Jamie Simmons | CaringBridge

Jamie Simmons

First post: 1/18/2017 Latest post: 4/11/2017
Hello! Welcome to my CaringBridge website. I want to keep family and friends updated in one place. I appreciate your support and words of hope and encouragement. Thank you for visiting.

So... I have breast cancer and I am doing lots of treatments because I love life and want to be around for it. Just 4 months ago I was a 28 year old fulltime medical student on my way to be a doctor while balancing parenting my 2 boys, riding motorcycles with my boyfriend, living the sober life, and so on... life as usual. 

Then one day I noticed I had weird lumps in my left armpit and breast. I went in to the clinic the next day and was referred to the breast center at the University of Minnesota. I spent hours reading about breast cancer on the internet convincing myself that I have cancer but thinking it can't be possible because I am too young. I went in for my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound and I was surprised when the senior radiologists were called in to the ultrasound room to see for themselves. They said they wanted me to come back the next week for a contrast mammogram and 3 biopsies- 2 breast areas and 1 lymph node. It was unreal. 

On October 12, 2016 I was at the University of Minnesota Medical Center doing my med student thing with my white coat and stethoscope following around an ER doctor when I got a call from a nurse at the breast center. She said the pathology report of the biopsy samples was back and that all samples (15 cores- ouch!) were positive. I had invasive ductal carcinoma  in my breast and metastatic ductal carcinoma in my axillary lymph node. It was high grade, estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, and Her2 negative. She had already scheduled me to meet with an oncologist and a surgeon at the University. I broke out in tears and the doctor I was shadowing told me I was free to go and gave me her number with an invitation to get a beer with her. I called my boyfriend, Cory, and just cried. I had still been expecting the results to come back negative and they tell me not to worry and then the news I got was just shocking. I started telling my friends and family and I liked the attention at first but it quickly got overwhelming trying to keep up with text messages and saying the same depressing news. 

I was determined to stay in school and didn't want my life to change in anyway. Then I was deflated when I met with my school advisor and the dean and was told I would need to take a leave of absence from school. It was a blow since being a medical student was a huge part of my identity and source of pride. They didn't want me to have any course failures on my transcript and said that it would be too much for me to take on the rigors of medical school and the rigors of cancer treatment at the same time- that my health and well being are much more important and that I would most definitely be able to come back and that they want to support me any way they can.

My oncologist told me I had an aggressive stage 3 breast cancer and encouraged me to join a clinical trial that he was working on so I agreed. I got loads of tests- PET/CT scan, MRIs, echocardiograms, more biopsies, mote mammograms, and tons of blood tests. The plan was for me to get 12 weeks of trial chemotherapy drugs, 8 weeks of standard chemotherapy drugs, surgery, more chemotherapy, radiation, and then 10 years of hormone therapy. 

The surgeon told me that I would need a full mastectomy on the left side as well as removal of all my axillary lymph nodes on the left side.  We discussed the pros and cons of bilateral mastectomy and that it would be optional or required depending on the results of my genetic testing. I didn't like what the surgeon had to say and didn't trust her because she looked to be in her 20s. Getting all my axillary lymph nodes removed could cause my arm to be swollen all the time and I would have to wear a compression sleeve. And I liked my boobs... :(

I met with a genetic counselor and got tested for 17 genes that are known to increase the risk of breast cancer and then the results came back that I didn't have any of those heritable mutations. This was a blood testing looking at the genes I inherited from my parents - doesn't say anything about what's out of whack with the cancer tumor cells. My only family history of breast cancer was that my mom's sister, Mary, got breast cancer when she was around 44, and fortunately she is a survivor. So bottomline, my sisters and mom should get screened earlier and more frequently than usual since they have 2 close relatives that got breast cancer at young ages, but I don't have the BRCA mutations and my kids are Not at any higher risk for male breast cancer.

I got my central line chest port catheter thingy on November 4th and started chemo on Nov 9th and then was only able to tolerate 5 weeks of the investigational chemo drugs. I was anemic and neutropenic- the drugs had killed off my red and white blood cells. I was tired and nauseated all the time, but the biggest concern was my compromised immune system leaving me susceptiple to severe infections. The oncologist said that I would resume the chemo when my blood counts went up. 

I got an MRI and biopsy to check how the chemotherapy had worked so far. The results were devastating. My cancer was about the same size and they identified 2 suspicious masses in my other breast. I had to go in for an MRI guided biopsy and another mammogram of the tumors in my right breast. I had a lot of bleeding and swelling and I was traumatized. I asked for opiate pain meds and was denied. Grr. The results came back negative- meaning it was benign fibroadenomas. I was pissed that I had to go through all that when it wasn't cancer anyway. I was also suspicious of the doctors that they wanted me to stay on the clinical trial even though it seemed to be not working.

So I tried to just enjoy life- going to the Nutcracker ballet with my family and cousins, being a hockey mom to my squirt Ryan, chasing Luke around, binging on TV, and then finally taking my ski/snowboard trip up to Lutsen with Cory that we were looking forward to. I got sick with a fever when I was at Lutsen so I had to go to the ER in Grand Marais overnight. Anytime someone is on chemo, neutropenic, or otherwise immunocompromised and they get a temp of 100F or higher- its a mandatory visit to the ER to get antibiotics and checked for sepsis or other infections. So that wasn't fun but I survived, Cory was a sweetheart, and I still went snowboarding for a few hours before going back to the cities. At my next chemo apt I was still sick with a fever and still had low blood counts so I was admitted to the University of Minnesota hospital to get IV antibiotics and get checked out. I had to be in an isolation room and the staff came in wearing paper robes and plastic face shields and masks to protect me from getting any germs from them. My oncologist told me that she wanted me off of the clinical trial because it wasn't helping and that I would skip right to the 8 weeks of standard chemotherapy drugs.

Now here I am - coming up to my 2nd infusion of AC (cyclophoshamide and doxorubicin). The doctor told me my hair would fall out soon so I got my hair cut short. I am sad about my hair and about my upcoming surgery, but I feel blessed for all the support that I have gotten from my friends and family. My mom and sibs have been coming up to visit me and help me out. I am grateful for the support from my friends in NA. My med school classmates were awesome enough to write me like 90 get well cards and bring them to me in the hospital. And friends from church and other parents at my kids school have reached out to me too. I feel a lot of love- thank you everyone! :)

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