Editor’s note: My dear friend Jamie bravely shared her story on a friend’s blog (Mommy's two cents) yesterday and the response was overwhelming. Her strength, love and positivity throughout what has surely been both the happiest and most difficult period of her life has touched so many people already and should serve as an inspiration to us all. As soon as I read her words, I knew I just had to share her story with the Oy! community. If Jamie’s story touches you, please show your support by following the link at the end of this post to learn how you can help and spread the word.
Photo by Jeremy Lawson Photography
April was supposed to be our month. We both celebrate birthdays in April. We’d been on our house search and our goal was to buy something by April—plenty of time to close and move in before the wedding. Well, April was our month alright, just not remotely how we imagined.
April 1 - I get the weirdest, most skin-crawly sensation in my boob. I couldn’t describe it.
April 2 - It just isn’t sitting well with me, so I make a doctor’s appointment.
April 3 - Joe’s birthday. Some birthday, poor guy. I go to the doc, she tells me I am not crazy; probably a cyst, and I need to get a mammogram and ultrasound. Whoa. (Because work, tutoring, babysitting, teaching dance, planning a wedding and looking for a house weren’t enough to deal with…) THEN, a new house pops up on our search, so we cancel the birthday dinner, go to see it and put an offer in on the spot.
April 4 - We didn’t get the house. We did have the highest offer, but they went with the cash. Can’t blame them!
April 5 - Mammogram and ultrasound. Mammogram doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as the stories I’ve heard, by the way.
April 6 - Hair and make-up trials and some shopping for the wedding, birthday dinner, then out for drinks! Fun-filled day and night in the city keeping me distracted.
April 7 - I actually have no idea…
April 8 - Get the call at the end of my lunch break. The mammogram is suspicious; I need to get a biopsy immediately. Get home that night, letting everything sink in, and see that a house we LOVED but was too expensive lowered its list price.
April 9 - Go for biopsy in the morning, go back to look at the house at night. Put in an offer.
April 10 - Lots of waiting; waiting to hear about the offer, and for biopsy results. WE GOT THE HOUSE!
April 11 - MY BIRTHDAY! We may have lost the house on Joe’s birthday, but a week later, something to celebrate!
April 12 - Still waiting. Ten minutes into teaching my Poms class, the phone rings. I heard nothing else the doctor said besides the “C” word. I knew in my gut all along. I got off the phone and taught the rest of class. Poor girls, I just threw choreography at them without taking a minute to breath. Got in the car, and “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Phillip Phillips comes on the radio. There it is—the eruption of tears the whole way home. I have breast cancer. I just bought a house. I have breast cancer. I just turned 29. I have breast cancer. I’m getting married in three months. WTF.
The next month, nothing changed. Not because I was in denial, but because life goes on. The only way to not break down and overanalyze and feel sorry for myself was to just keep going. Keep going to work every day, keep planning a wedding, keep tutoring and babysitting and teaching dance and going to wedding showers, with lots of doctors appointments in between.
It didn’t matter what any of those doctors told me, my mind was made up. I had to make my decision pretending there wasn’t a wedding in three months, because at the end of the day, my health and my future are more important than not being 100 percent perfect on our wedding day. There is too much life ahead of me to have to wonder if the cancer would ever come back.
I needed peace of mind, and to get that, I needed to have a double mastectomy. Even without getting the genetic testing results back (which I now have learned are negative, sigh of relief), my mind was made up and I told the doctors to schedule the surgery for as soon as possible, but to try and make sure I could be at my shower on May 11.
Success—surgery scheduled for May 13. Well for anyone thinking I was living in la-la land, don’t worry. I woke up on May 12 and it hit me like a truck. I finally broke. I think I got out a month’s worth of tears—my first time crying since finding out exactly a month earlier. I had been so strong and so positive. Strong—I didn’t know I had it in me, but positive is just who I am.
When everyone who cares about you hears such devastating news, they have no idea how to react. They take their cues from you. So out came that inner strength, because if I crumbled, so would everyone around me. I didn’t want to fall apart, so I certainly didn’t want everyone else to. Telling people was the hardest part. Nobody wants to blindside their friends and family left and right. It is emotionally exhausting, but I am a very open person, and I wanted to share. Even the most private people want to share, like Angelina Jolie. She made her announcement the morning after my surgery.
