Figure 1 From Left: Curtis, Abby, Liza, and Connor with Cola Figure 1 From Left: Curtis, Abby, Liza, and Connor with Cola

Jamie Killam

“Cancer – that happens to other people but not to me.”

As a mother of teenagers, and only 40 years of age, Jamie had no health issues. Definitely the thought of even the possibility of having cancer was far from her mind. After all, cancer was something that happened to other people. But when she discovered a lump in her breast, the reality of the potentially fatal disease struck home.

It was Christmas Day of 2018 and Jamie was celebrating with her close-knit family. She noticed a small lump at the top of her left breast and showed it to her mom. At the time, thinking it was most likely just a benign cyst, Jamie was nevertheless cautious and made an appointment with her family doctor. At the beginning of February she had a mammogram and an ultrasound at Royal Inland Hospital. It was on her way home from the tests that her family doctor called.

“We don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t look good.”

Her doctor referred her to a surgeon and on February 8th, Jamie went to the Rae Fawcett Breast Health Clinic at RIH where she was tentatively diagnosed with breast cancer due to her Bi-Rads category 5 lesion, which has a 95% probability of malignancy. The diagnosis was confirmed a few days later after the biopsy results came in.

In addition, the grade of Jamie’s tumor was thought to be 3, a high grade that indicates abnormal cells that spread aggressively. As a result, she underwent a lumpectomy on February 19th, just 2 weeks after her initial mammogram. “I was really impressed with the speed at which everything happened,” Jamie explained, “It was a bit of an overwhelming whirlwind, but at the same time I was very thankful that everyone was doing as much as possible for me.”

“The cancer is in the lymph node, which means that you will need chemotherapy.”

Hoping that surgery would be enough to conquer the cancer, Jamie was in for disappointment when on March 6th, the results came back that one of the six lymph nodes removed at the time of surgery contained cancer cells. In addition, given her age and the grade of the tumor, recurrence was likely. As a result, Jamie was scheduled for 8 rounds of chemotherapy, 4 of Doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, and 4 of Paclitaxel. In the meantime, she underwent both a CT scan and a bone scan, both of which came back clean and showing no signs of spread of the cancer cells.

On March 27th, Jamie was in the Cancer Centre at RIH undergoing her first chemotherapy. In preparation of total hair loss, she shaved her head and a good friend shaved her head in support. “It was really difficult for my son, AJ (13), to grasp the concept that I would be losing my hair,” Jamie said, “So I let him choose which wig I would wear (all from the Free Hat and Wig Lending Bank at RIH). And after one of his friends said that I looked like a popular YouTuber who has a short buzz cut, it was all ok.” Given that Jamie was going through chemo through the hot summer months, she choose for the most part not to wear wigs or hats, but rather just go out bald. Indeed, she got more of a reaction when she wore a purple wig than she did being bald. “The reaction that I got was very positive. In fact, little kids would point out that I had no hair, many random strangers would come up and hug me and tell me their stories, and one sweet elderly man at Costco wished me good luck!” Jamie recalled.

“The cancer diagnosis actually had more of an impact on my family than on me.”

A cancer diagnosis is not just about the patient, but also about the family and friends who are also impacted. This was the case with Jamie and although it was difficult for all of her family when she was first diagnosed, they soon rallied and supported her in any way they could. In fact, she always had someone accompany her to the chemo appointments, primarily her mother, Karen, but also her daughter, Mackenzie (15), her friend, Cheryl, and other family members as well. In addition, Jamie and her husband, Shawn, made a conscious effort to keep their lives as normal as possible; except for Jamie taking time off work, they were successful in doing so.

Jamie’s treatment ended with 20 rounds of radiation at Kelowna General Hospital. She also participated in the Look Good Feel Better program at RIH, where she learned how to put on makeup specific to cancer patients. Today, over a year after her diagnosis, Jamie is looking forward to going back to work with School District 73. In addition, having received support from other patients in Cranbrook and Prince Edward Island, Jamie now gives back by supporting women who have been referred to her through friends and are going through what Jamie has just completed.

“Having cancer puts things in perspective – life is short and you only get to live once.”

And reflecting back, she concentrates not on the hardship, but rather on all the positive that came out of her experience. In particular, she is grateful that she was able to spend more time with her husband, children, extended family, and friends – all crucial supports for her. Today, she is living life in the moment. “Having cancer puts things in perspective, most profoundly that life is short and you only get to live once. Faced with your own mortality, you prioritize what is important and what matters, and you don’t let the small stuff bother you,” Jamie explained, “I could not possibly repay all that people have done for me, both small and big things like thirty people joining me in the CIBC Run for the Cure.”

Last but not least, Jamie is a grateful patient to all who helped her through her cancer treatment journey, most particularly to Dr. James Baughan, General Surgeon, who performed the lumpectomy and put in the portacath, Dr. Thinn Pwint, Oncologist, who continues to do follow-up with her, Nurses April and Cheryl, and Mammogram Technician, Shelby.

If you are a patient or family member and would like to share your story, we would love to hear from you! You can either fill in the form or contact our office at 250-314-2325.