Jamie Symonette is in the fight of her life.
Diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer on February 9, Symonette, 35, is scheduled to undergo a bilateral mastectomy on June 15.
“I just want to be cancer-free,” said Symonette.
Without surgery, doctors have given her a five-year survival rate, at best.
It was in December 2022 that she noticed a change in her right breast, which she said felt like a lump, and brought it to her mother Jennifer Symonette’s attention.
They dismissed it.
In March, while getting dressed, she noticed an unusual firmness in her right breast. Out of caution, Symonette decided to seek medical attention.
The doctor examined her breast and told her she probably had cysts, and said they wouldn’t be a “big deal”. But she also referred Symonette for an ultrasound.
At 34 years old at the time, Symonette was told she was too young for a mammogram. But after the ultrasound, she was told she needed to have a mammogram done.
The mammogram result was unfavorable and showed Symonette had two lumps in her right breast.
She had a biopsy done the day after to check if the lumps were benign or not, and her worst fears were confirmed – Symonette had breast cancer.
“As the tears streamed down my face, I tried to come to grips with my new reality. At [then-] 34 years old, I have Stage 3 breast cancer.”
Symonette said she questioned why this deadly illness would befall her.
“As fate would have it, I was too young for a mammogram, but not too young for breast cancer.”
Cancer, she said, does not run in her family.
Symonette, a contract worker at University of The Bahamas, who is also a doctorate degree student, does not have health insurance, nor does she have a lot of savings.
“I didn’t even think about money right away,” she said as she began the process to give herself the best possible fighting chance of beating breast cancer. “I just thought I had cancer.”
As she began to hear quotes about what it would cost to fight breast cancer, and knowing her financial situation, she said it made her feel “sad” to know that she would not be able to afford it.
She opted to crowdfund for assistance.
Symonette took to GoFundMe to share her story with the hope of raising $50,000, to start, to assist with her medical expenses. As of yesterday, her account https://www.gofundme.com/f/wernf-jamies-cancer-fund showed $8,830 raised from 73 donations since it was created on May 4.
She is further seeking a self-help approach through a steakout scheduled for June 2 at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Symonette can be contacted at 429-1755 for anyone wanting to assist through this avenue.
Symonette will need to take medication for at least five years post-surgery.
The cancer has spread to one of her lymph nodes and she has calcification in her right breast.
“At first, I thought I would get a lumpectomy as the two lumps were small, but when they looked, they saw calcification and that it had spread.”
Then, she thought she would do a unilateral mastectomy, but the doctors told her the cancer would return in the second breast.
She said she decided then to have both breasts removed.
“If they have to go, they have to go to save my life. It’s just the way it is,” she said.
“I said I don’t want to go through this again. I just want the process to be done. I just want to be cancer-free, and get rid of it.”
Symonette was tested to see what type of cancer she has and was diagnosed with ER-Positive, PR-Positive and HER2-Negative.
She does not have genetic cancer.
Breast cancer is a type of cancer where cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without normal control. It is a widespread and random disease, striking women and men of all ages and races. It is the most prevalent cancer in the world today, with about 1.3 million people diagnosed annually.
Health officials estimate 300 to 500 new cases each year in The Bahamas.
Forty-eight percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas were under the age of 50 with the average age of diagnosis in The Bahamas at age 42. In the United States (US), it is age 62.
Statistics also show that 44 percent of Bahamian women with breast cancer had Stage 3 or Stage 4 of the disease.
Among the women who die from breast cancer in The Bahamas, 43 percent are under age 50 at the time of their death.
It was also estimated that 23 percent of Bahamian women diagnosed with breast cancer carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, an issue investigated by Dr. Judith Hurley of University of Miami.
The exact cause of the disease is unknown. Currently, there is no cure.
Prior to her being given her diagnosis, Symonette said she did not know much about cancer, outside of the awareness month.
“I didn’t think it would happen to me,” she said.
Since then, she has said, “If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. This is why it is so important go get tested.”
A recent draft recommendation from a US federal task force said women should start getting every-other-year mammograms at age 40 instead of waiting until age 50.
The draft recommendation applies to women at average risk of breast cancer but not those at very high risk due to certain genetic or other factors.
The US Preventive Services Task Force, an organization made up of doctors and disease experts, noted that Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, making mammograms at 40 an especially important step.
Symonette is still outside the recommended age to start screening.
Other health groups differ over when and how often to screen.
Health organizations have long had different screening recommendations, seeking to balance catching breast cancer early while avoiding too many false alarms, when the x-rays spot non-cancerous blips.
The American Cancer Society says women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year -– but can choose to start at 40, then, at 55, can choose to switch to every other year.
The American College of Radiology recommends annual mammograms starting at 40 for women at average risk of breast cancer – but urges that young women get assessed for risk factors that require even earlier screening.
Symonette has plans to do reconstructive surgery, but said that is at least a year out after her double mastectomy.
As she prepares for surgery, Symonette, who has never had major surgery, said she is doing her best to be optimistic and that everything will work out. She listens to inspirational songs and prays.