Jamie's Story, diagnosed at 29

When I was 20 years old, my sister Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Before that day, I thought only older women got breast cancer.  It was incomprehensible to me that my young, vibrant sister – mom to a one year old son, only 32 years old – could have breast cancer.  What I didn’t understand before that day and what I know all too well now is that young women can and do get breast cancer.

Tracy’s diagnosis impacted our entire family.  Even though we are a close-knit and supportive family, Tracy needed to know that other young women understood her challenges.  She found friendship and support through Young Survival Coalition (YSC).  Her YSC family was where she could turn to be open and honest, sharing her feelings and fears without worrying about upsetting her loved ones.

Ten months after completing chemotherapy, we received the devastating news that Tracy’s cancer had come back – and it had spread. My big sister had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.  I didn’t understand everything about breast cancer back then but I did know that this cancer was not curable and that we were all in for the fight of a lifetime.

In the spring of 2008, my sisters Liza, Katie and I decided to undergo genetic testing to see if we were at high risk for developing breast cancer.  Thankfully, my sisters were not, but I, the youngest of the four girls, was BRCA1 positive, meaning that I had an 85% chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime!

After learning about my test results, I had to make some tough choices.  I was single and didn’t have children – something I always saw in my future.  I was raised in a wonderful and loving environment where the value of family was instilled in me at a young age. Because of my connection to YSC, I knew that I had options and that I had someplace to turn for information, guidance, hope and friendship.

In June 2008, I decided to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. At the same time, Tracy began to grow weaker, and, by November, she was admitted to the hospital intensive care unit.  While undergoing tests and preparing for my surgery, I was given the shocking news that not only was I BRCA1 positive, but that I too actually had breast cancer! 

Though I had already made the tough decision to have the mastectomy, I hadn’t planned on undergoing chemotherapy or having treatments that could immediately impact my fertility. With my own devastating news hanging over my head and Tracy’s worsening condition, our families – biological and YSC – did their best to be by my side in New York as I recovered from surgery and at the same time by Tracy’s bedside in New Jersey.

On February 20, 2009, at 5:10 a.m. my big sister, Tracy Pleva Hill passed away from metastatic breast cancer.  She was 41. The morning of her wake, I was scheduled to have my eggs harvested, a fertility option introduced to me by YSC.  I knew Tracy would want me to do whatever I could to preserve my chances of having a baby, so I kept my appointment.  That morning, during an intense twenty minute procedure, I had five eggs retrieved.  That afternoon, I delivered Tracy’s eulogy.  It was one of the hardest days of my life, but channeling her strength gave me strength.

The road back from the death of my sister and my diagnosis and treatment has not been an easy one.  There have been many days when I have asked why? There have been days when I felt cheated out of having my sister in my life and I just wanted to cry.  Through everything, YSC has been there. They have been there to pick me up, provide me with resources and give me the courage to face this battle empowered.

Slowly but surely, I am feeling healthier, looking forward to each new day and getting excited about my FUTURE!  I’m lucky to have great people who surround me and fill my life with hope and support.  Tracy’s involvement with YSC and her role as an advocate for young women facing breast cancer taught me to be my own best health advocate and may have helped to save my life. 

My family and I have been so lucky throughout our struggles with cancer to have YSC beside us and now I’m ready to give back.

There are many ways to give back.  I give back by showing up for support meetings, being available on the other end of the phone when someone needs my ear and by helping to raise vital funds to ensure that YSC will be here for the 11,000 young women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year.  My most recent gift to YSC came from my participation in the YSC Tour de Pink bike ride.  After riding every single mile of the 220-mile, three-day ride, I raised over $5,400 for the organization that was there for my sister, my family and me during the most difficult time of our lives – YSC.

If I could open up my checkbook and make a gift like that every day, I would. My family and I not only believe in YSC, we are undeniable proof of the ongoing need for their programs and support.