Today I bring you the inspiring, courageous story of Jamie Inman, who survived two bouts of breast cancer. If you have a wife, sister, mother, aunt or friend, I encourage you to ask them to get a mammogram at least once a year. You never know how important getting checked can be, until it’s too late.
In December 2005, a second cancer was found in my left breast. Although surprised because thirteen years had elapsed since my first bout (well beyond “cured”), my strongest emotion was annoyance. The previous eighteen months I had devoted to caring for my dying father, then my widowed mother; by comparison my cancer was a tiresome interruption.
For the first go-round with cancer I had taken the conservative path of lumpectomy with radiation, which ultimately failed me, so this time I was aggressive. On Feb. 6, 2006, I had a double mastectomy with immediate DIEP flap reconstruction. With three surgeons working for more than ten hours the procedures went smoothly. A few hours later, however, my left breast looked bad, so they returned me to surgery and discovered that a vein had closed (probably weakened by the previous radiation) and caused a thrombosis. My surgeon took a vein from my ankle and reconnected the blood supply between the mammary vessel and the flap. He saved the flap, but the breast had nearly doubled in size with clogged blood, so he had to leave the wound open to heal. It looked nasty, but didn’t hurt more than the right breast, and eventually healed. It did require an extra revision surgery to reduce the size for symmetry, after which I had two lovely C cups, with nipples and areola to follow: a grand total of seven surgeries. And that was the easy part.
Except for the extreme nausea in the hospital, the physical suffering was surprisingly easy; to my horror and dismay, the emotional aftermath was almost unbearable. The profound “tearing of flesh” of the surgery unearthed even more profound emotional damage from early sexual abuse. I am not a stranger to depression and anxiety—I have experienced both, plus I am a psychotherapist and work with sufferers every day. Were this not true I would have thought I was going insane when flashbacks to childhood abuse suddenly erupted weeks after the surgery. While I could not prevent or stop it, at least I understood what was happening to me, and had resources for coping with it.
I became miserably dependent on (fell in love with) my doctor (he has the patience of Job and very good boundaries). I also had the good sense to call my own therapist to begin the hard work of healing wounds I did not know remained. I was so overwhelmed for a time that I missed work for two months beyond the post surgery period. Once I stabilized and returned to work, dealing with the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) still required intensive therapy, sweat and tears (no more blood!), but did not sideline me completely again.
I never asked, “Why me?” but I DID ask, “Why at all? Why should anyone have to suffer like this?” Refusing to let my suffering go to waste I beseeched God to help me give it meaning. Since then I have devoted myself to bridging the gap between excellent physical care of patients’ bodies and excellent emotional care for their hearts and minds by sharing my harrowing, sometimes hilarious, odyssey with others who are facing the same ordeal.
Six years and a thousand deaths later I have emerged from the valley of the shadow of death, stronger and healthier than before, both physically and mentally. The lessons learned in the dark valley are numerous and precious. Neither recovery is automatic, both require patience and effort, but the fruit of the labor is beyond measure. There are losses with the gains. I love my flat tummy and perky breasts. But I miss the sensitivity of my nipples, a very important erogenous zone. It is not a tragedy, but it is a terrible loss that continues to pose painful challenges in my intimate life.
But even more I love the emotional freedom gained through this “severe mercy.” It has been a journey I would never have signed up for, but I would not trade for anything. My experience is probably not typical, but my prayer is that another lonely traveler will find something in my story that helps her make sense of her own.
I sign off with my survivor’s motto: “I am alive . . . and I have cleavage!”
About Jamie Inman
Jamie Inman grew up in Santa Clara County when it was famous for prune trees instead of silicon chips. In the thirty years between college and seminary she was a stay-at-home mom of two daughters and a son, all of whom are successfully launched. In 1999 she completed a masters degree from Western Seminary in marriage and family therapy and has worked in private practice since then.
Jamie has survived breast cancer twice and works tirelessly to support people who have been affected by the disease by encouraging and educating, with a uniquely personal touch. She founded Stay In The Pink in order to advance the cause of prevention and early detection.
Her proudest achievement, however, is her marriage of more than 43 years. Both California natives, Jamie and Doug have lived near San Jose for more than 25 years. They enjoy good food, traveling and being active in church life. They love the empty nest and agree that “only the first 25 years were hard.” Jamie also takes great pride in teaching classes in the community on various topics relating to personal growth, family life and breast cancer activism.
Jamie is a motivational speaker and teacher, speaking on an array of topics including, but not limited to: “Losing Our Breasts, Finding Ourselves,” “The Secrets Of A Happy Marriage: Only The First 25 Years are Hard” and “Finding Myself in a Psych Ward.” A licensed marriage and family therapist, Jamie specializes in counseling for a variety of mental health and spiritual topics, including couples therapy, family therapy, depression, anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder and many more. Jamie Inman is also a two-time breast cancer survivor, and in 2008 she founded the Stay in the Pink organization, a resource for women and men affected by breast cancer. Jamie is also one of the founders and the current president of The Giving Ribbon, which provides information, resources and emotional support to San Benito County residents living with breast cancer. Today Jamie continues her work as the founder and CEO of Stay in the Pink while maintaining her private therapy practice as she works to build her newest venture, Jamie Inman Enterprises. A complete listing of current speaking topics is available on her website. To request Jamie for your next speaking engagement, contact The Lowry Agency.