Jamie Gallagher is vice president, process management, at Bank of America. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2023. This is her story in her own words.
In 2020, when I was 41, I asked my doctor if I needed a mammogram now that I was in my 40s. He said since I did not have any family history of breast cancer, I could wait until I was 45. Fast forward to one day in 2022 when I felt a lump in my right breast. I thought it might just be a change associated with aging so I wasn’t concerned. As time progressed, I kept checking the lump and one day I realized the lump had grown. I do not recall how much time had passed since I first felt the lump, but a thought that started with “hmm, is that a lump?” had now changed to “oh no, this is most definitely a lump.”
After my radiologist performed the ultrasound and additional mammogram imaging, she came out to where I was sitting by myself in a small waiting area and, in a quiet, meek voice, asked me to follow her to her office. I could tell by her demeanor she did not have good news for me, but I thought she was going to tell me I needed a biopsy.
After we both sat down in her office, she pulled her chair close to mine, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am very concerned.” Based on what she had seen, she believed I had breast cancer. I would need a biopsy to confirm what type. I was in shock. The tears started to flow and catching my breath became very difficult. I immediately regretted telling my husband I would be fine going to the appointment alone, that I likely wouldn’t get any results that same day. But when I left the appointment that day, I was thinking cancer is going to kill me.
My biopsy was completed on Valentine’s Day and on February 16, 2023, I was officially diagnosed with invasive carcinoma (with mixed ductal and lobular features). The cancer cells were being fed from the hormones estrogen and progesterone (hormone receptor-positive).
The good news was my care team knew how the cancer was growing and there were viable options available to remove the tumor and fight the recurrence of the cancer. The bad news was that I had a long road ahead of me.
From April – November 2023, I had five surgeries, including a double mastectomy, lymph node dissection, breast reconstruction and bilateral oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries). Also related to my breast cancer diagnosis, I experienced unexpected adversities from an intrauterine device (IUD), invasive carcinoma in a nipple bed margin and fat necrosis. I was put on endocrine therapy medication (blocks the body’s ability to produce hormones) that I will continue to take for at least 10 years. At the age of 44, side effects of surgically induced menopause became a new daily struggle.
Even though 2023 included several surgeries and months of recovery, my biggest fear of fighting cancer was not knowing how my body would react to chemotherapy. However, based on research supported by Susan G. Komen, my care team determined chemotherapy would likely not benefit me and it was not recommended as part of my treatment plan. This decision was based on results from a diagnostic test called Oncotype DX® . The test was discovered by a Komen Scholar, Dr. Terry Mamounas. Without this discovery, I would have endured months of chemotherapy treatment, which petrified me almost as much as having the cancer. I will be forever grateful to Komen for their focus on research to end breast cancer.
The year 2023 also held so many great milestones for my little family (our son’s high school graduation, our 20th wedding anniversary, my husband’s 50th birthday), but it also became a year where much pain was endured and many, many tears were shed.
The love and support my family has given me has been extraordinary and I would not be where I am physically and emotionally if it wasn’t for them. I am still in awe at how my husband has cared for my every need and has loved me through all of this. He calls me his ” Superhero” and this motivates me to keep moving forward. Breast cancer consumes my mind and thoughts, but I hope someday I won’t think about how much breast cancer has hurt me, but only how it has inspired me to help others.
Please get your screenings when it makes sense for you and tell your doctor as soon as anything seems different. My plea for those who have been diagnosed: Stay strong and believe you will get through it. Staying strong doesn’t mean you can’t cry or have melt downs, it means you won’t give up no matter what.
Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.