“Being a survivor has made a difference in the way that I approach my work and in the type of work that I choose to do.”
–Jamie Spradley, Financial Services Representative, Primerica, Inc.
Members and friends, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is the month when we make a special effort to remember and celebrate those who have lost, survived, and continue to fight the battle against breast cancer. Did you know?
Awareness and early detection are key when it comes to winning the fight against breast cancer. With alarming statistics like the ones shown above, you may be surprised to learn that most women still do not make it a priority to schedule a mammogram. Despite the grim statistics, it is refreshing to know that there are over 2.8 million breast cancer survivors alive in the United States today and NAAAHR member Jamie Spradley has been added to that number.
Jamie received her official clean bill of health in back in 2009 but it was not an easy journey. I would try and tell the story but Jamie would probably do it more justice. So in Jamie’s words…
The story goes back to the afternoon of Sunday, January 4, 2009. There had been a rash of break-ins in my neighborhood and my house was already broken into back in August. On this particular Sunday around 2pm, I would have normally been at church but I just happened to be at home taking a nap. I was awoken by this repetitive banging noise at my door. When I got up to check it out, I saw two guys at my front door front and two more at the back door, and another unfamiliar car in my neighbor’s driveway. I immediately called my neighbor who was not home and the guys were still there when she pulled up at her house. While I was on the phone with the police I could hear my neighbor arguing with the would-be robbers outside until they pulled away. I ran downstairs with my wine bottles in hand ready to put a stop to this madness. The cops eventually came but the robbers had already pulled off.
After the police took their report and left and my neighbor went back inside, I decided to take a shower. While I was in the shower I prayed about the break-ins, asking God, “Why? Why have we been having so many break-ins lately? What does all of this mean?” When I got out of the shower I looked in the mirror and I noticed a lump on the side of my left breast. I had never noticed it before. It was like it just came out of nowhere and it was as hard a rock. I went to doctor the next day so that they could run some tests. I took off my shirt and the doctor saw the lump without me even pointing it out and began freaking out! She said, “We need to get you scheduled for surgery right away!” She sent me to a surgeon in Marietta so that I could be scheduled for surgery that day. The doctor in Marietta asked about my family health history with cancer. I said that we don’t have any history of cancer in my family that I know of. The doctor said, “It’s probably nothing. It’s probably benign. We’re 99.9% sure it’s not cancer,” and scheduled me for a biopsy that next Saturday so that they could take a tissue sample from my breast.
A few weeks had passed and on Tuesday January 20, 2009, the phone rings. I remember the date because it was the day after President Obama’s first inauguration. It was the doctor with the biopsy results: Cancer, Stage 3, invasive. Two weeks ago they said, “Don’t worry. It’s probably nothing.” Two weeks later and now they are saying it’s invasive?! I went to the doctor to discuss the results and there was another spot on the right breast that they wanted to test, but the doctor said that if she finds anything on the right breast that she will have to perform a double mastectomy and take both breasts, no questions asked. I said you mean I’m going to go to sleep with two and wake up with none?! No way! I was done with that appointment. I walked out.
I came back a couple of weeks later to talk about the test results some more after I had a chance to process the initial shock. There was a nurse there who was 7-months pregnant at the time and she told me that I need to get it done and just move forward with the double mastectomy or else the cancer will just keep growing. Now understand, I was 29 years old at the time. I said to the nurse, “I have no kids, I’ve never been married, and you want to slice me up and take my breasts?! You give up your damn breasts!” I was devastated. I didn’t take any action on the matter for almost 3 months. The hospital was sending me certified letters because they didn’t know if I was dead or alive at this point. My mom, my nana, and other family members were calling. I told them, “If you called to talk about that, I’m not gonna talk. We can talk about anything else, but I don’t wanna talk about that.” As I reflected on everything that I was going through during this time, I remembered how my baby sisters screamed when they heard the news about my diagnosis. One of them was a freshman in college. The other was a freshman in high school. The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize how selfish it would it be if I died because I didn’t do anything; not because there was nothing that could be done, but because I chose to do nothing. That would be hard for a freshman in college and one in high school to deal with so I chose to take action, for them.
The same week that I found out my results one of my friends suggested that I see another friend who was into holistic health. He told me about success stories of people who had been diagnosed with cancer and made a full recovery with holistic health remedies. I decided to try holistic health and look for some kind of alternative cure to what the doctors were suggesting. I cleaned out my whole pantry and cut dairy and processed foods out of my diet, began eating papaya, taking Blood Neutro pills, and went on a vegan diet. I went from a size 8 to a size 4 in about a month. I did this for about two months until another friend of mine gave me the name of a cancer doctor that she knew to be very good, Dr. Jayanthi Srinivasiah, or ‘Dr. Jay’ as she is more affectionately known. I called Dr. Jay and her tone was very different from my first doctor. Dr. Jay was compassionate. She saw me, and everything that came with my identity as an individual, a young woman, and as a human being. For her, the mastectomy option was an option to be explored after others were deemed ineffective, not a calculated initial response. Her’s was an intentional approach to do what she could to help me fight this battle against cancer while respecting and preserving my identity and humanity.
