Only four months after clearing her annual mammogram exam, Jamie Dahl discovered a lump in her breast, and with no family history, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Now, a year and a half later, after four rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy with reconstruction, she’s living cancer-free with a changed perspective on life. “It [breast cancer] gave me a story. Each of us has a story to tell and those stories are meant to be shared to help others during their times of need,” she explained.
“Fighting breast cancer showed me the importance of taking pain and not allowing it to define me, but allowing it to help me grow and ultimately, touch other’s lives.” Along with Jamie’s journey to recovery, she discovered her purpose – a passion for educating people about the dangers in their personal care products and helping get safer products into the hands of everyone through her current work at Beautycounter. To learn more about the foods she removed from her diet, how losing her hair was one of her biggest challenges and how breast cancer showed her the importance in slowing down our busy lives, read our interview below.
Name: Jamie Dahl
Location: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Current Health Status: Cancer-free, 1.5 years post-treatment
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed at the age of 43 with stage 1, triple negative breast cancer. Four months prior to being diagnosed I had a clean mammogram showing no evidence of cancer. Two months later, I felt a lump in my breast, but I assumed it was nothing to be concerned about considering I just had a clean mammogram. However, a very close friend of mine told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the shock of her news propelled me to make another appointment with my physician. Soon after, I was diagnosed, which also happened to be six days after my friend had been given her news. I have no family history of the disease and I also tested negative for the BRCA gene.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
As I was lying on the table getting the initial ultrasound, I was still in denial that anything could be wrong. I was mentally going through the checklist in my head of everything I needed to do that day after I left this “routine” appointment. It wasn’t until the radiologist showed me a small white mass on her screen that the reality of what might be happening started to sink in. The room, already darkened with the low lighting, seemed to go blacker and I immediately thought of my daughters. I can’t leave them. It’s not my time.
How did your friends and family take the news?
It was very hard for my husband. He, as I believe many men do, went into “fix-it” mode and began ravenously devouring books on anti-cancer diets, treatments, and alternative and traditional options. But even though he was devastated, he became my rock and a model of what marriage should look like “through sickness and in health.” He was incredibly supportive in every way. My family and friends were also shocked and saddened at the news, but so many completely covered me with overwhelming love, prayers, and support.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
My treatment consisted of four rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy with reconstruction. We took plenty of time consulting with my oncologist and surgeon and relied heavily on their expertise to determine our plan. My oncologist is also a breast cancer survivor and was diagnosed with the same type that I had which was extremely helpful.
Were you able to work through treatment?
One of the many things I love about my job with Beautycounter is the flexibility that it provides me. I was able to work when I felt up to it, still coach and encourage my team when I was able to, and allow myself to slow down and take care of myself.
Where and how have you found the best care?
We are blessed to live in a wonderful community that has fantastic medical facilities. I had complete faith in my medical team at Gundersen Health System, and that is exactly what they were, a team. They worked closely with one another to make sure that I had the best care. I will be forever grateful for all of them, from the surgeons to the mammography tech who asked to pray with me on the table before my first biopsy.
Have you received any additional support or alternative therapies?
We chose to take a fairly traditional route; however, we made some drastic changes to our diet as a family. I eliminated most meat, except wild caught salmon, and incorporated more greens, cruciferous vegetables and juicing. I also eliminated refined sugar and made protein smoothies every day. I definitely felt these changes were beneficial in providing my body the nutrients and energy it needed to combat the harsh effects of chemotherapy, and to help rid my body of cancer. When you’re in a situation where you feel so utterly out of control, to have some control over one aspect, such as diet, is so helpful.
What or who have been your biggest supports? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
My biggest supporters were definitely my husband, children, parents and extended family. We also have a wonderful group of four other couples from our church that we have been “doing life” with for the past four years. I will be forever grateful for their meals, encouraging messages and most importantly their prayers.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
Losing my hair was one of the more challenging aspects of my cancer journey. You don’t really know how this process will affect you until you actually go through it. My emotions flip-flopped on a daily basis. One day, I would feel confident about how I was going to “rock this bald look” and watch countless YouTube videos on how to tie fabulous turbans and go on wild earring buying sprees. But then the next day, I would find myself sobbing uncontrollably in the shower holding clumps of hair in my hands. Cancer is a rollercoaster that no one chooses, but it takes you on a physical and emotional ride that is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
I wish that I had known how much my faith in God would grow through this trial and how He would reveal himself to me during this difficult time. He showed me, on countless occasions, that He would never leave my side and the comfort I felt during those times was indescribable. I thought that I had a close relationship with Him before cancer, but He used this dark time in my life to show me His faithfulness and fierce love for me. He gave me peace and daily gentle reminders that I was going to be ok. As I look in my rearview mirror at this wintery season in my life, I now see how He uses horrible situations to help others.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
Our family’s “life verse” is Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
If you could offer a woman, who has been newly diagnosed, some words of wisdom for her journey, what would you tell her?
Guard your heart and your mind. Keep a positive attitude and always look forward to your future. If you dwell too much on your present and allow the lies of doubt and fear to creep in, it will take you to an unhealthy place. Envision what you are going to be doing next year or two years from now when you’re feeling great and cancer free. Surround yourself with a support system, whoever that may be. Pray, pray, pray, and except the prayers of others.
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
I am most proud of my sweet little girls. They were forced into this nightmare just like the rest of us, but with innocence and naivety. They showed incredible strength and resilience, and I believe this experience will help shape them as adults. We included them every step of the way and allowed them to see our tears and our laughter. We firmly believe in the importance of teaching our children how to trust God during difficulties and this situation gave us a safe environment for us to model that. They were very involved in the process and even became “mini-nurses” helping my mother change my dressings each day after my mastectomy. My prayer is that they will take valuable lessons away from this experience that will help them to be brave, kind, compassionate and faithful women someday.
How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness?
It gave me a story. Each of us has a story to tell and those stories are meant to be shared to help others during their times of need. God has a plan and purpose for our lives, and those purposes are powerful. My outlook on life has changed from an inward focus to an outward focus on others. We all experience pain. Whether it’s illness, divorce, or abuse, it’s how you respond to that pain that matters most. Fighting breast cancer showed me the importance of taking pain and not allowing it to define me, but allowing it to help me grow and ultimately, touch other’s lives.
How have you changed?
Breast cancer absolutely changed me. It showed me the importance of being still. The importance of being intentional about slowing down the busy, fast-paced, social media-driven world that so often enslaves us and steals us from seeing all the beauty around us. During my treatment, I was forced to spend hours sitting on my patio watching the birds, and now, I have an appreciation and a connection with nature that I never had before. There are so many lessons God desires to teach us if we will only slow down, watch and listen. Breast cancer has also taught me that, “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” We will have trials in our lives. We will face difficult times, but I know that there is hope and a peace that surpasses all understanding!