A Discussion With Jennifer Delgado on Life After Cancer and Weathering the Storm

Jennifer Delgado grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. She attended Webster University, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Media Communications. She then went to Mississippi State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Geosciences with a concentration in Broadcast Meteorology. In 2006, Jennifer Delgado worked as a morning and noon meteorologist […]

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Jennifer Delgado
Jennifer Delgado

Jennifer Delgado grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. She attended Webster University, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Media Communications. She then went to Mississippi State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Geosciences with a concentration in Broadcast Meteorology.

In 2006, Jennifer Delgado worked as a morning and noon meteorologist for WTVR-TV in Richmond, Virginia. Then in 2008, she began working at CNN International in Atlanta, Georgia, as their primary meteorologist, as well as a fill-in meteorologist on all CNN networks. In 2010, she won a Peabody Award for CNN’s coverage on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2013, Delgado was hired as a co-host of AMHQ (America’s Morning Headquarters) at The Weather Channel. She anchored continuous coverage of breaking news and weather events, including live interviews with state and local officials, experts and residents. She was also their fill-in co-host of Wake-Up with Al.

Jennifer Delgado began freelancing as a meteorologist/anchor for WXIA-TV in 2017. She presented weathercasts every six minutes during a two-hour morning newscast and produced weathercasts for radio, web, and the 24-hour weather channel.

Two years ago, Jennifer Delgado was diagnosed with blood cancer. She underwent treatment and received a bone marrow/stem cell transplant. Since the transplant, she has been receiving treatment at the Emory Winship Cancer Institute and advocating for cancer awareness and more bone marrow donors.

  1. How did your cancer diagnosis change your life?

No one is ever prepared to hear the words, “you have cancer.” It literally blew up my world. I had to stop working because beating cancer became my full-time job. I knew something was wrong for months based on my symptoms. I was tired all the time, my bones were aching, had migraines, vertigo and confusion. Dealing with any illness is stressful, especially if you aren’t able to work. Some people say cancer changed their life for the better; however, I don’t want to credit cancer for anything positive. It was a wake-up call. Life is short, and you have to enjoy every moment.

  • What advice or words of encouragement would you give to others faced with a cancer diagnosis?

I immediately went into a deep depression. I hid and only shared the news with my close friends and family. I was trying to hide the awful chemo port in my chest and made excuses for my appearance and fatigue. It was very stressful. I think anyone dealing with a serious medical condition should reach out to people going through the same battle. I got some amazing tips from fellow blood cancer survivors on Instagram and Facebook support groups. I have formed many close bonds and when I am feeling down they completely understand.  Cancer patients can easily go through their savings in a short amount of time. I was lucky to have amazing health insurance but not everyone is that fortunate.  There is a lot of grant money out there for people struggling financially. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is an amazing organization and helps patients with everything from financial help, information on clinical trials etc.

  • Why is it important to be your own health advocate?

If you are strong enough, I say it’s important to be your own health advocate. You know your body best. I also suggest if you have one, reaching out to a friend or family member who works in medicine (nurse, PA, doctor) to be your medical advocate. The advocate can come to your appointments or even join a conference call during your appointments when you need help understanding your treatment options. I was lucky to have both my mom and one of my best friends to help me interpret everything. Never be afraid to ask your doctor questions, and don’t forget about the physician’s assistant, who often has more availability.

  • How did you become your own health advocate?

I was going back and forth to the doctor for nearly a year, and they keep dismissing my symptoms. At one point, one doctor told me to take probiotics. I finally decided it was time to get a second opinion when I was having trouble walking. Luckily, I found Dr. Drew Freilich, whom I credit with saving my life. He recognized that my symptoms were severe and insisted that I needed an MRI. That’s how they discovered I had a blood cancer that was attacking my bones. I could have become disabled if I had waited longer to get help. If you know something is wrong, you have to be persistent about getting answers.

  • What helped you persevere through this challenging time in your life?

I know it sounds cliché, but my friends, family, and neighbors. They all took excellent care of me. They drove me to the hospital for chemotherapy or bone marrow biopsies. My friends were great and would drop by to bring me food or help clean up my house.

I know it may sound silly but my dogs really helped keep my spirits up. Quite often, it was just me and the dogs and during isolation. I truly believe that pets are healing, and studies show that having one improves your mental health. There were several weeks when I had to be away from my dogs because my immune system was too weak. I was lucky enough to have great friends watch my fur babies. I even tried to convince my friends to drive by Emory Hospital so that I could see them.

  • What advice would you give to others entering the period of remission?

I would say you have to be positive. It seems like it’s a long way away, and you wonder at times whether or not everything you did is going to pay off when you finally get to remission. So, I think you have to be positive because you get very paranoid. I believe positive thinking can be healing and improve your health. Keeping in mind that everyone’s journey is different, I think it’s also important to see a psychologist or therapist. Sometimes it’s easier to share your real concerns with a stranger. We always try and put on a brave face for family and friends.

  • What type of philanthropic and volunteer efforts do you do now as a way of giving back?

After everything, I felt like I had to give back to the cancer community and Emory Winship Cancer Center. I got my dogs certified to be “Happy Tails” therapy dogs, and now we visit patients battling cancer while they are getting chemo. It’s amazing and emotional all at the same time. Many times, patients will say, “your puppy made my day.”

I am also trying to raise awareness for the need of more bone marrow donors. Right now, the majority of donors come from Europe. It would be awesome if more people would register to be a bone marrow donor. It’s a simple swab test. I think it’s a small price to pay, considering more than 170,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancer every year. Check out Be The Match or The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

  • How do you stay motivated?

I am not going to sugarcoat it, staying motivated is extremely challenging and a daily battle. I think every cancer survivor questions, “why did this happen to me? Is it gone? How long will I stay in remission?” It can be quite depressing, but you have to live for the day and stick to a routine. I try to remind myself that there is a reason why I am still alive, and I want to give back to others who are struggling.

  • What was the hardest part of the treatment?

Everything. I had months of chemo to get my cancer level down enough to collect my stem cells for the transplant. I wondered constantly, “will I be in remission?” And then once I was in remission, “how long will I stay in remission before I relapse?” When you’re dealing with blood cancers, most have no cure. So, there’s always that chance of relapse, and you’re always worrying about it.

I did six rounds of chemo before I was even ready to get a transplant. The stem cell transplant was something I was dreading because of the high dose of chemotherapy and losing my hair. That can be a very difficult experience, especially for women. After those six rounds, they collected my stem cells, which is not a fun process. Then they prepped me, and I had the transplant.

After, I was in isolation at the hospital for three weeks. Then I went home, and I was still under isolation for another 100+ days. I felt like I was ready to lose my mind. During this time, your white blood cells are regenerating, which means you don’t have an immune system, and you suffer from extreme fatigue and pain. Walking up a short flight of stairs would wipe me out. I couldn’t eat salads, fruits, basically anything raw. When I left the house, I’d have to wear a mask to protect my immune system. I really hated that because everyone would stare and pretty much knew I had cancer.

However, to put a positive spin on it, because of my time in isolation at home, I really felt my creative juices start to flow. I began brainstorming and thinking of a lot of different things because life is short, and the cancer was my wake-up call.

So, my best advice during that period is to make a reading list and binge-watch shows on Netflix. I read the Game of Thrones series. I literally had a calendar counting down to 100 days. That’s also the time when your hair finally starts to grow back!

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