31 Days of Impact – Day 4, Jamie Ledezma
The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.
JAMIE LEDEZMA, FRESNO, CALIFORNIA – Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate
“The moment the words “You have cancer” were said, I took out my pen and pad and started asking questions. I was on a mission to get information, to make sure my baby would be born healthy and happy.”
“I got involved with Komen because they are on the front lines advocating for the most important issues for survivors like me – in states like California, for instance, many women rely on the state’s screening program, which ensures that a lost job or lost insurance doesn’t result in a lost life.”
“Komen’s California Affiliates are actively lobbying to sustain funding for specific programs that will make sure underserved women have access to screening and early detection of breast cancer.”
My husband and I got to hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time at a routine doctor’s appointment in February of 2007. Everything checked out and looked great until my doctor asked whether I had any questions. “As a matter of fact, I do,” I replied. “What is this lump? Is it a milk gland, already?”
On Valentine’s Day, our worst fears were confirmed: I had triple negative breast cancer. I was 14 weeks pregnant and 27 years old. On that day, every goal and timeline I had carefully mapped out for our family and my career were thrown out the window. Now my focus was only on the fight to make sure my baby would be born both healthy and happy; my own health and survival were secondary. One week after my diagnosis I began chemotherapy. My oncologist prescribed a cocktail of medications that were known to be safe for the fetus because the drugs didn’t pass the placental barrier. But that reassurance was difficult to grasp while sitting in an infusion chair for six hours.
I also had to deal with so many unexpected issues: disability and life insurance, pre-existing conditions, the lifetime and annual limits of health insurance policies, and coverage appeals. As a former insurance defense attorney, I was better equipped to handle these than the dozens of other young cancer patients I met, such as the single mom who lost her job at a gas station because of her treatment schedule, and the couple who lost their home because of crushing medical costs.
Our baby had nearly six months of chemotherapy with me before his early arrival on July 14, 2007. Blake was born at a healthy 5 pounds, 9 ounces, and with a full head of hair – more than I had, at the time, because of the drugs! A week after his delivery, I returned to my aggressive chemotherapy schedule for another three months. After that came a bilateral mastectomy and a series of six reconstructive and prophylactic surgeries.
When Blake was five months old, I returned to work. I felt as though I had left work on cancer’s terms, and I wanted to go back to work on my terms – and that meant as soon as possible, even though I still wore a wig, faced major surgeries, and had an infant at home.
As part of my continuing education requirements for my license, I attended a cancer rights conference. Sitting there talking with 200 other attorneys, advocates, patients, and healthcare providers, I realized that I could become a cancer rights attorney, coupling my professional experience as a lawyer with my personal passion for helping others who struggle with cancer.
Now I work as a cancer rights attorney at the Cancer Legal Resource Center and seize every opportunity to educate others by sharing my experience as a young breast cancer survivor. I also proudly serve as the Past-Chair of Public Policy Chair for the California Collaborative of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, as a member of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure National Public Policy Advisory Council and was recently appointed to the California Breast and Cervical Cancer Advisory Council for the State of California to help ensure underserved women have access to life-saving early detection services.
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About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen for the Cure is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.