Life After Diagnosis

Area Breast Cancer Survivor Reflects On Treatment, Recovery

Jamie Richir, a Chautauqua County native, shared her story of breast cancer survival in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pictured from left are Richir; her grandaughter, Zoie Centi; and her daughter, Marcella Centi. P-J photo by Katrina Fuller

“The hardest part was getting the phone call saying, ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Richir, it’s cancer,'” said Jamie Richir, a life-long resident of Chautauqua County.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Richir shared her story about her diagnosis, what treatment was like and what life is like since being declared cancer-free.

Two years ago in August, Richir found out she had an aggressive form of stage three breast cancer. She said doctors generally prefer to see cancer to have a rate of two or three. Her cancer, however, had a growth rate of 25.

At first, they found two lumps in her breast, but Richir said they went from being tiny to the size of an orange under her arm in a short span of time.

“It was scary stuff,” she said.

When she first heard the diagnosis, Richir said she had to take time away and cry. Slowly, she began to accept it.

Between doctors appointments, testing and chemotherapy treatments, Richir said the schedule of being sick was anything but restful. She had seven surgeries, 36 rounds of radiation and five months of chemo.

During the chemo treatments, she remembered watching the dripping solution go through the lines.

“I thought of each drop as a little warrior,” Richir said with a smile.

Even now, after a year of being cancer-free, Richir said there are still doctor appointments. However, after her next appointment, she said she will only have to go back to the doctor every six months.

“I’m coming up on two years (since) having the cancer removed,” Richir said. “(The doctor) said everything looks good.”

A year ago, she went in to her oncologist, she got the report that she was cancer-free.

“He said, ‘Today, I think we celebrate a miracle,'” Richir said.

Despite a cheery outlook now, she said it was a difficult cancer to fight. One thing she looked for during the darkest moments was for those around her to tell her everything would be all right. She said the cancer treatments were hard, and at times she was incredibly weak. She had to rely on others to help her through tasks and needs that she normally handled herself. She said her energy would deplete and she just couldn’t go on any more, leading her to see that she needed the people around her.

“It’s very humbling,” she said. “But you also see how wonderful people are. You get to see the good in people.”

Before her diagnosis, Richir said she was the one doling out help, but she learned to be the receiver of help while she was sick. Her husband, Keith; her daughter, Marcella; and other family members helped out immensely, she said.

“I love my people,” Richir said.

Likewise, her employer was helpful and caring as well. The company gave her a lot of support and acted as “a family” to her during her time of need. She continued working through her time of sickness, which she said was good for her to keep busy.

“If I would’ve lost my job and my insurance, with the costs of my treatments, I couldn’t have afforded it,” Richir said. “If you get sick, I can see how you could end up being homeless.”

While the diagnosis was frightening and brought a season of hardship to her life, she said it also brought her the “privilege of living like I was dying.”

“Now, I get up every day and thank God for the day,” Richir said. “Every day is a bonus.”

She said a big part of getting through her cancer was her faith. Richir said that though she realized that the cancer was overwhelming, she could take refuge in her faith.

“I said, ‘This is big and this is scary, but my God is bigger,'” she said. “The other thing was realizing that either way, I had to realize that God is in control and that he will take care of (my) people. If it’s my time, God has a plan for that.”

For those who have received a cancer diagnosis, Richir said she is hoping her story will be an encouragement. During her experience with cancer, she kept a journal and is taking that information and turning it into a book titled, “God In A Bottle.” She said she hopes to release the book next summer.

She said journaling helped he get through each day and helped her be able to look back over her journey. She also made it a point to laugh each day, no matter what.

Being a breast cancer survivor has also given her a different outlook on life. Richir said rather than focusing on what is negative and bad, she looks for the best in every situation. She said she doesn’t think she’ll ever be the same again. In her world, everything is “new and magical again,” due to her second chance at life.

Her body is scarred and “different,” Richir said, but it isn’t something she worries about anymore. She does search for words more often, and also feels tired more often, which she’s not sure if that will go away. Richir said she had to build her strength back up.

Richir said she realizes the cancer could return, so she doesn’t take any day for granted.

“I don’t know why God chose to heal me. I’m not privy to the reason,” she said. “I just know that every day God gives me, I have a purpose. I’m enjoying life.”

Richir said biggest message is to make sure to follow your gut instinct. She said if something doesn’t feel right, go get it checked out.

“If I would’ve just had the mammogram and not listened to my body and I would’ve waited a year, it would’ve been too late,” she said.