ways to demonstrate that we were dedicating this game to Ms. Ingram, we wanted to find a way to include her in the game. We thought it was a neat moment for community support, and a great opportunity to recognize Ms. Ingram,” Head Coach Ally Gardner said. “I think our players all felt that this was a special moment too. There are many on the team that in some way have dealt with a form of cancer, whether it be a family member or family friend. I think they felt empowered to show support in advocating for research and awareness and that they were able to contribute and make a difference.”
Prosperi also attended the game and as an alumni and was happy to be reminded of the community available at the school.
“I went to the softball game just to see all of the students that she has touched supporting her right now in this tough time. It just means so much to her whole family. I know how special [Lafayette] is and it warms my heart to know that she’s teaching there now as she’s going through all this,” she said.
AMPED class raises money selling Breast Cancer shirts
Algebra 1 in Manufacturing Processes, Entrepreneurship and Design (AMPED) is a class that combines aspects of Algebra and business and one of the projects they work on involves running a t-shirt business. It was for this reason that language arts teacher Kathryn Shea reached out to the business AMPED teacher, Scott Beaver, to manufacture shirts to sell to raise money for Ingram.
“Ms. Ingram is one of our really good friends, we’ve been close for a long time. Mr. Beaver sent out an email promoting AMPED and I originally wanted to have department shirts made that we could wear to support her but after talking to Mr. Beaver it got bigger than that,” Shea said.
After Shea reached out, Beaver got to work designing the shirt and picking out materials.
“We brainstormed a design and we wanted to add a ‘Team Ingram’ on the sleeve so that we could show her support along with raising awareness for Breast Cancer,” Beaver said.
They decided that half of the $10 shirt would be donated to her GoFundMe while the other $5 covers the cost of the materials. The shirts can be purchased through Parent Pay Online by accessing the link or scanning a QR code by Oct. 15.
“I want to support Ms. Ingram. I can’t imagine what she’s going through and what she’s had to fight through. I’ve been wanting to find a way to support her and that’s one way we could do it together,” Beaver said.
After the shirts are ordered, the class will handle the production and distribution. Another aspect of this project is that whoever orders a shirt is being asked to wear it on Oct. 27. That date was chosen to fit the phrase from the movie Mean Girls, “On Wednesdays, we wear pink” and take place in October since it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“She’s raised so much money through her GoFundMe already so she’s really humble with receiving extra donations. She’s a teacher and medical bills are very expensive so we’re happy to help her in any way that we can,” Shea said.
Ingram inspires friends and family throughout journey
“It’s really weird to have to think about death. It’s morbid, but I don’t think I’m going to die anytime soon. I’m not afraid to die. I just worry about my family because that would be terrible for my parents to have to deal with that, or my sisters or my nieces and my nephew. I worry about my family if I were to die, but I don’t dwell on that,” Ingram said.
Despite the disappointment of a return of her Breast Cancer as Stage Four, she has been able to maintain a positive and at times, comical, outlook on her situation. Her light has also made its way to those around her and lifted their spirits.
“I got to know how strong and positive she is. I always knew she was a good writer, but she would write about her experience and she would always add a comical flare and try to find the positives. If it was a crummy situation, she would find a way to laugh about it,” Srouji said. “I was bummed for her to have to go through it again but I knew she was gonna be okay. We wish she didn’t have to go through it again but with her support system and her attitude, she’s gonna be fine.”
Ingram’s close friends have found that their relationships have grown more than they ever thought possible throughout her journey.
“It’s a privilege to call her one of my best friends. I love her positivity, I love that she’s my friend. I could not be more grateful to have her in my life and it’s crazy that it’s only been 10 years; it seems like I’ve known her my whole life,” Hensley said.
Ingram has found that, in addition to her family and friends’ support, the community has greatly benefited her ability to thrive.
“When you’re dealing with a serious health issue, so much of your ability to thrive is a social-emotional aspect: your attitude and your perspective. The support of the community has completely helped,” she said. “Their love and support is giving me life. I’m so appreciative of it. To have a loving community that allows [me] to have a positive outlook on things literally prolongs my life, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.”
This story was originally published on The Lancer Feed on October 14, 2021.