This series - as it relates to our audience - is about young women and the power we each posses to overcome obstacles with perseverance and a keen sense of self. Cancer has become a familiar term within our vocabulary, but one that often lacks connection if it's not part of our direct story. We can all make a difference by educating ourselves, spreading the word and identifying with this disease; power is in numbers and no one should fight alone.
Below, Jamie teaches us about battling breast cancer and what that means amid the clamor of life.
"I never know if my cancer will come back, stealing me away from my family, my friends. I'm fearful that my daughters will have my gene mutation and have to worry about getting breast cancer. And I'm angry. I'm angry that my sister is gone. I'm angry that her husband lost his wife; her son grew up without a mother. And that my parents had to burry a child. I'm angry she's not here with us."
Q: Tell us about the day you found out that your had breast cancer - what were your first thoughts? What stage was it?
A: On December 5, 2008, my doctor came to me with the results to the biopsy I had the day before. His exact words were, "Jamie I have the results. It's going to be cancer. I'm so sorry, but we're going to get it and we're going to get it all." The thing was, I wasn't shocked. I knew it was coming. My oldest sister, Tracy, was in the hospital dying from metastic breast cancer and we both had found out recently that we carried the BRCA 1 gene mutation so I wasn't surprised. I expected it. However, I now had to tell my parents that I had breast cancer, too. I remember walking into the room to hang up my phone and looking at my dad. I just kept saying, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry -- then he yelled at me. He said, "Stop apologizing! We're going to do this. You're going to be OK." Then I had to call my mom, who was sitting next to my dying sister in the ICU. That was the worst part during my diagnosis. I alone was responsible for breaking my parent's hearts. They had one daughter dying and now another newly diagnosed. I decided in that moment that I was never going let them know how scared I was, and that I was going to do everything I could to kick the crap out of cancer. I had my surgery a week later I found out I was Stage 1. However, my cancer was a Triple Negative. This is the most aggressive form of breast cancer in young women, often times with reoccurrences within five years of your initial diagnosis.
Q: What about you is different because of the impact breast cancer has had on your life?
A: I'm not sure if anything about me is different. I know I have met some of the most incredible people due to my diagnosis. I know I have forged some incredible bonds with others who have had this horrible disease or who work to eradicate it. Perhaps what has changed about me is that I'm more fearful. I never know if my cancer will come back, stealing me away from my family, my friends. I'm fearful that my daughters will have my gene mutation and have to worry about getting breast cancer. And I'm angry. I'm angry that my sister is gone. I'm angry that her husband lost his wife; her son grew up without a mother. And that my parents had to burry a child. I'm angry she's not here with us. So, I guess that made me passionate about helping others.
Q: What does it mean to you when certain companies [like ourselves] get involved in giving back and raising awareness? Do you relate to any of their missions in a way that you may have never thought?
A: Do I think there is an endless amount of awareness? Yes. Do I hope that all money that is being raise either goes to finding a cure or helping women with breast cancer? Yes! Some people feel like there is enough awareness and we need more action, more funds going to find a cure. For me, I agree, to an extent. There still needs to be awareness. Especially about young women getting breast cancer. Just two months ago I met a young woman recently diagnosed. She was crying when we connected. Why? Because she thought she was alone. She didn't realize there are others; that she had others to talk to and get support from. So yes, we still need awareness, but we do need a cure. We need to support not just those diagnosed, but those LIVING with mestatic breast cancer. Those who know they will die from the disease, they just don't know when. My sister lived for 9 years. She thrived. She did not let cancer ever stop her. She was heavily involved with the Young Survival Coalition and believed deeply in their mission. And like her, I believe deeply in organizations that do more than just raise awareness. The ones that support women facing breast cancer, educate the medical community to the unique needs of young women with breast cancer and fund researchers to find a better treatments and a cure.
Q: What would you want others to know about your experience? Do you have any advice for someone that may be going through something similar?