I began my chemotherapy treatments in the spring of 2009. I was miserable. I kept myself busy focusing on everything other than this disease. I never stopped working while I went through my treatments. I would go to the treatment center with my laptop and I would take conference calls while I was receiving my treatment. I’m sure I made everyone else’s life around me miserable as well. I remember being on a call one time while going through a round of chemotherapy and telling one of the nurses, “Excuse me! Can you wake her up? She’s snoring and I’m on a conference call!” They asked me on the call, “Jamie where are you?” I responded, “I’m working remotely right now but I’ll be in in a bit.” I resented having to alter my life for this disease. At the same time, I had already started writing my obituary. I would go to McDonald’s and get the worst things on the menu for breakfast, then top that with cream cheese and have a Coke to wash it all down because I knew I was gonna die anyway. I would then proceed to the chemo center for their scheduled opening time of 7:30am, ready to get in and out. If the lights were on but the door was still locked when I arrived I’d be the one banging on the door pointing at my watch. I was experiencing a lot of emotions all at once. I was in denial. I was pissed. I was angry. I didn’t go to church for a year. People would say, “You’re so young to be in here.” Some people would want to sleep or talk during their treatments but it wasn’t social or sleep time for me. I wouldn’t sleep while I went through my treatments because I felt like if I slept the disease and the chemo would just eat me up. I felt like I had to stay awake so that I could fight through it. I would only let one nurse deal with me and I would even harass her and ask, “Is there any way that we can double up these bags to make it go quicker?!” All I could think about was how this disease was inconveniencing me…and while you’re going through all of this, nobody calls because they think everyone is calling, and meanwhile no one is calling.
I had a bad time recovering from my first treatment. By my second treatment I just shut down emotionally. I didn’t want to speak with anyone. I just wanted to get in and get out. My oncologist came and spoke with me and said, “You’ve got to allow it to consume you; let it take over you, mind and body. You’ve got to let it pass through you and do its job.” After a while I realized, I had to die inside and let go of trying to fight it. I had to become another person. With each treatment I changed. Something was different each time after my treatments; first my hair color, then my nail color, then the color and texture of my skin. I came out on the other side a new person. This experience not only changed me physically, mentally, and spiritually, but it has even impacted the way I do business.
Today Jamie is cancer free. For most of us, December 31st is the day that we close out the old year and get ready to ring in the new. For Jamie, December 31, 2009 was her last day of radiation treatment, so January 1, 2010, was not just another New Year’s Day for Jamie. It also marked her rebirth, and now every New Year’s Day is also a celebration of life as she celebrates the anniversary of her cancer remission. In hearing Jamie’s story it is quite evident how this experience has shaped her personal life, so I asked Jamie how this experience has also impacted her professional life. She said…
I’m so grateful, for everything. Being a survivor has made a difference in the way that I approach my work and in the type of work that I choose to do. I remember when I was working for an employer at a call center during the snow storm a couple of years ago. People were calling off from work so that they could be home with their children. We had a conference call scheduled that day and the CEO asked “Where is everyone?!” I said, “They are at home.” He responded, “They can’t take their kids to daycare? They need to figure out some daycare options. They’re going to be penalized.” I asked him, “What option do they have? The daycares are closed. The babysitters are out with their own kids! Where are your kids? With your wife who doesn’t work, right? These are working mothers and working fathers that we’re talking about.”
As a result of my own experience, remembering days where I just physically did not have the energy or I had to go to the center for my treatments, my level of empathy changed greatly. I don’t do business or take part in organizations that don’t extend that same level of empathy. Now, when I go into organizations I ask them, ‘What are your employee development programs like? What are some of the wellness issues that you have? How do you engage employees in the culture?’ If they respond with answers like ‘their paycheck is their reward’ or ‘we only invest in those who prove to be worthy of development’, then we can’t do business. If I’m an employee and I don’t feel like you connect with me and care about me, I’m not going work for you. Employees may not always tell you that they have cancer or other health issues, or that they are the primary caretaker for family members with major health issues. I didn’t tell my company. I had wigs and everything else to hide my illness. The only people who knew were the three or four employees at my location, and they only knew because they would see me so drained.
My experience has also changed me because I get excited about life! I recently volunteered for the 2016 NAAAHR National Conference. I volunteered that first evening to help assemble the conference bags and entered the room with a bright and cheerful, “Good afternoon!” I got some looks because sometimes people don’t know if you’re overly energized or if you’re just being facetious, but I am just truly happy to be here, alive!
Today, Jamie is a Financial Services Representative with Primerica, Inc. licensed in the state of Georgia to providing counseling on life insurance and investment accounts. During her more than 15 years on the benefits side of Human Resources working mostly in payroll, finance, and accounting, Jamie is also compassionate about educating people on financial intelligence and volunteering and consulting with organizations such as Atlanta Habitat for Humanity and teaching the principals of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at her church. Come out and say hello to Jamie at our next Chapter Meeting.