Just one year ago, Jamil Rivers found out she had metastatic breast cancer. The Philadelphia mom of three, who is still working full-time, tells PEOPLE about her diagnosis in a four-part series about her battle to survive — and thrive — for her family and for other women battling cancer.
I had a typical family before my diagnosis. I was 39 years old, married, with three children and a full-time job. We were very active and always doing something. I have a big tight-knit family and we love to travel. I had just changed jobs and we moved into a new house. I never missed a beat — and then my husband was diagnosed with stage-one colon cancer. I became his caregiver.
It was in 2017, and everyone got sick in the wintertime like we always do. We had colds and were coughing, but my cold didn’t go away. I also had this pain and this pinch, like I had pulled a muscle on my right side. When I went to the doctor about my cold and cough, they had prescribed me antibiotics. I also asked for an ultrasound because appendicitis runs in my family. The results showed that I had lesions in my liver. I had no other symptoms and no other pain, but further testing showed I had stage-four “de novo” metastatic breast cancer. It was the most shocking news ever.
It spread to my liver, my spleen, lymph nodes, lungs, bones, my abdomen and my chest well. I was devastated. I’m blessed with this beautiful family and my kids are really young. At the time they were only 5, 6 and 16 years old. Why would God bless me with this beautiful family and then strip me from them? I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that my husband and I could both have a serious health issue. It just wasn’t a possibility.
“Who is going to take care of our kids?” That was the first thing I thought about in the midst of my devastation. But after that, I realized I had to survive for them; I have to be here for them. I wanted my kids to know that I did everything I could possibly do in my power in order to be here for them. I had to process my diagnosis so I could focus on my health. You never think this could happen to you but it did. It happened to me.
I’m the type of person who, when a challenge is brought to me, I figure out how to execute it and get it done. I basically had to figure out, “What is the best way to battle here?” I empowered myself and armed myself with as much knowledge, information, resources and support as possible. My mission was survival.
I’m my kids’ mom and no one else can be. I’m the breadwinner in my family and everyone is also on my benefits. It was imperative that I keep my job and do well at my job so I could continue to take care of them. I started chemotherapy right away because on paper I was literally dying. The kids had to see me lose all of my hair and I was really tired. That’s when I started researching what else I could do in terms of integrative therapy to help me manage the side effects of the chemo in order to still work, be active and take care of my kids the same way I always had.
Now, my husband is in recovery. And after ten months, my tumors have shrunk to the point where they’re a microscopic size so you can’t see them on a scan. I’m still working, taking care of the kids and involved in their school activities. I want to soak in every waking second with my family.
I’m not giving up anytime soon.
Check back next week for the continuation of Jamil and her family’s story, only on PEOPLE.