Although Jamie Gilmore's cancer has relapsed three times, she's hoping the fourth time will be the charm to finally beat it.
Gilmore was first diagnosed at 14 years old with acinic cell carcinoma (ACC), a rare salivary gland cancer. But her most notable experience with ACC happened when she was 20.
She had pain on the left side of her face -- the exact spot where she had a mass removed six years earlier -- and was scheduled for surgery.
A happy surprise
"This time the tumor was all around my facial nerves," Gilmore says. "The surgery was going to be five to six hours for removal of the tumor and then another five to six hours for reconstructive surgery."
As Gilmore's husband and family waited, the anesthesiologist noticed her hormone levels were elevated.
"My mom had me on a lot of natural remedies, and I thought that was why," she says. "When the anesthesiologist came in and said I was pregnant, I was shocked."
Surgery was postponed, and Gilmore was referred to a high-risk OB-GYN at Texas Woman's Hospital.
"My doctor's first priority was to ensure the safety of the baby," Gilmore says. "Six weeks after delivery, I would be able to have the surgery."
Gilmore was induced at 38 weeks and her daughter, Mikala, was born Dec. 4, 2002.
"She's our miracle baby," Gilmore says.
The following January, she went through a 12-hour surgery to remove the cancer and have reconstructive facial surgery.
"I looked horrible afterward," Gilmore says. "But my doctors did a great job, and I couldn't believe how well the surgery went. Everything turned out great over time."
ACC has not recurred in Gilmore's head and neck area, but, in 2005, a bone biopsy confirmed ACC had spread to her right ischium, the lower back part of her hipbone.
After, part of the bone in Gilmore's pelvis was removed, and she was treated with radiation. Then in 2008, Gilmore 's hip broke while she was training for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and she had hip replacement surgery.
This past April, Gilmore again had pain in the pelvic area. A biopsy revealed ACC had expanded to her right pelvic area, left ischium and lymph nodes.
She is currently being treated by Apostolia Tsimberidou, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics, with a combination of anticancer drugs.
Creating hope for others
Since there isn't a standard treatment for her cancer, the 30-year-old was inspired in May 2012 to create Jamie's Hope, a non-profit organization, with her husband and sister.
"My family and I were surprised that there haven't been any new developments in treatment," Gilmore says. "We thought surely something would be different from 15 years ago."
Gilmore and her family promote Jamie's Hope by selling maroon and white bracelets and collecting donations through the jamieshope.org website.
"The money we raise funds MD Anderson's research for targeted therapies (personalized medicines) for rare forms and other types of cancer, as well as for patients who don't have a standard of care," Gilmore says.
The Texas Realtors Leadership Program (TRLP) began to support Jamie's Hope after Gilmore joined the organization in March.
"Each year the TRLP decides on a legacy project that will benefit the community," she says. "Once they heard my story and what I've been through, they decided to help."
With support from friends, family, TRLP and various organizations, Jamie's Hope has planned a "Masquerade for a Cure" at the River Oaks Country Club on Saturday, Oct. 20, with all proceeds benefitting research in targeted therapies.
"Our main goal is to find more treatments for people whose current treatment options are no longer working," Gilmore says. "I would love to know why I have this rare form of cancer, but, more than that, I want to live, and I know other people do, too."
Q&A: Acinic cell carcinoma of the parotid