"I can’t say that I feel invincible, but I do feel a sense of strength and a readiness for all of the challenges that life can throw at me. Overcoming cancer has made me a more thoughtful and purposeful person." - Jamie
If there is one thing in the world you could change, what would it be and how would you do it?
If I could change anything in the current world I would like to increase access to mental health services while simultaneously decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health. There are so many stresses in today’s world from illness and social pressures to economic concerns that people are not always able to cope in adaptive ways. I currently work in the mental health field and thoroughly understand the need to express and process emotions, both through personal and work experiences. I would increase awareness on the need for mental health services and encourage people to begin speaking about their feelings every day.
Where do you see yourself 5 years after graduation?
While I am career focused, ultimately family is my top priority. I am currently engaged and very excited to get married and start a family of my own with my wonderful fiancé. Five years after graduation I see myself working hard to balance my career with my family. I am undecided which specialty I will practice, but wherever I end up, I look forward to caring for patients and enjoying every little beautiful moment in life with my family.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
He was beginning a new adventure.
What makes you happy?
Holding my fiancé’s hand, spending time outside, visiting my family, playing with my puppy, enjoying a relaxed morning with a good cup of coffee.
What type of cancer were you diagnosed with and when?
I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Chondrosarcoma in September 2015.
How did the diagnosis of cancer rock your world?
Last summer my knee began bothering me and eventually the pain prevented me from running. Frustrated, but not yet too concerned, I went to the doctor to get an MRI. At this point I was annoyed I couldn’t run, but the thought of cancer never crossed my mind. Why would it? I was an extremely healthy 24-year-old with no history of bone cancer in my family. Little did I know my life was about to get flipped upside down. I received a voicemail while on the drive to move to Tucson, a brand new city for me, that my MRI was abnormal. This was the beginning of a blurry, emotion-filled, stressful few months. I had the tumor removed from my femur on September 4th and then interviewed for medical school on the 12th, just eight days later. I was on crutches, barely off pain medication, and at this point did not know the results of my pathology. Three days later I got the call no one wants to hear, “we have reviewed your biopsy results and determined your tumor is malignant”. I lost my job, spent hours getting scans done and at the doctor’s office discussing the next steps of treatment, and hardly slept. Prior to getting that call on the drive to Tucson, I had my next few months mapped out and they looked vastly different than my reality. I was supposed to help coach a rugby team, explore a new city, focus on medical school interviews, and train for a marathon. Luckily I was able to complete my medical school interviews but I am still working on those other goals. Cancer has the ability to completely halt a person’s life. I chose to take a different path instead of letting it force me to press pause on life. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.
Describe the process of getting back into life after treatment.
From the moment I came out of surgery it was a slow, excruciatingly painful, process both physically and mentally to get back into my ‘normal’ routine. I had to accept that it is a long arduous journey with ups and downs along the way. Some days I made progress with my recovery and some days I felt like I went backwards. Eventually I was strong enough to apply for jobs that accommodated my new physical limitations and was lucky enough to get a great job working in mental health.
How has overcoming cancer made you stronger?
I can’t say that I feel invincible, but I do feel a sense of strength and a readiness for all of the challenges that life can throw at me. Overcoming cancer has made me a more thoughtful and purposeful person.
Many people aren’t familiar with the financial, physical, and emotional toll when treatment is over. Describe your process of recovery after treatment spiritually, emotionally, and financially.
For me there wasn’t one defining moment that denoted when my treatment was over. I am currently in the “watch and wait” phase of treatment. I receive scans and consultations every three months and will follow this pattern for at least 4 more years. The whirlwind of initial appointments, scans, surgery, and diagnosis are over. That part of my journey tested me. I had to learn to be strong and vulnerable all at the same time. Wading through multiple opinions, treatment options, and the health care insurance world is exhausting, confusing, and downright frustrating. I’ve spent countless hours on the phone with billing departments, insurance companies, and doctor’s offices, all trying to make sure I am not paying for more than I need and only receiving the services that are appropriate. Filing insurance appeals is unbelievably time consuming and extremely stressful financially. Treatment is never going to be completely over for me. I will always be monitored, receive scans, and deal with medical bills that come months later. I’ve learned to not let the stress of treatment interfere with all of the positive things in my life; I take it one day at a time with a smile.
What does it mean to have a support community during cancer treatment?
The phrase, “it takes a village”, could not be more pertinent when it comes to beating cancer. I am a very independent person and I had to learn to let my pride go and be okay with leaning on my support team. Having a supportive network surrounding me was my biggest resource and my backbone during this extremely challenging obstacle in my life. I honestly could not have done it without my friends, family, team, fiancé and all of those who sent me positive messages and thoughts. I am unbelievably lucky to have such an amazing support network.
What does it mean to receive scholarship money to help you achieve your academic goals?
The MHH scholarship has been pivotal for me and my ability to attend medical school. With my cancer diagnosis I was nervous that the cost of medical care would hinder my ability to pursue further education and attend medical school. Thanks in part to the MHH scholarship I am excited to start at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in just a few weeks!
How has the MHH scholarship helped you?
Beyond the monetary aspect of the MHH scholarship, it has helped give me the confidence to speak openly about my cancer diagnosis and journey. Writing about my journey has been introspective and refreshing. I hope that my story will encourage others also going through cancer treatment to stay strong and keep persevering.
Top 3 things you are grateful for since remission.
1) Slowly regaining the strength to run again and watching my body meet little goals as I get stronger each day. 2) Enjoying beautiful Tucson sunsets. 3) Spending time with friends and family.
Top 3 life goals (places you’d like to visit, things you want to do, etc.)
1) I want to see the Northern Lights. 2) I want to run a marathon and raise money for bone cancer awareness along the way. 3) I want to have a successful career as a physician, while balancing family life, and provide compassionate care for patients just like myself.
Biggest take-away(s) from your cancer experience.
Things don’t always go as planned. However, having a positive attitude and getting creative can go a long way to help you squeeze every little ounce out of life. I’ve learned to take full advantage of every opportunity presented to me and to truly cherish and love all of my friends, family, teachers, coaches, and my entire support network.
Advice for other young adult cancer survivors.
I won’t lie to you, this is going to be hard. My biggest piece of advice would be to tackle your diagnosis head on. Understand deeply and believe that you can beat cancer. For me, the most effective way to process my cancer diagnosis was to be very real about it. As much as I desperately wished it was not true, it was my reality. The sooner I realized that fact, the better off I was. Learning of a cancer diagnosis adds a new layer to your life, but it does not have to change who you are. Vigilantly keep doing the things you enjoy to the best of your ability and keep living your life every single day. Lastly, I would advise you to take care of your mental health. It is easy to focus on the physical pain and site of the cancer, but I cannot stress the importance of also taking care of your mental health. I would like to tell you that it is okay to feel sad, scared, anxious and stressed. Those are normal feelings and seeing a mental health professional to help you cope with those feelings will go a very long way. Stay positive and fight hard.
Words to live by.
Little by little one travels far.
Any other comments about survivorship and resilience?
Everyone has a battle they are fighting, whether it is cancer, social anxiety, unemployment, addiction, or whatever it may be. It is always important to recognize that we are all survivors in our own unique way. Overcoming fear, addressing challenges and winning your personal battle, whatever it may be, makes you a survivor in my mind.
More info on Jamie's Hero Powers here.
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