JACKSONVILLE, Fla — "I kinda just took a gulp," Jody Gerwe says about the day before her 50th birthday.
Don't think it was because she was about to hit the big half-century mark.
It was because she found out that day she was positive for breast cancer.
And her internal reaction -- after the gulp -- was typical go-getter Jody. "Okay, what's the next step?" she says.
Jody is a well-loved member of the First Coast News team. As our HR guru, she handles all of our problems with a reassuring voice and a bright smile.
This year, she's been tackling her own challenge with cancer without telling lots of us on staff. Never one to focus on herself, now she's ready to share her story in hopes of inspiring other women to take action to catch breast cancer early.
For Jody, the breast cancer journey began years ago when her own grandmother, whom she calls "Grammy Helen," lost her battle with breast cancer.
Jody adored her.
"I remember her hands. You remember things about people you love like that. She wore cotton candy-color nail polish," Jody says.
Grammy Helen lived next door to Jody. Losing her was heartbreaking.
"It was devastating. I was 10 when she passed from breast cancer. It metastasized to her brain," Jody says.
Jody was able, however, to catch her breast cancer early. "It was stage one," she says.
And how did she find it? A mammogram.
Jody is urging women to make that mammogram appointment for 2021. She's fussing with her friends skipping their mammos now.
She's asking them, "What are you doing? What are you thinking? You've got to do this for yourself."
"There are only so many tools in the toolbox you have, and one of them is time," she says, pointing out that catching breast cancer early is the way to win.
Jody says make sure you're doing Buddy Check. That means your self exams and your mammograms.
"To say they save lives is probably an understatement," she says.
And she's proof that playing this smart pays off. Now she's alive for her husband and her children --- and all of us at First Coast News, who pepper her with a zillion questions and issues.
FCN anchor Jeannie Blaylock - together with Baptist Health -- launched Buddy Check on TV 28 years ago. Since then, thousands of lives have been saved on our First Coast and around the country.
You can be part of this life-saving program, and it won't cost you a dime.
Just call Baptist Health, and we'll mail you a free Buddy Check kit with a waterproof shower card showing how to check yourself, plus other helpful information.
The number to call is 904-202-CARE.
Then choose a Buddy, someone you care about. Remind her every 12th of the month to do Buddy Check. Remember a breast tumor often feels hard or firm, like an uncooked bean.
And set up your mammogram appointment!
If Buddy Check helps you in any way discover breast cancer, email Jeannie at firstname.lastname@example.org.