Just one year ago, Jamil Rivers, 40, found out she had metastatic breast cancer. The Philadelphia mom of three, who is still working full-time, tells PEOPLE about her diagnosis in the third part of a four-part series about her battle to survive — and thrive — for her family and for other women battling cancer.
When I was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer my entire world turned upside down. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I was so young, I had three young kids, my husband Ricky was battling cancer – and now this? One of the hardest parts was that I had no idea what having metastatic breast cancer really meant. I had to educate myself. My health was in my hands and to survive, I needed to know everything. Research was key.
I worked full-time through all of my treatments, which included 10 months of chemotherapy. I began to educate other women who were going through cancer and wanted to help them feel prepared like I did. They had to have the correct tools and knowledge. People think breast cancer is an old ladies’ disease and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Young women get it too. It needs to be on their radar. African-American women with breast cancer are also dying at a 40 percent higher rate nationwide, so I make sure to educate them on their unique risks too.
I’m now a board member and a Young Advocate at Living Beyond Breast Cancer, on the metastatic advisory board at Susan G. Komen, and volunteer for the cancer research program at the Department of Defense. I help women who are under the age of 45 and have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I take women under my wing and guide them. Right now I’m helping about 30 women. I literally have them all in a spreadsheet and they keep me posted on how they’re doing.
A lot of people come to me asking for my help because they feel lost. I teach them about integrative therapy, how to have conversations with your doctors, learning about the type of breast cancer they have and clinical trials that are available. I also keep them up to date on the latest innovations.
It can be so overwhelming and family members and caregivers can only help so much. Women with breast cancer need to feel empowered and it’s very easy to struggle. They need to fight the fight. It’s very easy to retreat within yourself and it’s hard to talk to other people who don’t really get it. It’s easy to crumble, but if you do, then what happens? You have to be there for not just yourself, but your family. I want to be a reinforcement and catch women who are stumbling off the track.
It’s so rewarding to see a woman find her strength and push forward. Even if we don’t have a cure, we want to live with this disease for a long time. If we can control it like diabetes, then we are okay with that. We don’t want to just technically be alive; we want to live and enjoy our lives with our families.