RICHARD WALKER RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jan Yamasaki watched with her husband Steve Clissold as their 2 1/2 year-old son Zachary played at their Waialae-Iki home.
They believe in miracles
Jan Yamasaki has both survived breast cancer and become a mom
A mammogram three months earlier was fine and it was a busy season, so she "kind of dismissed it" when she felt a hard, pea-sized lump in her left breast in December 2000, said Jan Yamasaki.
Two months later, it had grown to the size of a quarter, and she called her doctor, who saw her the next day, she said.
Another mammogram showed a definite lump and an ultrasound determined it was solid rather than liquid, she said. A needle biopsy was inconclusive and it was decided to remove the lump because it was growing so fast, she said.
It was surgically removed March 20, 2001. "Two days later, I was given the bad news. I had cancer," she said.
She said she thought, "How could this be? I'm fairly young (42 at the time). I don't smoke. I don't drink. I eat right. I exercise three times a week and no one in my family has ever had breast cancer. I have mammograms done annually.
"I was very surprised and shocked when I found out I did have cancer," she said. Then she learned doing research that one out of seven women will have cancer in their lifetime. "It's staggering."
Surgery was scheduled March 27 to remove surrounding tissue and lymph nodes in her left arm to see if the cancer had spread.
In the seven days between surgeries, not knowing the extent of the cancer, Yamasaki said she "prayed, cried and got myself mentally and emotionally prepared to do whatever I needed to do to win this battle."
She was lucky. The cancer hadn't spread to her lymph nodes because she caught it early enough, she said.
She decided to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation to increase chances of not having a recurrence. She had four chemo treatments, one every four weeks, and six weeks of radiation.
It was tough, she said, but she had a lot of support from family and friends and another woman who was going through chemo and radiation at the same time.
Although she lost all of her brownish-black hair, her wigs were a hit. "I had so many compliments on my hair at work. Every day in the elevator someone would say, 'I love your hair.'
"So I tell my friends, hair is overrated. You can buy a wig and never have a bad hair day and save money on hair spray and shampoo."
Yamasaki said she had good and bad days and her fiancé at the time, Steve Clissold, "was very helpful when I went through it emotionally. He would make me soup when I was going through chemo. ... He would run out and get whatever I felt like eating.
"The way I figure, any guy who sticks with you when you're bald is probably a keeper."
After seven years of going together, they were married Sept. 6, 2003. Both work at the Bank of Hawaii, Yamasaki as vice president of insurance marketing and Clissold in asset management.
They were told they had 0 to 1 percent chance of having children because of her chemotherapy and radiation and her age, she said. "They said I should probably consider adoption. I had always wanted to have children and felt I lost the opportunity."
But after a vacation in Thailand, her menstrual cycles stopped, she said. Her doctor said she was probably in menopause early because of the cancer treatments.
About three months later, she said, "The clothes I had custom-tailored in Thailand were too tight. I said, 'something's wrong.' "
After a positive home pregnancy test, she said she went to her gynecologist, who asked her, "How did this happen?"
"I said, 'You tell me. I thought I was in menopause the last three months.' We were both very happy."
Yamasaki had an amniocentesis and again, there were "a lot of prayers" that she wouldn't have a miscarriage, she said. "Every day in the shower, I was rubbing my belly, saying 'hang in there.' "
Zachary, their "miracle baby," did hang in and is now a happy, healthy 2 1/2-year-old, she said.
Yamasaki said she talks to a lot of people about the importance of getting mammograms and doing monthly breast self-checks. She also talks to others with breast cancer.
"I know that I'm very fortunate," she said, noting one of her co-workers has had her fourth recurrence. "Every time I hear something like this, it just breaks my heart."
Yamasaki said she has benefited from education and patient services, including her first wig, from the American Cancer Society.
So she is walking with other Bank of Hawaii employees, including her husband and four breast cancer survivors, in the ACS Relay for Life from 7 p.m. July 15 to 7 a.m. the next day at Magic Island.
She said Bank of Hawaii employees hope to raise $80,000 for the cancer society. They have been hosting internal bake sales and chili dog lunches and asking for donations from families and friends.
The bank also will give $20,000 to the American Cancer Society, she said.