In Loving
Memory of Jasmin

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This is Jasmin’s story.

Diagnosis: When my youngest daughter was 7 months old, I was nursing her and noticed a lump but I thought it was a blocked milk duct so I waited a couple of weeks and tried to sort that out. Nothing changed so I went to my GP to express my concern. I do have a history of breast cancer in the family so she sent me for an ultrasound. Things got expedited pretty quickly from there… They biopsied it within a week and found out it was breast cancer.

Treatment: At the time it was stage 2 so I did the full chemo, double mastectomy and radiation. A year later, I had reconstructive surgery and usually you get a sore back or sore shoulders for a while, which passes after your body readjusts to the work that was done. Only my pain didn’t go away. My physiotherapist suggested getting it checked out so I had an x-ray and it showed nothing. 2 months later, I was on a trip and had to sign for something at the hotel and I couldn’t write my name – my whole arm was numb right up to my shoulder and so I came home from the trip and called my oncologist. They did an MRI and an x-ray and found out the reason I was having back pain and felt numb in my right arm was because my spine had fractured and my T1 and T2 vertebrae were non-existent. They had broken into a bunch of pieces and all you could see were little fragments of bone floating around. They took one look and said, ‘we have no idea how you are still standing.’

The same time they told me about my spine, they told me that I had stage 4 cancer. It just stopped us in our tracks. So we had to deal with, ‘oh by the way, your cancer’s metastasized, it’s in your spine and your spine is fractured and you need emergency surgery today.’ That was all in one day. We didn’t have much time to think about the actual stage 4 diagnosis because the bigger emergency at the time was getting my spine fixed.

They had to go in and fish out the broken pieces of bone and put in a cadaver bone to replace where my T1 and T2 had been. They also put rods on either side of my spine and a metal plate in my throat, at the front, because there was nothing to support my windpipe – so I kind of have a bionic throat now. In my case, the stage 4 actually came secondary to having to deal with my spine. But I still needed radiation on top of the surgery.

Living with mBC: Before I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer I only knew that in the breast cancer world you hear a lot about early stage. So in my mind it was, you get treatment and many of the women who get treatment do really well for a really, really long time. I knew being metastatic meant it had spread but had no idea what it meant as far as treatment. Luckily for me, I had met 2 women the year before at a yoga retreat I organized for women with breast cancer who were both stage 4 and they seemed to be doing okay so I had it in the back of my mind that it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I knew they were doing well, considering.

The hardest part of my diagnosis, for me, is when it comes to my two young daughters. That’s where it really hits the hardest…but we’re really lucky in that we had this woman come in through a breast cancer support group and the hospital and she’s a child life specialist. She came in and talked to my children and answered questions and does it in a way where you can listen in as a parent to get an idea of how to talk to them about it or see where they’re at when they’re talking to a third party. She came in and brought a little MRI machine and a doll that had no hair and a doll that had hair that you could put a handkerchief on – all these different tools to expose the girls to what I’ll be going through.

We had told my older one with my first diagnosis that ‘mommy has a boo boo in her boobie and I need it to get fixed so we’re going to take it off and I’m going to get medicine to fix me.’ She was 4 at the time so we tried explaining it in a way she would understand. So she knew I had to go to the doctor, had to have surgery, had to have a laser which was really hot and would burn my skin but it was going to kill the bad cells to make ‘the boo boo go away.’ She was there, with me, when I shaved my head before I started losing my hair and at first she loved feeling my fuzzy head. Then she came up to me one day and said, ‘I don’t like that you’re taking medicine that is making your hair fall out.’

When my back broke, it was different for her. She was older by then and I couldn’t do anything. I was in the hospital for a while and when I came home I had a neck brace. I had to sleep sitting up in a special chair and all these doctors were coming to the house so it was very different for her the second time around. I could see she was getting more anxious and had more questions so we’re being very careful with her - being open and honest within what we think she can handle. My little one still says - and it always used to choke me up but I’m better with it now - she’d say, ‘oh mommy, I wish you’d never broken your back because you can’t hold me.’ But now that she’s getting older, she’s starting to have more questions too so we’re having the child life specialist come back to re-explain the changes I’m going through. They know that mommy’s bones are sensitive, they know that mommy’s on medication, they know I go to a lot of appointments, have a lot of scans and that the doctors are trying to help mommy as much as they can.

It’s definitely changed my perspective on life. I’ve always been a person who tried to enjoy life as much as possible, but now even more so. Things that used to stress me out, don’t anymore because, well, I’ve got new bigger things going on that stress me out. A big part of my life now is living from scan to scan – taking life in 2 and 3 month chunks. A scan that comes back stable is a huge relief, but if they find a progression with my cancer we need to start talking about a new treatment plan. Scans and waiting for scans is my big stress right now – I actually call it scanxiety. Organizing appointments can sometimes feel like a part time job.

I find that I’m getting a lot more enjoyment out of the smaller things, every day things. I’m much more involved in the things that are important to me and really spending time doing what really matters to me, what makes me happy and what’s important to my family, friends and community. On the days that I feel good I try to do as much as I can to embrace life.
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