When Jill Bell’s breast cancer diagnosis was revealed three years ago, it hadn’t been long since she recovered from thyroid cancer. “At the time, I thought cynically, ‘Oh, again? Really?’”
Unfortunately, she was well versed in the ways of breast cancer. Both her mother and aunt succumbed. Still, she was surprised by the timing — she contracted the disease earlier than they did. She was also pleased (if such a thing can be said) by the timing — she caught the cancer in its beginning.
“It was early stages and definitely curable,” she said.
Jill moved to the Keys from Ohio about three decades ago. As of late, she has played a huge role in Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys. She was a board member beginning in 2011, and joined the team as an employee — volunteer coordinator — following Hurricane Irma.
So when we say she doesn’t have time for cancer, we mean it.
How old were you when you were diagnosed? I was in my mid-50s. There was a little spot on my mammogram. We looked further — a biopsy — and found the cancer. I opted for a partial mastectomy and radiation that was performed in the Keys.
Tell us about your mom, you aunt … My mom’s breast cancer reappeared three times and the third time, she was just too far gone. With my aunt, it went undetected. It got by her and it was just too much.
You had thyroid cancer previously? Yes, I had never heard of that. The surgeon took out a tumor from my neck the size of a baseball.
How did you handle the disease publically? I didn’t tell a lot of people about it. I didn’t want people thinking “Oh, poor Jill.”
Who was your support system? Oh, my husband came through with flying colors; he was very worried about me and was my caregiver. My kids also supported me as did my Habitat family. But you know how the Keys are … word of mouth gets around and soon enough my name was put on the San Pablo Catholic Church prayer list. I believe in the power of prayer. (Amen, sister!) And, sadly, I knew first hand many women who had been through breast cancer. Suzy Curry is a good friend of mine. And I serve on the Strides Walk committee, and more than 90% of us have survived breast cancer. Oh, and I did also volunteered for the American Cancer Association’s Relay for Life. So I had all my friends’ support.
Was the treatment rough? Radiation really kicked my butt. I had 20 treatments scheduled over four weeks. Monday through Friday, I would leave work at 2:30 p.m. and drive to Key West. One day the machine broke down and they rescheduled my treatment. I couldn’t skip it, though; it’s like solitaire — you’re only cheating yourself.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Oh, I think “I Dream of Jeannie” style of teleportation. It would be great to just blink my eyes and skip the TSA line or traffic jams.
If you could have a meal with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat? My mom. We would eat blue crabs and probably have a nice, cold beer.
Are you a book girl or a movie girl? Both. I recently saw “Joker” at an IMAX movie theater, my first experience, and that was excellent. For books, I go to the library and check out “edgy” romances.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three items would you take? A good long book, “Gone With the Wind” maybe; some way to make fresh water, just last week I was watching “Naked and Afraid;” and someway to light a fire.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Vodka.
What would you tell your younger self? Save money; you’re going to need it.