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My Cancer Transformation

by Jaime Andrews

Inspiration image

I was 33 years old when I learned I had breast cancer. Not only did I have cancer – I had aggressive, advanced cancer. This unrelenting dis­ease is diagnosed in the later stages and is referred to as metastatic, a word with Greek origins meaning change. It’s when the tumor spreads to other parts of the body. For me, it spread to my skull, spine, pelvis, and abdomen. It even fractured my ribs.

Another definition of metastasize is “to transform.” That’s how I choose to define my diagnosis – as a transformation.

One year after my mother’s own death from cancer, the disease crept in to my body while I was busy chasing after my two young children. Upon diagnosis, I learned that my type is known as HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. It is estimated that about 20 percent of breast cancers are HER2-positive, and this type of breast cancer tends to be more aggres­sive and to spread more quickly than other cancers.

There’s no cure for my cancer; I’ll likely remain on my treatment, Kadcyla, for the rest of my life. It would be easy to let stress, anxiety, and negativity bring me down. Instead, I view cancer as my opportunity for transformation. I choose to remain optimistic and hopeful, because my life is more full of love and joy than it has ever been.

It would be easy to let stress, anxiety, and negativity bring me down. Instead, I view cancer as my opportunity for transformation.

During the past five years, cancer has ultimately given me a greater ap­preciation for the big and the small moments I have with my husband, my 10-year-old son, and my 7-year-old daughter. As a family, we celebrate a “livin’ life list” to help us focus on shared experiences. Over time, we’ve created many lasting memories, including swimming with dolphins and visiting Disney World.

When we’re not having fun as a family, I’m busy launching a new business endeavor as an independent fashion consultant. The work is flex­ible, yet fun, and it pushes me out of my comfort zone. Working allows me to contribute to my family as well as realize my career goals. It also helps take the focus off of cancer.

Most people in their 30s are career-driven, focused on advancing their positions in the workplace, trading one job for a more rewarding one. But life with cancer changes everything. I have found little support and training for people like me who want to continue working. As a person with advanced cancer, I strongly believe that investing in doing work you love can help trans­form your overall quality of life. That’s why I decided to start my own business.

Like the other 155,000 Americans living with metastatic breast cancer, I’m hopeful for more awareness, sup­port, and resources for people thriving in spite of this disease. My advice to other cancer survivors is to follow what sparks joy and makes you feel alive – it’s the very thing that helps me to thrive!

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Jaime Andrews is a young adult metastatic breast cancer survivor and thriver living in Marietta, GA.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2016.