This is the story of Jamie:

“Battling cancer was the worst thing that has ever happened in my life,” says Jamie. “But I would re-live it again if it made me who I am today.”

At 17, Jamie was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. She had been an active, healthy teenager and was an honor student who played both soccer and tennis at Durango High School. In November of her senior year, Jamie had blood tests run for a platelet count issue related to a condition called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP. “It’s a diagnosis you can live with, cancer wasn’t even on my mind.”

She recalls getting ready to go out with friends on a Friday night when her dad received a call from the doctor. “My dad and I were home and my mom was traveling in California. The doctor called and said we had to go to the hospital immediately for blood work. It was just my dad and I when they told us I had leukemia. When you hear something like that, your entire world stops.”

“My dad started crying. I had only seen him cry once before. I love my dad dearly, but we both needed my mom there. It was a terrible night, the unknown is really scary. My mom rushed home from California and got to the hospital at three in the morning.”

“I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. A short 12 hours later, I had surgery to put a port in and we immediately started chemotherapy. They also did a bone marrow biopsy to see just how bad it was. I had gone into the hospital on a Friday and didn’t return back home for an entire month, never left the hospital. I ended up experiencing way more complications than they anticipated. When the biopsy came back, I was given a 17-percent chance to survive because of a very rare chromosome deficiency.”

In March, following three months of intensive chemotherapy in Las Vegas, Jamie was transferred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) for her bone marrow transplant. Her younger sister, Josie, was her bone marrow donor at a 98-percent match!

“In Los Angeles, the chemo they give you right before you receive your transplant is very harsh. They get your body so low that it is desperate to accept the foreign antibodies coming in. Everything seemed to be going well, but then I suddenly slipped into a coma for 10 days. Those were the worst 10 days of my parent’s lives. I wish I could go back and tell them, ‘I’m going to take a break for 10 days, I’ll be back – I promise. You don’t have to worry.’ It breaks my heart to imagine what they went through.”

Jamie pulled herself through and now celebrates her second birthday every year on April 1st, the date of her bone marrow transplant when she received her new immune system from her sister. In total, she spent three months at CHLA before heading back home to Vegas where she was ‘on house arrest’ for another three months.

In June 2010, Jamie was able to walk with her senior class at graduation, even if it was with a mask and a puffy steroid face.  She then started at UNLV in the fall before transferring to Northern Arizona University the following year. At Northern Arizona, she studied psychology and sociology, minoring in social work, and also met her now husband.

Her time as a patient has helped to shape her worldview. “Before my diagnosis, I had no limitations. I was ready to go to the East coast for school and not turn back. But, after everything happened, it was so hard for me to leave and be independent. Going to NAU I had a rough time being away from my friends and family. At first, I was miserable. I’m glad I stayed out there, but after everything I had been through, I realized how precious life was and how much my family meant to me. It was hard to be away from home. Looking back now, I realize that I needed more time to process the trauma I had been through.”

Jamie also created some special bonds while she was in the hospital. “Ernie was this awesome guy who volunteered at the hospital and would come in and visit when I was at St. Rose of Siena. I met him about two days after first being admitted to the hospital, after my whole world had flipped upside down. He was 70 years old and would sing and whistle Elvis all the time and come in to tell me jokes or write funny poems. We became really close friends. He made a big impact on me and I know I made a big impact on him too, as he would call me his second daughter. It was a really special friendship.”

“There was a group of us that included my mom, Ernie, and another amazing woman and we started a “lunch-bunch” to stay connected. When he was volunteering, he battled three different types of cancers. but he would always pray that he could take cancer away from every child he met. Sadly, Ernie passed away eleven years ago. At the time of his passing, he had eight different forms of cancer. I like to believe that his prayers worked and he healed the children around him.”

In addition to her incredible support network from family and friends, Jamie says much of what helped her through her cancer journey was a deep connection with herself and staying positive. “I feel like I’m really in-tune with my inner being. I never felt like I was going to die. Logically I knew the outlook was grim and the odds were against me, but I never felt like I was going to die. My parents had a meeting with a bunch of doctors and they didn’t want to tell me it was only a 17-percent chance of survival. We were going to watch a movie that night in the hospital and as they come back into the room, they were hesitant to share the grim statistic the doctors had given.  Finally they told me and I was just like, ‘Okay, we got this. Go ahead and turn the movie on.’ I think the connection to self and positive mindset, to believe with every molecule in your body that you’re going to make it and be okay, is really important. And, I had a tremendous support system.”

Candlelighters, of course, was there to offer Jamie’s family support. As the second youngest of four siblings, Jamie says she now appreciates how much Candlelighters does to support the whole family through the cancer journey.

“I was older when I was diagnosed and my parents were really fortunate that they had jobs where we didn’t need financial support and they could take time off from work to be with me. I was never alone. But, they have said after the fact that they felt supported by and would receive helpful information from Candlelighters. My diagnosis was so hard on all of [my siblings]. Josie was just 16 and all the focus was put on me, so she had to drive herself to soccer practice and sometimes stay home alone at night. I watched each family member navigate their pain in different ways and felt so helpless. So I know how much it affects your entire family.”

“I’m so grateful Candlelighters was there to provide support, even if we didn’t take advantage of every service. It’s like a safety umbrella that, even if you want to taste the rain, it’s there when you need the support.”

“Anyone going through this needs to take it hour-by-hour and hold on to everyone who offers their love, whether that’s the nurse or Candlelighters or a friend. Even if it’s a stranger who looks at you with pity because you’re bald, trust that they look at you with love and want you to be okay. Take all the love you can and breathe in all that healing energy. Trust that you’ll be okay as long as you believe. It may sound woo-woo, but if you assure everything in your body that you’re going to heal and be okay, it will listen. Just hold onto hope.”

“Life has a way of leading you exactly where you are meant to be. I love how my cancer journey came full circle during my time working as the Volunteer Program Manager at Candlelighters. I feel honored to have been in that position, helping families in any way possible and also cultivating friendships with the wonderful staff. They are truly such special people who are deeply dedicated to Candlelighters’ mission. Everything is dedicated to supporting families, to show people going through an unimaginable time that they are supported, they are loved, and most of all, they are not alone.”

Today, Jamie is joyful, thriving, and full of gratitude for all her life experiences. Cancer-free and on a mission to live her healthiest life possible, she recently started her own hypnotherapy practice, helping people heal on a deep level from emotional and physical pain. She’s also happily married with hopes of starting a family soon.