Dressage Trainer Jamie Fell Shares Her Journey With Breast Cancer

Jamie Fell getting lots of love and support, Note the pink strak of hair she has added to her "do".
Jamie Fell getting lots of love and support, Note the pink strak of hair she has added to her "do".

Dressage Trainer, rider, mother and wife Jamie Fell, USDF Bronze and Silver medalist and owner and trainer of Fell-Vallee Equestrian Center, Hinesburg Vermont, had a banner year in 2012. Her daughter Liz competed at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, and many of her students had a successful year. When she first discovered a lump in her breast, she talked herself into believing it was a cyst. Not wanting to distract her family or students, and herself, she pretended it wasn't there until she knew she had to face reality. As many horsewomen and mothers do they think of their family and equines first. Jamie is sharing her ride with breast cancer on her website with her blog "My Journey". When following a blog, scroll to the bottom and then go to "previous" and then work your way up. Let's all make it our New Years Resolution for 2013 to remember to put ourselves and our health first, because we all need each other. Mary Phelps - DressageDaily
"How is it that someone who never gets sick and is strong as an ox...gets cancer?"

As many of you know, 2012 was a very exciting year for me, for Liz and for many of my clients at Fell-Vallee.  People had new horses, exciting goals and lots of dreams.  The most incredible part for me was watching Liz develop into an amazing horse woman.  The experiences she gained during the summer surpassed anything I could have hoped for her.  She qualified for the NAJrYRC, got her scores for both her Bronze and Silver Medals, qualified and competed at several levels in Regionals, and is graduating from high school early so she can go to Wellington with Pam Goodrich in February.
During the early part of the qualifying season, I discovered a mass in my right breast.  It seemed to come up over night and was very hard and mobile...it was also astonishingly big.  I remember thinking, it's smooth and rolls around, it's just a big cyst.  Deep down, I knew it wasn't, but I was not going to distract Liz or anyone else with what I found.  I kept checking it, making sure it continued to move, and thought it changed in size during menstruation.  Maybe it's smaller? Maybe it's in a different location?  Nonetheless, I made the firm decision that I was not changing the course I'd taken for the summer.

Liz qualified for the Championships and we went to Kentucky.  What a fantastic experience that was; one I look forward to again in the coming year.  After that, she started showing at PSG and obtained her scores for her Silver.  Then Regionals were coming around.  The whole time, I kept checking the damn lump and thought, "hmmm, now it feels like the surface of a golf ball"  and later "there are sharp edges forming."  I knew this wasn't good and I knew I was neglecting my own health...but I am a mother and I was trying to protect what I so badly wanted for Liz.  I knew I had a problem, but thought "if I just hold out 'til February, get her settled with Pam, then I'll take care of this."

Unfortunately, on Christmas day, I decided I'd fooled myself for too long and realized that the mass had grown not only in size, but also seemed to have a tentacle.  There was also pain under my arm from the lymph nodes that were swollen.  All in all, I was cooked. I couldn't wait any longer and made the decision to seek treatment.  I will never forget the look in my dear husband's eyes when I told him of my suspicions.  I explained everything and he listened intently, hugged me close and I cried all night long.  He was very strong and just let me cry until there was nothing left inside.

The next day, I called the Doctor.  The funny thing was that I had already accepted what I knew to be the truth.  It was like when I became pregnant and knew I was pregnant before taking a test.  I just knew.  I just knew I had cancer.

It didn't take long for the Doctor to say "I'm very worried about this" and immediately referred me to the Breast Care Clinic.  I was there at 8am, the next morning.  I can't say enough wonderful things about the ladies at the BCC at FAHC.  I felt in good hands and very safe.  Once I got into the clinic itself, there were other women waiting for their appointments.  They all seemed frightened to me.  I also seemed very young compared to them and that made me a little sad.  Nonetheless, I talked to everyone and by the time we started getting called into our own exam rooms, we were all laughing and chatting about our various lumps, bumps and unusual mammograms.

I first had a diagnostic mammogram.  First of all, they are NOT as bad as everyone makes them out to be.  It didn't hurt, just squeezed, and it didn't feel like my nipple was going to burst off.  It doesn't hurt!!  I was most worried about this part since this is what everyone always complains about.  It was no big deal.  Back to the waiting room for a moment.  The x-ray tech returned quickly and asked if I'd go back in for more films of my left breast.  That didn't sound good.

From there, I went to ultrasound.  The sonographer asked if I would be willing to do the biopsies today.  I was a bit taken aback by this question, but figured we'd get it out of the way.  The ultrasound evaluation seemed to take forever.  Of course it's very important to examine everything and make certain nothing is missed.  Luckily, she was very friendly and informative.  I also know enough about ultrasounds to know what's good, bad and unusual, so I could see just how nasty the mass looked and that the nodes seemed strange.  I didn't ask her since I knew she couldn't tell me.  She moved onto the left side and did explain the radiologist was concerned about that breast as well.  Poop.

Once all the pictures were taken, the radiologist came in to do the biopsies.  She explained she wanted to do an FNA from a suspicious node and take a tissue sample from the mass itself.  She felt the node would be rather difficult because of the location and mentioned my muscles would make it considerably tougher to get to the node safely.  She anesthetized the area and inserted a needle while watching with the ultrasound.  I kept my eyes closed since I have the tendency to pass out in situations like this.  There was some sudden intense pain and I responded verbally that it was really hurting.  Again, she mentioned the size of my muscles and apologized profusely for hurting me.  The spasms, however, were mighty intense and I was not happy with the situation one bit!!

Once the samples were collected from the node, she moved on to the mass.  Again, she anesthetized the area.  A small incision was made and then a large bore needle was placed.  She explained that I would hear a snap and demonstrated the sound for me.  She fed the instrument down the tube and counted to 3.  Snap!  Ok, no problem.  There was  a pulling sensation, but that was about it.  I asked how many of these samples she needed and she thought 3-4 would be fine.  Again, the needle was placed and she fed the instrument down.  1-2-3 snap.  Unfortunately, this time, it felt like something was being ripped out of my chest and it was all I could do to not puke on her shoe!  I started sweating bullets and thought I was going to pass out.  She decided she had enough samples, placed some metal markers under the skin around the mass and tried to make me comfortable.  By now, I'd had enough and they quickly went out to find Harry.  It was a bit before I felt I could sit up without passing out, but with lots of encouragement and ice for my spasming pec muscle, I managed to get out of Dodge.  Before I left, I was told that if the results come back benign, to not believe them.  I always prefer honesty, and it doesn't get much more blunt than that.

I was sitting on Junior today when my phone rang.  It was from the BCC letting me know that there were cancer cells present in both the mass and the nodes.  I wasn't the least bit surprised and she was very impressed when I told her I already knew and that I was OK with her news.  Liz put Junior away for me so that I could call Harry and my Mom and explain my suspicions were bang on accurate and that I have cancer.           

I know many of you are thinking "why did you wait?  Why didn't you tell anyone?  What were you thinking?  You are filled with medical knowledge and you neglected this!?!"  All I ask is that you don't ask me why, but understand I did it for my own reasons and don't regret anything.  No regrets.  Never regret.  The outpouring of friendship, love and strength is amazing and I can feel healing energy and white light coming  to me from everywhere.  So, with this, I say, "bring it on Big C!  I dare you to try and take me down."

I'll do my best to write something every day so maybe someone out there will feel my healing energy.  Remember this...I have every intention to maintain normalcy.  I will ride as long and as much as I can.  I will continue to teach and train.  My amazing staff will take care of the horses and very little will change.  Do not worry.  We will all be well. 

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