So, I am four weeks and one day post surgery and I feel great. The love and support in my life got me through and will continue to get me through. I feel so loved and blessed and everyone’s kind words and wishes and prayers and gifts were beyond appreciated. It is amazing how quickly someone can bounce back from such a major surgery.
I owe the initial part of my recovery to my motivation to stand up in a wedding just 12 days after surgery. One of my best girl friends was marrying one of my best guy friends. How could I NOT be there? Well, for anyone who knows me, they know my friends mean the world to me, so I was determined to be there. I must have been running on adrenaline, because I made it. I made it through the entire day and night. I stood for the entire ceremony and I danced the entire night—even with one of my drains still in, successfully pinned into a pocket sewn into my dress. I was surrounded by at least a dozen of my closest friends and I was celebrating the love of two of them. I may have taken a five-hour nap the next day, but it was all worth it.
Jamie and Joe at their friends’ wedding 12 days after surgery
I finally got that second drain out and probably took a half-hour shower. Two weeks of sponge baths SUCK! Then I started driving. We closed on our house and are officially moved in. I can’t go back to work yet because I can’t lift or reach. I am somebody who is incapable of slowing down, though, so I probably do too much all day long and end up with the most swollen armpits you have ever seen—stupid lymph nodes.
Speaking of lymph nodes, this isn’t the end of the road for me. I have to have chemo, followed by radiation. Now if you know me, you can guess what about chemo kept me up at night. Nope, it wasn’t my hair. It was babies. The thought of losing my fertility left my in tears for a week each and every night, literally crying myself to sleep.
The week had passed between getting my pathology results and seeing the oncologist. It didn’t matter what he said. He could only advise me, right? I was adamant about being able to retrieve eggs before starting treatment. I interrupted him about five minutes in and exploded, saying, “I don’t even care about my wedding, I just need to be able to have babies.” He asked when the wedding was, took out a calendar and counted … he not only told me I could wait until after the eggs, he told me to have a normal, perfect wedding and we would start treatment the week after. He was completely comfortable with this because the tumor was out, so at this point, chemo is preventative. I don’t think I have ever been more relieved in my entire life. Talk about making so many adult decisions all at one time though…
Almost immediately, I began giving myself fertility injections twice a day for ten days. I was then watched like a hawk until the timing was just right for them to retrieve the eggs, mix them with Joe’s swimmers and create embryos. Good thing I watched so many episodes of Giuliana and Bill. So my surgery was planned around my shower, right? Well the egg retrieval was planned around my bachelorette party. Do I have compassionate doctors or what?
It is going to be a long road, but by the time 2014 rolls in, I can look behind me and say that it is behind me. I know I wrote all of this using the word “I.” But I couldn’t have come this far without a great deal of support from so many people, but there are two in particular.
My mom has been at every single appointment with her pad of paper to take notes, asking all of the questions I never even thought to ask. She had to wash my hair and give me sponge baths all while I was a pain in the ass because I didn’t feel clean enough.
My husband is my emotional rock. When I wrote that I cried myself to sleep—it was in his arms while he wiped away my tears. We both found our inner strength from all of this bad mixed in with all of the good we have. The house and the wedding have been the most positive distractions to get us through and they more than outweigh the negative. Even before my diagnosis and surgery, we felt so much genuine love from everyone in our lives, and it has only grown. A year ago he asked me to marry him. I knew he was a keeper then, but these past few months have more than proven that I was right. He already knew what he was getting into—dealing with me the rest of his life. But what we have been facing is so much more than just your average anxiety-ridden, anal retentive girl. I am so lucky to have him by my side.
It wasn’t until now that I finally decided to make things fully public. The egg retrieval was June 25 and I am happy to say that Joe and I are the proud parents of six frozen embryos. We have options down the road but whether I carry these or a surrogate does, we know we will have babies of our own someday soon. Let’s see, did anything else significant happen since then?