A: Everyone's experience with breast cancer is different. Everyone reacts differently to their treatments. And most of us have to deal with life long after effects from my multiple surgeries and treatment. I've been in remission for almost nine years. I've had both my breasts removed, I endured 16 rounds of intensive chemotherapy and had to have my ovaries removed and I still have a 30% chance of my cancer coming back. I will never consider myself cured. I never have a day where cancer doesn't cross my mind. That fear of reoccurrence doesn't just sit with me every day for the rest of my life, but my family feels it too. All I know is that you must take it one day at a time and you must be your own best health advocate. You must fight for yourself. If something feels wrong speak up and demand better care. If one doctor dismisses you the go find another. Fight for yourself. Fight for your future.
Q: Tell us about your daughters -- they have been described to me as "miracle babies." Do you think your diagnosis prepared you for motherhood in any ways?
A: My girls are my world. They are that is good, beautiful and joyous. They are the greatest gift I have ever been given --- and now I'm crying. When I was diagnosed I was single, my sister was dying and my boyfriend had broken up with me two weeks before my diagnosis. All I was thinking about was getting the cancer out of my body and getting back to focusing on my sister. I wasn't thinking about life after cancer or what chemo could do to my body. Thank goodness for Anna Cluxton. She was the President of The Young Survival Coalition. She called me when she heard about my diagnosis not just to offer support, but advice. She reminded me that chemo can destroy a woman's fertility and take away her chance to have kiddos. She said, "I know you're not thinking about the future right now, but you need to. I know you want a family so you need to look into preserving your fertility and having your eggs frozen. No one told me to do that and that I would be unable to have children. I don't want that to happen to you." She single handedly secured my future. The next day I called a doctor and started to figure out what I needed to do to have my eggs frozen. In February, 2009, I started the process of freezing my eggs. There were multiple dry visits and shots and at this time my sister was getting even sicker. On Feb. 20th, 2009, at 5:10 a.m., my sister died from metastatic breast cancer. At 7:30 a.m., I was sitting in my fertility doctor's office staring into space and saying, "My sisters dead." I watched my doctor and nurse break down. Two days later I had seven eggs retrieved and frozen. Five hours later I was reading my sisters eulogy. My eggs were frozen for five years while I met, fell in love with and married the greatest man on this earth. We tried for years to get pregnant with no avail. After a chemical pregnancy that never came to be my husband and I decided to try my frozen eggs. In March, 2014, all seven eggs were unthawed, however only four were mature enough to be fertilized. Of those four, three made it 24 hours and two made it to transfer day. On the day my eggs were transferred I was laying in the transfer room waiting for the procedure to begin. A nurse came up to me and said, I don't know if you remember me, but I was here the day you had your eggs retrieved. We all know your story and we're all partying for you today. Two weeks later I was told I was pregnant. Four weeks later my husband and I hear TWO of the most beautiful sounds. The heartbeats of our miracle babies, Teresa and Graceanne. At 35 weeks I had an emergency c-section due to preeclampsia. Needless to say my girls are happy, healthy, funny, smart, beautiful and almost three years old. Teresa, who we call Tess, is named after her Aunt Tracy. Graceanne, whom we call Gracie is named for Anna. Because thanks to Anna we were graced with our miracle babies. These two creatures have brought so much joy and hope to so many. They helped bring happiness back to my family after the loss of my sister; they mended some deeply broken hearts in my family. I will forever be grateful to Anna and the YSC for what they did for me and my future. My children give me hope and no matter what, I will do whatever it takes to always be here for them, with them, always.
Q: Do you live your life any differently than you did in the past? What can other women learn from you and your experience?
A: I don't believe I live my life much differently then I did in the past. If anything, I spend more time advocating for and supporting a cause that means a great deal to me and my family. If there is anything that can be learned from my experience is that you need to be your own best health advocate. You must fight for yourself. You must fight for your future.