Opening a new chapter in life as breast cancer survivors
Friends serve as honorary co-chairs of Steppin' Out in Pink 2018
Forty-four-year-old Jamie Dahl and forty-five-year-old Julie Nordeen share a lot in common.
The friends grew up in La Crosse and attended Central High School together. Their birthdays are a day apart, their husband's birthdays are a day apart, and their wedding anniversaries are one week apart. They live a few blocks from each other. Their kids go to the same school and their oldest children are in the same class.
One thing they never expected to share was breast cancer. Their diagnoses came just six days apart.
"I had no family history of breast cancer, no lump, no nothing,” says Julie who received the unforeseen news on March 16, 2017, following a routine mammogram.
Ironically, about one month earlier Jamie felt a small breast lump. She had a recent, clean mammogram, and figured the lump was nothing more than fibrous tissue or a change in hormones.
"During school drop-off in the parking lot, Julie told me she had breast cancer. I was shocked. My heart sank,” she recalls. The news prompted Jamie to have her lump checked out. Six days later, on March 22, 2017, Jamie was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I never thought that cancer could happen to me. I mistakenly felt that it was a disease that only affected others,” says Jamie.
The fact is one in eight women will experience breast cancer in her lifetime. It's a message that Jamie and Julie continue to share, as the 2018 honorary chairwomen of Gundersen Medical Foundation's Steppin' Out in Pink. Their stories prove that no single screening tool detects all breast cancer. Annual mammograms and monthly self-breast exams are needed equally.
Support on a difficult road
Unless you've been through cancer yourself, the two friends say there is no way to describe it. "It was nice to have somebody 'living it' with me. We were constantly texting back and forth: 'How are you feeling today? What are your symptoms? Is this eye twitching normal?'” says Julie.
"To have someone who understands and knows what you're going through—not only to commiserate but lift each other up and encourage each other: 'We've got this. We can do this. You're going to be fine.' This was such a blessing,” adds Jamie.
Finding the silver lining
Through their darkest days—chemotherapy, losing their hair and surgery—there is little these two friends have not shared. Closing one chapter of life and opening another, as honorary co-chairs of Steppin' Out in Pink, is right where they want to be.
"There's always good that comes out of the bad,” attests Julie. "It was all of the people and the support of our friends and families. It was the amazing staff at Gundersen. After cancer, you have a totally different viewpoint on life. Very little gets me upset anymore. Things roll off my back easier. I appreciate things more.”
"If we can use our story and the struggle that we went through to help someone else, that is what it's all about,” says Jamie.