Ohhhhhhhhh, that’s right… WE GOT MARRIED! On July 20, Joe and I tied the knot. If I had to describe our wedding day in one word, that word would be PERFECT. We had an amazing time surrounded by 261 of our nearest and dearest and never left the dance floor. The band was amazing, the photographer and videographers captured every moment and we can’t wait to see the pics and videos. Our planner helped the evening flow without any hiccups—unless you count my bustle. After about five times spent in the hallway trying to fix it, I said screw it, I want to spend my wedding on the dance floor, so I just held my dress until some friends had great alternate suggestions so that I could dance with two hands.
And I didn’t just dance—I shooped. If you know me, you know that Salt and Pepa’s “Shoop” is pretty much my jam. When I saw it on our band’s song list, I told them they not only had to play it, but they had to bring me up on stage. At first I think they were just humoring me, but they let me fly. (Check out the video from Evolution Films) I mean, talk about soaking up every minute of your wedding! I went the entire day and night without even thinking of the word cancer. The wedding was everything we dreamed of and then some. It was our blue wedding.
Speaking of blue, I did miss a step. The night before leaving for my bachelorette party, I got an unexpected email from some of my friends. It read as follows:
Our dear friend, Jamie:
We all wanted to let you know that we couldn't be more dazzled by you, and the way you've been handling everything that's been thrown at you with such poise and courage. You are so loved by each and every one of us, and we wanted to remind you that we're all there for you. For all that you’re going through, and all that’s to come.
Mr. Robinson came up with a brilliant way to do just that. Something that reminds us of your strength, and how much you mean to all of us. We made and have been wearing “J-Strong” bracelets to show our support, and wanted to share what “J-Strong” means to us:
“J-Strong” is Jamie, who is handling all of this with remarkable strength and grace, choosing to face her situation head-on instead of wallowing in self-pity wondering why. And “J-Strong” is Joe, who has truly been an unwavering support system for Jamie. Together they’re facing their future with bravery and optimism.
Jamie emulates positivity, spirit and grace. “J-Strong” is the way our friends and families are linked together in support and love for our strongest (and best!) friend in the world.
“J-Strong” stands for being UNITED and always TOGETHER – near or far.
Fighting through any challenges with laughter, strength and love. “J-Strong” demonstrates what we all know about you, and the band of support through this journey. We love you from coast to coast.
Attached you’ll find a picture collage of all of us, representing you. We will be printing this out as a poster for you to keep (no pressure to hang it in your new house). But the collage is just a beginning, and only captures a handful of folks – so as we continue to pass out the bands, people can send us pictures sporting “J-Strong,” and ultimately adding on to what we've created so far.
From: Andy, Julie & Noah, Scott & Melissa, Carter, Bill & Guiliana, Jeremy, Allyson, Cooper & Roxy, Caitlin & Jeff, Stacy & Josh, Stefie, Mike & Bialy, Dan, Elana & Ari, Josh, Adam, Melissa & Benson – and all of our extensions of family and friends – we love you and are inspired by you.
From the bottom of our hearts. You (and Joe) truly are the best thing.
Talk about goosebumps. And tears. Lots of tears. I was so touched and at SUCH a loss for words. Since receiving that email, the bracelets have begun to circulate more and more. Every time I walk into a room and see the bracelets on everyone, it is incredibly surreal to think, wow, they’re wearing that for me. I already felt so loved and so supported, but these J-Strong bands took that love and support to a new level. Joe, our wedding party, and several guests sported their bands on Saturday, and mine was pinned to my bouquet-- one of my many “something blues.”
So anyway, as I wake up today to a newsfeed filled with #jstrong, I feel the love even more. Today I start my journey with chemo. It is not one I am looking forward to beginning, but rather one I am looking forward to ending. It came way too soon (that’s what she said), but hopefully it will go by just as quickly. The honeymoon is over and it is back to reality. I am so glad that we have our frozen babies and our perfect wedding to remind us how lucky we are and how much worse life can be. Here goes nothing...
Click here to learn more about how you can support Jamie and Joe and get your own "J-Strong" band.