Thrive by IU Health

September 08, 2022

College athlete leans on family, friends for cancer support

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

College athlete leans on family, friends for cancer support

She has always been fit and healthy, but when Janai Mitchell learned she had breast cancer, an extended care team circled up to offer help.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

Janai Mitchell with friend

Her web of reinforcement is tight. Photos show Janai Mitchell smiling with friends, and co-workers, and on the beach with her dad and stepmother. Another photo shows her with her mom, aunt, and friends wearing silly party hats.

The last photo was taken in April on Mitchell’s 27th birthday. A month earlier she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She does not have an inherited mutation, but with a family history, she was diligent with self exams.

It was during one of those exams that Mitchell discovered a lump in her right breast. Her great grandmother died of complications from breast cancer. Her grandmother is a survivor.

Janai Mitchell playing volleyball

A long-time resident of Kansas City, Kan., Mitchell played four years of basketball and volleyball in high school. She was a middle hitter on the volleyball court and a center for the basketball team.

She received a scholarship to a Kansas City Community College and continued pursuing her interest in sports. After graduation, she moved to Indianapolis to be closer to family.

And now, it’s her family members and friends who are surrounding her as she goes through treatment.

During a recent visit to IU Health Simon Cancer Center, Mitchell was accompanied by her aunt, Tavara Holliday. In the care of IU Health’s Dr. Carla Fisher and Dr. Tarah Ballinger Mitchell underwent a lumpectomy and recently completed her sixth chemotherapy treatment. Two weeks after her treatments, Mitchell took part in a new program at IU Health called “Multidisciplinary Oncologic Vitality and Exercise” (M.O.V.E.), created by Dr. Ballinger. The program brings together a group like minded healthcare professionals from various disciplines. The goal is to offer supportive oncology services as part of every patient’s journey through survivorship. Physical therapy is one of those services.

As an athlete, Mitchell is no stranger to the benefits of physical therapy.

“I’ve been lucky that I haven’t been sick from chemotherapy and my numbers have stayed the same so there’s no decline. I’ve had a little stiffness in my fingers and the physical therapy has helped,” said Mitchell. In addition to regular visits with her physical therapist, she works on strengthening exercises at home.

Living alone, and going to work every day as a Regulated Pharmaceutical Technician has also given Mitchell focus during treatment. It’s her friends and family members who pitched in to provide transportation to treatments, grocery runs, cleaning and moral support.

“She’s very independent,” said her aunt. “We’re here to offer backup and we’re happy she’s letting us.”

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