Early detection helps teacher share a valuable lesson

Jill Wuebker, a preschool teacher at Clark Early Learning Center in Springfield, works with student Juniper Schneider. Being back with her students is helping Wuebker overcome her bout with breast cancer, which she discovered last winter. BRETT TURNER/CONTRIBUTED

Nobody in her family had ever had breast cancer. Yet Jill Wuebker knew deep down that someday she’d have the disease.

That confirmation came in January 2020 after a visit to a Mercy Health mobile mammography unit. While one of the worst days of her life, the good news is the detection came early and it gave Wuebker a chance to fight. If she’d waited, it could’ve been worse.

Now she is urging other women not to skip their mammograms.

“Early detection is the key. It’s when you have more control. It could’ve spread but was encapsulated and they got it when it was small,” said Wuebker, a Beavercreek resident who is a preschool teacher at Clark Early Learning Center, part of the Springfield City School District.

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Her dad had a rare form of cancer and an aunt had uterine cancer. She’d always maintained a healthy lifestyle, staying regular with her checkups, which was easier given the school district scheduled visits from the mobile mammography unit.

But Wuebker was still wary.

She missed the September 2019 visit and thought she’d be fine. When an email announcing another visit the following January went out, Wuebker was firm in making it there.

“A little voice said make sure you do it,” she said. Being strong in her faith also helped.

Following her mobile visit, a follow-up call the next week was the one she’d dreaded. “Something just wasn’t right. We need to do something more closeup,” she was told. Things moved quickly and a biopsy was scheduled.

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“The biopsy was painful but they were comforting,” Wuebker said of the staff at Mercy Health Springfield Regional Cancer Center.

The waiting period for the results was just as uncomfortable. Wuebker was at training and was outside Springfield’s John Legend Theater when she got the call.

“I don’t remember what (the doctor) said other than it was not negative,” she said. “I fell to my knees right there in front of the John Legend Theater. He said it was zero, it was self-contained and not metastasized.”

It was originally going to take about a month to get surgery, but a call on Presidents Day moved it up to mid-February, when Wuebker received a SAVI implant at Miami Valley Hospital South and spent a week off. She was able to return to work for just five days before the state’s coronavirus shutdown hit and schools were closed.

Not only was Wuebker fighting cancer, but also the threat of a new and potentially deadly disease she could be vulnerable to because of her condition. On top of that, other than her two sons, she couldn’t see family, leaving home only to take radiation treatments at Soin Medical Center.

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“I lived in my bedroom for two months,” said Wuebker. “Sheer force of will got me through.”

She still managed to also do the Backpack Buddy program while undergoing treatment, which helps feed kids in the Springfield City School district who don’t always have enough to eat.

Wuebker had reconstructive surgery in August, just as school was about to begin in Springfield. Now she’s back in the classroom, which is where she wants to be.

“The kids have made it better. I love to teach, this makes me feel better being here and the school giving me the time telling me I’m covered has been phenomenal,” she said.

During a recent treatment, Wuebker got another unwelcome surprise in finding an enlarged lymph node in her other breast.

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While the news isn’t easier, knowing how to battle it is.

“I have more confidence,” she said. “If it leads to that, I’ve got the surgeon and everything else lined up. You’ve got to have a support system in place.”

Her advice to all women is to not dismiss having a mammogram. It can make a difference.

“It’s painful, but it’s better to feel safe. You just have to do it.”

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