After what she’s been through, one would think that nonprofit CFO and breast cancer survivor Jamil Rivers would have every reason to feel discouraged. In 2018, at the age of 39, she learned that she had stage IV metastatic breast cancer—in other words, cancer that has spread beyond the breasts to other areas of the body.
But through it all, Jamil has stayed positive. FemmePharma spoke with her about how she manages this, as well as the details of her testing and diagnosis, being thrust into chemical menopause, and finding gratitude every day.
Breast Cancer Testing and Diagnosis
A married mom and executive, Jamil was keeping up with kids and family life when she suddenly developed a cold that never went away. After being prescribed antibiotics and an asthma inhaler —none of which worked or revealed anything—her doctor finally ordered X-Ray and CT Scan, where she discovered tumors in her liver. After additional biopsies and ultrasounds, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread everywhere but her brain and spine.
After she got over the initial shock, Jamil went into action mode. As the primary breadwinner for the family, she didn’t want to risk losing healthcare benefits or doing anything to jeopardize her career, so she kept her diagnosis private at work—to the point of tattooing eyebrows and wearing wigs to disguise her hair loss. She also relied on external resources to get her through, such as transportation through the American Cancer Society, to avoid disrupting her family’s routines.
“I was really cognizant of keeping things as normal as possible,” she said.
Alternative Therapies and Treatments
To maintain her usual schedule and keep working full time while doing chemotherapy, Jamil relied on alternative therapies to manage side effects.
“Massage, acupuncture, essential oils, yoga, supplements, changes in my diet, reiki, Tai Chi, Qigong, crystals, meditation…those are all things that I’ve incorporated into my cancer care,” she said. “I had to incorporate different complimentary things to make sure that I could have the same quality of life, where I didn’t have as much neuropathy and pain and I was able to function day to day.” Jamil also suggests this advice to those in breast cancer treatment who may be struggling with side effects.
“If a treatment is working to keep your cancer at bay and eliminating it in your body, I would say stay on that one, because you’re getting a good response, and perhaps deal with the side effects with some integrative therapies that can keep you on it longer.”
Experiencing Chemical Menopause
Like many women who receive breast cancer treatment, Jamil experienced chemical menopause—being abruptly thrown into a state of menopause due to chemotherapy, or in Jamil’s case, the removal of her ovaries. This includes symptoms typical of regular menopause, such as hot flashes, urinary tract infections, pelvic floor issues, and vaginal dryness*.
“I really felt like I had aged 20 years. It was really dramatic. I didn’t realize how much those hormones impact the body,” she said.
Staying Positive Through it All
Today, Jamil’s tumors have shrunk significantly, though she remains metastatic. Yet she continues to work full-time and stay positive.
“I’m a natural optimist. For me, what seems like a bad situation could always be worse. I’m still working. I’m able to enjoy my family and my kids. I have breath in my body. I’m not in the hospital. If I happen to have a bad scan, I have insurance and I’m able to cover my copays. I’m really appreciative.”
She encourages other breast cancer survivors to do the same.
“Just focus on the positive. Stressing yourself out is not going to benefit you; you may actually make your cancer worse. So just focus on the positive, and deal with each situation as it comes.”
Photo Courtesy – Jamil Rivers