She calls herself the “project manager” of the house, so when Jamil Rivers of Delaware County found out she would be fighting stage IV metastatic breast cancer at age 39, her first priority was managing the stress it may put on her husband and three sons. Her selfless, positive attitude shines through in every “project” she takes on. Jamil now volunteers her time as a reviewer for the PBCC Breast Cancer Research Grants Initiative.
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer one month before my 40th birthday. I had a miscarriage in 2015. I breastfed my boys and when I had the miscarriage my left breast went back to normal but the right one was fuller than normal. My doctor thought that maybe it was blocked milk ducts.
Being a mom of three boys and with a husband who survived colon cancer in 2012, you get busy.
Fast forward to December 2017 and everyone in the house was getting winter colds but mine wasn’t going away. The doctor gave me an antibiotic and that didn’t work. Then I had a pinch on my right side, it felt like a nerve. Gall bladder issues run in my family so I asked for an ultrasound. The ultrasound discovered lesions in my liver. From there it was confirmed that I had stage 4 de novo breast cancer, hormone positive, her-2 negative, and it had spread to my liver and all over my body.
I did IV chemo for a year, for three weeks then one week off. After a year they found that the tumors all over my body had shrunk and were no longer visible on a scan. They recommended that I switch to endocrine therapy, switched to oral pills, a drug in combination with targeted therapies and a hormone blocker. In addition, I proactively asked for my ovaries to be removed. I still get scans every three months. I did not have surgery because they said since it had spread there would be no added benefit to removing the primary tumor.
My Support System
I got support from everyone and from everywhere. I reached out to Unite for Her and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. I had treatment at Penn and they have a great support system, integrated therapies, social worker. The main thing is that since I am the project manager in my family, I did not want them disrupted. My husband is disabled and I did not want him to be stressed. Then right after I finished chemo he had liver cancer.
I researched vigorously to learn how to best prepare to survive to be here for my children and my husband. I am a patient advisor to the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance, a reviewer for the the PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s Breast Cancer Research Grants Initiative and
a proposal reviewer for the Breast Cancer Research program with the Department of Defense. I launched the Chrysalis Initiative, which provides mentoring, and resource navigation to women with breast cancer and engages in outreach and education for African-American women to assess their breast cancer risk.
The best way for a friend to help a women diagnosed with breast cancer is…
Don’t think you need to give immediate feedback. Just however you can chip in, go ahead and chip in. Don’t intrude but offer to give a ride, hang out with her at her appointment. Some people want to be by themselves and you have to respect that too. Try to figure out how to best be there for her. It could be just knocking something off her to-do list. There is a lot of information to digest and understand and you can be a thought partner. Help her to get her thoughts on paper. Be that backup.
My message to breast cancer survivors
I would say don’t isolate yourself and think you can do it all on your own. Ask for help even if you think you don’t need it. Overdose on help and support.