Patient Stories

Fight and Flight: Jen's Breast Cancer Survival Story

Dec. 13, 2022

An annual mammogram is nothing new for UC Health flight nurse Jen Miller. She has received mammograms since the young age of 30 due to her high risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I have significant breast cancer history in my family, with my mom being diagnosed at age 45 and both grandmothers—paternal and maternal—having the same history,” Jen shared.

While performing a self-exam, Jen discovered a large lump in her left breast in the beginning of May 2022.

“It seemed to pop up overnight,” she shared. She discovered the lump on a Saturday and called her OB/GYN first thing Monday morning to schedule a mammogram.

“They were pretty booked up and I could not get in for quite some time, so my friend referred me to the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center,” Jen explained. The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center provides state-of-the-art, convenient cancer care, making the most advanced care readily available to the people of Greater Cincinnati. Highly trained physicians work collaboratively in a multidisciplinary setting to personalize the treatment of every cancer patient and provide the best level of care. 

Jen was fortunate that the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center was able to see her quickly.

Jen's Breast Cancer Diagnosis

The news of her diagnosis came fast.

“I had my mammogram and ultrasound on the same day, Friday, and was told that I had cancer that afternoon. It made for a really stressful weekend,” Jen said. “I got in the next week for my biopsy and was subsequently diagnosed with stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.”

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is a type of cancer that begins in the breast duct, but breaks the basement membrane, or the barrier around the ducts. When the cancer cells break the basement membrane, they travel into the stroma tissue, which is called invasion. This means the cancer can grow in both types of tissue and spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

After breast cancer is diagnosed, the next step is to determine the stage of the disease, which is a way of describing how far cancer has spread in the body. Being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer meant that Jen’s cancer spread to the surrounding tissues and to her lymph nodes. The tumor was also larger than 5 centimeters in size.

The Breast Cancer Treatment Journey

Jen was referred to Alicia Heelan, MD, UC Health surgical oncologist and assistant professor of surgery in the Department of Surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

“She was so reassuring, matter of fact and gave me all the answers I needed at the time,” Jen shared about Dr. Heelan. “That same day, she sent me directly to the medical oncologist to receive my plan of care for chemotherapy. I could not ask for a better care team.”

Mahmoud Charif, MD, UC Health medical oncologist and associate professor in the department of internal medicine at the UC College of Medicine, discussed with Jen the next steps for treatment. He continues to support her through her care plan.

“The Cancer Center is one well-oiled machine,” Jen said, who explained that everyone on her care team regularly communicates—the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing. “You have no worrying to do, you just concentrate on getting better.”

This year, University of Cincinnati Cancer Center received full three-year accreditation from the American College of Surgeon’s Commission on Cancer (CoC). To earn voluntary CoC accreditation, a cancer program must meet 34 CoC quality care standards, be evaluated every three years through a survey process and maintain levels of excellence in the delivery of comprehensive patient-centered care. The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center is one of the commission’s five oldest cancer programs.

 “For cancer patients, this means that plans of care are researched and studied on a consistent basis,” Jen said about the CoC accreditation. “That gives me such a sense of relief!”

Jen has received 14 rounds of chemotherapy so far and is excited to only have two treatments remaining.

“I cannot wait until I am finished with this part,” Jen said. She does, however, understand that this treatment is part of the process—this December, Jen will have a mastectomy, followed by radiation in February 2023.

Early Detection Gives Jen a Breast Cancer Survivor Story

While Jen’s journey hasn’t been an easy one, she stays strong for those who need her most, including her three-year-old daughter Emma.

“She is the light of my life, helping me focus on getting better,” she said, “but I will say, cancer is not for the weak, and neither are toddlers!”

Jen credits the support of her mom, family and friends for helping her throughout this journey. As a UC Health Air Care flight nurse, Jen has thankfully been able to continue working throughout her treatment.

“My work family has been there every step of the way and I feel like I can never repay them,” she said. To honor and support Jen through her journey, her team made patches that said, “Her Fight is Our Fight,” for their flight suits and made t-shirts to sell, giving Jen both emotional and financial support with her incoming bills.

“I could never have gotten this far without all the people in my life. I am eternally grateful,” Jen beamed.

As a flight nurse, Jen has an intricate understanding of hospital systems.

“I can tell you, we can all be so proud to work for this health system,” she said. “We provide the highest standard of care in our region, and I truly love working here.”

Jen has a team of individuals who provide her with the best care possible, just as she does with her team while in flight.

“It is not a quick process to fight cancer, but the care team is there every step of the way. I am so thankful for the Cancer Center and UC Health,” she said.

Jen decided to share her story to spread awareness and help anyone she can along the way, emphasizing the importance of mammogram screenings.

“I was lucky to find a lump. That’s why mammograms are so important,” she said. “You may not get a warning like I did—please do not miss this screening.”

According to, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their life. Performing self-breast exams is as imperative as having an annual mammogram. If anything seems unusual or abnormal, call your physician or UC Health Mammography Services at 513-584-PINK (7465).