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Jasmine’s Story: Advocating for Equality in Breast Cancer Care

Jasmine had gone in for her annual visit with her OBGYN. “My doctor is quite diligent with her examination,” she said. “She felt around my breast and said she thought she felt something and wanted one of her partners to make sure it was nothing.” Jasmine then had a diagnostic mammogram right after and then her radiologist did a breast ultrasound.

“I remembered years prior while in nursing school, a speaker talked about not ignoring  changes in your breast. Right after that, I had discharge from one of my nipples and went through some testing, which proved to be nothing,” she said. “So, I knew they were trying not to alarm me, but to go from one test right to another, I had a clue something wasn’t right.”

Jasmine was sent to a surgical oncologist for a biopsy. “When he came in, he said, well, at your age, these things are usually nothing,” she recalled. “He put the needle in, and the room went silent. He didn’t say anything else, so in my gut, I knew.”

Two days later – just one day after Jasmine’s 38th birthday – she received a notification in her online chart. “I’m a nurse, so as soon as I saw the words, I knew I had breast cancer,” she said. “It was definitely the birthday I’ll never forget.”

It was disconcerting. Jasmine knew she had breast cancer before she even had a chance to talk to the doctor. “It was overwhelming. It was a Saturday. You get that news, and you want to talk to someone immediately, but I could not.”

Because of her background in medicine, Jasmine felt like the doctor put the notes in her chart as a way of not having the difficult conversation of her diagnosis, because even when she came in for her follow up and to discuss her results, they never talked about her actually having cancer.

Jasmine’s diagnosis was stage 2b triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. “I was handed a lot of papers, and we talked about next steps,” she said. “The words ‘you have cancer’ were never said by the doctor. I had to kind of process the news on my own. That made the beginning of the journey quite difficult.”

As a health care professional, Jasmine understood how to navigate the process and found herself taking measures to make sure the next steps were happening. There were weeks when nothing seemed to be happening and there were no follow-up calls.

“I had to take the step of contacting the office and asking, hey, should we be moving forward with additional testing?” she said. “I needed a PET scan and we needed additional images before we could start. I was still processing my emotions; I was trapped in that anger. And I live in Mississippi, where access to care is already limited.”

Jasmine pushed to get additional imaging arranged and let her doctor know – but then learned that the machine for the imaging was broken. “All I could think was – there’s one machine available to do this testing? It turned out my surgical oncologist only had privileges at one facility that had one testing machine, and that machine was broken.”

As far as Jasmine was concerned, once it was confirmed she had breast cancer, things should have started moving forward immediately. But instead, she faced delay after delay. That’s when she decided to reach out to a cancer facility out of state that was well known. “I needed to go to the best place because I was not having a great experience at home,” she said.

In the end, Jasmine and her husband decided that she would have her surgeries at the hospital out of state but would do chemotherapy at home. Aside from having small children, driving nine hours each way for chemotherapy and staying overnight somewhere was not financially feasible.

“The experiences between the hospital at home and the one out of state were night and day,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t bring that facility here, but I can be the person that tries to make someone’s breast cancer experience better.”

This experience is what made Jasmine begin to think about patient advocacy. “As a nurse, I have the clinical knowledge and  background. I’ve taught special needs students. I know how to have difficult conversations,” Jasmine said. “That’s what compelled me to get into advocacy. Not everyone is equipped with the same skills I have, and it really hurt my heart. I realized I needed to do something to be that person who is able to have the difficult conversations to help people understand when things aren’t clear.”

“It was an experience for our family, but my experience in Mississippi has really driven me to stay on top of all things advocacy, for myself and others. So many voices are silenced because they don’t know how to speak up, and they end up passing away from advanced cancer because they either put off care or they have insurance issues,” Jasmine said. “That’s why I felt like I need to help others in my area who are seeking assistance while undergoing breast cancer treatment.”

“I chose to face the challenge with all the courage I never knew I had. Sixteen aggressive chemotherapy treatments, one year of immunotherapy therapy sessions, a double mastectomy and three major reconstructive surgeries could not stop me,” said Jasmine. Through sickness, financial despair, traveling out of state and missing work for 19 months, I made it.”

Now finished with treatment, Jasmine is a Komen advocacy ambassador, working to serve her community and advocating for equity in breast cancer care and access to appropriate treatment options and services. Lear more about the program here.

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.