Turning Pain into Purpose
UF Health specialists helped patient navigate breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Jasmine Souers remembers Dec. 30, 2016, the day she received a life-changing diagnosis – stage I breast cancer. She was 26 years old with a thriving marketing career and was making plans for the future. The journey that followed led her somewhere she wasn’t expecting, and today she uses her own experience to help others.
Searching for Answers
Months prior to her diagnosis, she noticed her left breast was swollen and painful to touch, and she found stains inside her bra. She examined her breast to determine what had caused the stain. Souers has a family history of breast cancer. To err on the side of caution, she visited an emergency room.
“We tried to replicate the discharge. After the mammogram and ultrasound results came back negative, they recommended that I visit my primary care physician,” Souers said.
She visited Nikki Rowan, MD, medical director of UF Health Women’s Specialists – Generation to Generation, to have Rowan examine her breast. The nipple discharge appeared bloody, not colorless, yellow or milky.
“Jasmine is very in tune with her body,” Rowan said. “I moved quickly based on her concern. I wanted imaging. Still, imaging tends to miss breast cancer in young women.”
Rowan referred Souers to the UF Health Breast Center – Jacksonville to see Bharti Jasra, MBBS, MD, FACS, a breast surgical oncologist. A diagnostic mammogram with tomosynthesis and a targeted ultrasound were performed but didn’t show breast abnormalities.
“Jasmine had nipple discharge from one breast. It was bloodstained per history, but we couldn’t elicit on a clinical examination,” Jasra said. “It’s difficult to read a mammogram of a young woman due to density of the breast tissue. When a level of clinical suspicion is high, we evaluate further with a breast MRI. The MRI showed an abnormal enhancement in the left breast, and through a biopsy, we found multifocal DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, breast cancer with invasive ductal carcinoma.”
Making a Tough Decision
Souers and her mom, Alsebre Davis, were devastated, but she knew that her family and close friends would support her.
“It was an early stage cancer with small foci scattered over a large area of breast. Because of the size of the lesion and family history, a shared decision was made to do a mastectomy to remove the entire area,” Jasra said.
On Jan. 24, 2017, Souers had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction surgery. She then underwent 25 rounds of proton therapy radiation at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.
“When diagnosed at an early stage, breast cancer has a good prognosis with treatment. Jasmine proactively sought help when she noticed symptoms and was appropriately referred by Dr. Rowan,” Jasra said. “We did a further work-up with a breast MRI, even though clinical examination, mammogram and ultrasound were unremarkable. This helped with early diagnosis and breast cancer treatment. Jasmine went through the entire treatment courageously, which is truly inspiring.”
Reaching Out to Help Others
Souers learned how to navigate her new normal and came to terms with a body she wasn’t born with. Her case manager and nurse navigator encouraged her to join a breast cancer support group. Although breast cancer was the common thread shared by the group, their life experiences differed.
“I loved the older ladies, but I wanted to connect with younger women. My former boss referred me to a support group that included women closer to my age,” Souers said.
She also wanted to engage other African American women who had a mastectomy, so she searched for online resources and marketing materials specific to African American women and women of color. However, Souers struggled to find such resources.
She attended the Young Survival Coalition Summit, a conference for young adults diagnosed with breast cancer before turning 41. It was there she met Marissa Thomas, a young breast cancer survivor. The two bonded over their experiences and desire to harness the collective power of marginalized voices, and together they started a nonprofit.
“I am the co-founder of “For the Breast of Us.” Our mission is to uplift women of color affected by breast cancer by sharing stories that educate, inspire and connect,” Souers said.
She is thankful for all who helped her navigate breast cancer and treatment, crediting Rowan and Jasra for saving her life. Souers recently celebrated turning 30 and is focused on fulfilling her purpose.
“I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone,” Souers said. “I’m grateful for the experience, as it taught me about myself. My pain turned into purpose.”
Photography of Jasmine Souers in this issue is credited to: Jay Marable Photography