AOP: Were you surprised to discover you were having twins? What was your pregnancy like?
JS: It was definitely a surprise for sure! My husband is a twin, but the saying is it skips a generation, and usually from the mother’s genes. But then again, I am adopted, so I do not know my family history. I could have twins in my family and not know it…or I could be a twin! Derrick has multiple sets of twins in his family.
My pregnancy was a little difficult. After my first trimester, it was decided that I should start having my follow-up appointments in Birmingham, UAB. Carter was not growing as he should have been. It turned out his brother, Mason, was taking all the nutrients in the womb. They were born weighing only 2 and 4 pounds at 34 weeks. I will never forget when we went to UAB on May 10, 2011, for a check-up appointment, and the doctor said it was time to get Carter out. I was in labor for over 24 hours, and finally, they decided to do an emergency C-Section. Scared was an understatement, but we all made it through perfectly.
AOP: What is your best advice for moms of multiples?
JS: My advice is to make sure you have the best support system, lots of family and friends who can be there for you in a heartbeat. I do not know what I would have done if I was not here in town with all our family. Also, you have to have a strict schedule. I know it’s easier said than done, but it truly made such a difference.
AOP: You are a breast cancer survivor! When were you diagnosed, and what was your diagnosis?
JS: On January 4, 2021, I got the call that my biopsy from a mass found on December 29, 2020, was breast cancer. My heart sank as I was with both my boys, and I did not want them to know. I went straight to my parents; I was terrified. At first, the doctors from EAMC said it was a very rare, aggressive cancer, Metaplastic breast cancer. Still, I decided to get a 2nd opinion with UAB, which determined it was not Metaplastic, but HER2 Positive breast cancer, stage 2. That second opinion made all the difference, and I am so glad I got it. I am now two years cancer free!
AOP: What was your biggest parenting challenge during cancer treatment and into survivorship?
JS: My biggest parenting challenge during cancer was staying strong for my boys. I never wanted them to see me in pain or as sick as I got some days. My husband is a third shifter, so I was somewhat of a single parent throughout the week. After my diagnosis, I took my first three months off work to start my treatments. I continued to take the boys to school and pick them up in the afternoons, made breakfast, helped them get ready for school, cooked dinner, and helped them get ready for bed. I just tried to make every day as normal as possible. On my sick days, I did have my mom to help me. She was there for me every day.
AOP: What words of wisdom would you give any young adult facing cancer or another life-threatening illness?
JS: Keep the Faith! Stay Positive! Pray, pray, pray! Push yourself to be the best. Don’t dwell on any negativity. Let go and let God! Embrace the change and live each day with love and gratitude that you are still breathing.
AOP: You shared that you were adopted. What did your parents do that you feel made the biggest impact in making you feel secure, confident, and proud of your story?
JS: I absolutely love my adoption story! Although I know I am physically adopted, I mentally feel like I am biologically from my parents. I honestly can’t even tell you what they did specifically to make me feel secure and confident because I have always felt like I was their own. God knew exactly what he was doing when he placed me with my parents, Michael and Ellen Melnick.
AOP: What are the three best traits your parents instilled in your upbringing? Do you work to instill the same in your children now?
JS: Unconditional love, discipline, and respect. I do my best to raise my boys like I was. I can not tell you how good it feels to be somewhere and a stranger tells me how well-behaved and well-mannered my boys are. It truly does a mama’s heart good to know she might be doing something right.
Jennie Sistrunk and her husband Derrick are high school sweethearts who grew up in Opelika. They have 13-year-old twin boys – Carter and Mason, and an Old English Bulldog named Scout. The family loves grilling out, watching sports, going to the beach, taking weekend trips, and enjoying family walks around the neighborhood.