January 21, 2015
Looking back on a life-changing year
BY MD Anderson
As 2013 drew to a close, everything was normal for then 32-year-old Jamie Bernard. She was a healthy, active mom, running 5Ks and reveling in a 45-pound weight loss. The MD Anderson employee never thought that a few months later she'd be diagnosed with breast cancer.
When Jamie went for her annual well woman exam in January 2013, her doctor asked if she'd been checking for changes in her breasts.
"I lied and said yes," she admits. But the guilt of being untruthful led her to start looking for changes that November. And on December 3, she discovered a lump in her left breast.
A few weeks passed before Jamie decided to make an appointment to have the lump checked.
She recalls telling herself, "I work for MD Anderson. If it's something and I didn't get it checked out, I'm to blame."
Jamie's breast cancer treatment
For Jamie, January 2014 was the start of a whirlwind year. Not long after her breast cancer diagnosis, a type test revealed her cancer was growing as a result of the estrogen produced by her body, making her chances of cancer recurrence higher. This meant Jamie had no choice but to undergo a mastectomy. Her treatment plan also included 16 rounds of chemotherapy. Once her treatment was complete, she began a prescription for tamoxifen, a drug that is used to prevent breast cancer recurrence.
When Jamie received her cancer diagnosis, her thoughts immediately turned to her daughter, Caydin. There was no doubt Jamie would do whatever it took to be around to watch her grow up.
"I made a pact with God," she says. "If you keep waking me up, I will do whatever you need me to do."
A difficult choice made simple
Jamie did her best to prepare for the rapid changes.
"I didn't have time to process. I got diagnosed and in less than 30 days I had a mastectomy," she says. "My biggest thing was I needed to be alive."
Because scans revealed the cancer was isolated to her left breast and she has no family history, Jamie opted not to have a double mastectomy. At times, the thought of cancer returning lurks in the shadows of her mind, but she's confident she made the right choice.
She also doesn't harp on her age.
"Yeah, I'm young, but it happens," she says with a shrug and a smile. "I got over the 'you're young' comments really quickly."
After waiting the required 30 days after her final chemotherapy session, she underwent breast reconstruction surgery in October. But the process didn't end there. She still has additional decisions to make before her transformation is complete. Jamie is putting a lot of thought into her new appearance to ensure she's satisfied with the end result.
"You can never be too picky," she tells others. "This is your life, and this is how you're going to view yourself."
Celebrating new beginnings after breast cancer
Jamie is welcoming 2015 with open arms, as she gets ready to celebrate her one-year anniversary of being declared cancer-free with a trip to New Orleans with her girlfriends.
"Last year started off with a bang and ended with a bang," Jamie says of the full-circle feeling of receiving a cancer diagnosis and a promotion within the same year. "I can't say I had a bad 2014. Life is really precious -- you realize what is really important."
What matters most is her support system comprised of her immediate and extended family, close friends and coworkers who have helped her adjust to the physical and emotional changes of the past year.
And while the full impact of Jamie's cancer battle may not be realized for quite some time, it has already influenced 5-year-old Caydin, despite her limited understanding of her mom's illness.
"My daughter used to say she wanted to be a veterinarian. Now she says she wants to be a doctor like the ones who helped me get better," Jamie says, misty-eyed. "That's the best thing I've heard this year."
Life is really precious. You realize what is really important.