Jamil Rivers was diagnosed with mBC in 2018 at the age of 39. As a mother of three, caregiver, and working professional, Jamil has a fierce determination to survive. She has learned a lot about life and herself through her struggles with mBC. For one thing, she knows that she’s strong and can make a positive difference. In her first year of chemotherapy, Jamil worked her first year of a new job. Worried about the possibility of losing her job (including income and benefits), she did not disclose her diagnosis at work. She shaved and tattooed her eyebrows, wore a wig, and went to work and chemotherapy every day. Fortunately for Jamil, her treatments were showing positive results and her tumors were shrinking. Now on an oral treatment, she is focused on living her best life and leading as an advocate for other Black women who may face inequalities and disparities in the medical system. Before her cancer diagnosis, she says, “I never questioned God’s path for me.” Yet when she received her diagnosis, it immediately followed her husband’s recent recovery from cancer. And so at first, she thought, “My kids already have one parent with cancer. Now you’re going to give them two parents with cancer?” But eventually, she realized, “Well, why not me. Cancer focuses your life. It clears out everything that’s not important. It educates you about who you are. I’m stronger than what I ever believed possible and I have accomplished more than I ever thought possible.”
In response to mBC, Jamil became motivated to survive for her family and become an advocate for change. Jamil believes that the most violent aspect of cancer is the unequal medical system and unjust racial health disparities that prohibit treatment and worsen cancer outcomes for many Black women. This is the most violent aspect of cancer because of Black women’s vulnerability to “a system with unconscious bias and structural racism.” This bias can impact care with devastating effects. But if Jamil can make a difference in “penetrating people’s thoughts, emotions, and motivations in order for us to really get to the crux of the problem, then, okay.”
In addition to her own work, Jamil has also seen growth in her children. She explains that they also express learning and becoming motivated from their parents’ experiences with cancer. “I see my kids growing into these empathetic, compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful, curious people,” she says, “and they’re amazing human beings.” Of cancer, Jamil says, “I never believed that cancer is a gift,” but it’s a crucial “part of my story.” Even though it is horrible and scary, Jamil accepts it. “I’m still here,” she says. “I’m still breathing. So I’m going to live my life and do what I can with this.”
Jamil Rivers, who was raised in New Jersey and now lives in suburban Philly, is married to the love of her life and has three amazing boys. Jamil and her husband are both cancer survivors and have both been caregivers and patients at different times. Jamil is close to her family, sisters, and girlfriends, loves crossword puzzles, and describes herself as a foodie. She also works full time as Chief Financial Officer of Education Works; is Board President of Metavivor Research and Support, Inc.; a Board member of Living Beyond Breast Cancer; and an Angel Advocate with the Tigerlily Foundation. Jamil also founded a breast cancer education and navigation organization called The Chrysalis Initiative.