Young business owner, mom defeats Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Jessica McDermott scoops ice cream into a cone at her store, with the purple ribbon and “Survivor” tattoo visible on her wrist.

Jessica McDermott scoops ice cream into a cone at her store, with the purple ribbon and “Survivor” tattoo visible on her wrist.

At just 24 years old, Jessica McDermott, of Williamsport, was a business owner, mother of two and cancer patient.

McDermott was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage 2, in October of 2014, almost exactly one year after taking ownership of and re-opening the Sunset Ice Cream Parlor on Lycoming Creek Road. With a 2-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter, the already-difficult task of going through treatment was made that much harder.

There were times when she couldn’t drive from town to the mall without having a panic attack, she said.

“Going from being extremely independent to, ‘You might not be able to take care of your kids,’ was terrifying,” she said. “It made everything else that much scarier because I had never looked at mortality before.”

But her children being so young at the time also was helpful in some ways, she said.

“I didn’t have to worry about them being as scared,” McDermott said. “They were the only people who weren’t always asking how things were going, and that was kind of nice.”

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, part of the immune system. Cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread, according to

the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical research group. As the disease progresses, it also may compromise the body’s ability to fight infections.

While trying to stay healthy throughout treatment and raise two babies, McDermott also was trying to build up her business. When she bought the ice cream parlor, along with her fiance Brett Harer, the couple was too young to qualify for a loan.

Harer, a Marine Corps veteran with construction experience, used his savings and enlisted the help of family to get the parlor up and running. But, when McDermott started her treatment, they had no working capital as back-up, she said.

McDermott started to rely on her fiance more and more when it came to helping with the kids and the business, which was hard for her.

“I couldn’t just continue to do it all. Rather than asking for help, I just kind of ‘do.’ I take over,” she said. “I became much more dependent on him, especially emotionally.”

The anxiety McDermott experienced throughout treatment hasn’t fully dissipated, though she’s been in remission for more than two years, she said.

“Every time you get a cold, you panic. It’s the little things that never used to scare you before,” she said. “It’s very hard not to let that control your life.”

McDermott faces longterm physical effects, as well as emotional ones.

Radiation fried her salvatory glands, leaving her with perpetual dry mouth, she said. Her voice also is much more raspy, as the treatment area was mainly on her throat and chest, where the largest tumor was found. A more unexpected side effect of her treatment was being diagnosed with endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that typically lines the uterus grows outside the uterus.

“You don’t even want to go to the doctor anymore because you don’t want to hear another diagnosis,” she said.

The possibility of becoming pregnant again wasn’t even a blip on the radar for McDermott, due to the endometriosis as well as general after effects of chemo. But, if there’s one thing McDermott’s learned, it’s to expect the unexpected — or, in her case, expect twins.

McDermott said she is about 13 weeks along, or just starting the second trimester, in her third pregnancy.

“Most women are told chemo can cause infertility,” she said, “so this hopefully will give hope to many!”

McDermott said she was able to get through it all, not only with the support of close friends and family, but with online support groups she stumbled across thanks to Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. She still leans on the group members for support some days, and they do the same.

She gets through each day as it comes, she said.

“Some days, I feel like Wonder Woman,” McDermott said. “But on the bad days, I just remind myself, ‘It’ll pass.’ “

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