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November 2014 Survivor of the Month – Jaime Herbster
Jamie Herbster’s Story by Robert McNamara
In the quietest moments of our most solemn desolation, if you listen closely enough, you can almost always hear the music. Life, much like a song, has a series of high points and lows. While the tempo and the beat will change from time to time there is a familiar refrain underneath which guides us through each day. Perhaps no one knows this better than November’s Survivor of the Month, Jamie Herbster. For years as a singer/songwriter, Jamie has used her talents to connect with strangers through the gifts of word and note. In December 2010, Jamie’s song would begin an unexpected verse, a journey teeming with challenges. Through her experiences, she would reconnect with that harmony buried deep inside of herself and rise to the challenges that she faced. Jamie would learn to embody the music of her soul, a simple song called courage.
“My life before cancer was in so many directions. I wrote (and) sang songs at different venues, wrote poetry, enjoyed 35 mm (and) digital photography, gardening, exercising, spending time with my family (and) friends, helping others, taking care of family members and working full-time.” While her days were filled with a sundry of different activities and responsibilities, music was the part of Jamie’s life that seemed to capture her deepest passions. “I was riding on the wave of life with plans to achieve the goals I had set for myself, which (included) wanting to have my dream come true as a singer/songwriter. This passion had always been in my heart so I kept finding opportunities to perform my original songs locally.” Jamie would also share her love of music with others, often recruiting family members to help perform at nursing homes and church events.
In music, a song will often begin with a slower pace that grows faster as the story develops. When Jamie went in for a routine appointment with her doctor near the end of 2010, little did she know that in the space of less than a month her life would be transformed in such a dramatic way. “After my exam, in December of 2010, my doctor told me I needed to get a diagnostic mammogram scheduled in January of 2011 as soon as possible. She felt something needed to be checked out on my left breast. So, I went on January 3, 2011, which was 2 months earlier than my regular mammogram, which would have been in March, to have the diagnostic mammogram done thinking it wouldn’t take long and I could get back to my list of things I needed to do. Somehow, this time was different as I had to have an ultrasound done immediately following.”
Following a biopsy, Jamie would be diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in her right breast. As she made the appointment to discuss options with a surgeon, her mind was full of flurry of questions. “How could this be? After all, I had no immediate family history of breast cancer. I exercised and ate right. To me, I just seemed to be the most unlikely candidate to have breast cancer.” Jamie’s story is a poignant reminder of the importance of the routine self-exams and mammograms for all women. While those with a family history of the disease are certainly at a higher risk, cancer can occur any time without warning, even in those who are not a part of high risk groups.
Jamie was fortunate that her cancer was detected early, but the treatments that she would receive would be grueling. “My breast cancer was stage one and my sentinel node biopsy was negative. I had a right lumpectomy… four rounds of chemo… and 33 radiation treatments… in addition to some occupational therapy. Some days were so exhausting that I struggled to put one foot in front of the other.” Despite the pain and the fatigue, a survivor marches on, and Jamie would learn to lean on those close to her for support during her ordeal. “My co-workers insisted on taking me to my chemo appointments. On the day of chemo, I was picked up, taken to work, where I worked a half day, then I was taken for my afternoon infusions and then taken home. After I was finished with all of my treatment, some co-workers had a congratulations luncheon for me.”
It was these same friends who would offer the inspiration for Jamie to become an advocate against breast cancer. She has found an outlet for her efforts in many places, one of them being the Susan G. Komen race. “I always tell others about the Race for the Cure and try to get as many people as I can to participate, as I believe in it so much. This is an awesome event that has now become an honored tradition for me to walk in with other survivors and to express our gratitude to all the people who make it happen…”
Adjusting to a life after cancer is yet another challenge that all survivors must overcome. Jamie found support during this transition by participating in classes designed to help survivors get back to their normal lives. “After being on such an intense regimen and it stops, you feel lost. However, by taking this class, I learned about nutrition and the holistic approach to take care of yourself as a survivor. Also, The Cancer Survivorship Series is also a great resource. I had the privilege of speaking about returning to work after cancer and it was a good experience both personally and professionally.” Rather than simply take in these lesson for her own growth, Jamie has made a commitment to give back to help others who face the challenges with which she is now familiar. “(Now) I share more of my journey publicly to help others. At first it was hard for me to talk about what I had experienced, as I was a private person. However, my journey with breast cancer has made me stronger and more vocal to express what I’ve found to be of value as well as benefit to other survivors on their journey. “
The role of a musician is to entertain but many times, also to tell a story. Jamie has drawn much experience from her battle with breast cancer that has changed the way that she sees the world. “I want to spend time experiencing new things in my life such as going kayaking and so much more. I’m thirsty for life and want to cram as much of everything into it as I can. Every day is a gift not to be wasted as time is precious. Life has gotten better because of surviving breast cancer, meeting so many people on my journey and doing what I can to help others along the way.”
It is clear that the final verse of Jamie’s story will not be written for a long time, but through her courageous fight she has personified that inner melody that has carried her through her journey. Jamie Herbster is a survivor and her life is a song of hope for all who listen for it.