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Meet Our #COTW Amelia Hamilton – ‘Chemo Left Me With Neuropathy That Still Plagues Me’

Meet Our #COTW Amelia Hamilton – ‘Chemo Left Me With Neuropathy That Still Plagues Me’

Amelia Hamilton
My name is Emily Thorpe, writer and editorial assistant for DO YOU ENDO. So far, I’ve written about my journey with Endometriosis, my recovery after surgery, and feminist issues (#kavanope), but my favorite pieces to write are the #womancrushwednesdays. I love finding badass women to spotlight and write about, and I’ve become friends with some of these amazing women that allowed me to tell the world their story. It’s something I treasure and take seriously.
This week’s #WCW isn’t someone who struggled with Endo. Instead, I decided to focus on someone who won in a fight against the disease that causes everything to go pink in October: Breast Cancer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to look far. Our #WCW this week is Amelia Hamilton, my older sister.
Amelia Hamilton was 36 when she was first diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer. She was the mother of a young daughter and son at the time, a wife with many in-laws (and a large family of her own), a friend, and a Spanish teacher in a small school district in east Texas.
She loved Elton John, musicals, and playing with her kids. Hamilton had a normal life, except she’d been running a low-grade fever and was experiencing exhaustion and weakness for months. When she went in for her annual check-up, her nurse practitioner did a breast exam, but she didn’t notice the movable lump on the side of Hamilton’s left breast. Two weeks after the appointment, while feeding her 18-month-old son, Hamilton would find it herself.

After getting back in with her doctor, all she could do was wait.

“It’s difficult to go back and think about,” Hamilton said. “The doctor of radiology called me on her way up to Oklahoma. The protocol was that she set up an appointment with me and tell me in person. I begged her to tell me then as it was a Friday afternoon and on some level, I already knew; I needed to end this torturous three weeks of wondering. Reluctantly, she told me.”

Before she could begin the arduous treatment plan that would be laid out for her, she had to tell her family. She considers that to be one of the hardest parts of her cancer story. She wanted to shield not only me, but her six-year-old daughter, our parents, and brother from it.

“I didn’t want to tell you… as if I could hide this journey I was about to go on.”

She did, though. She called me while I was at my in-laws. We were watching the Bears go up against the Packers; it was a Thursday night in September. She explained how she found out, and what the plan of action was. As I sat there, ears ringing, heart in my throat, eyes welling up in tears, I could feel my sister changing. I could feel her gearing up for a battle that would forever change her life.

By the time the lump was found and screened, cancer had spread to four of Hamilton’s lymph nodes. HER2+ breast cancer is especially aggressive, as it tests positive for the protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, which actually promotes the growth of cancer cells. While now the prognosis for this type of breast cancer can be considered “good,” Hamilton’s was listed as “unfavorable.” Without Herceptin, a drug that specifically targets the HER2+ protein, and would become central to her treatment plan, the chance of survival was eight percent. Thankfully, Hamilton not only had a drug made for her type of cancer but a bevy of surgical options as well.
It would take nine surgeries altogether to remove Hamilton’s cancer and reconstruct the affected areas of her body. First, the four lymph nodes were removed and a port was inserted into her chest so she could receive two different rounds of chemotherapy, including one named “Red Devil” because of its bright red color and horrific side effects.
Then a double mastectomy, with the knowledge that she would undergo reconstructive surgery later (during one of my more “helpful” moments, I suggested she get a Dolly Parton-esque wig, and the chest size to complete the look later on. I was told, as she laughed loudly, that I would not be allowed to make medical decisions for her). An eight-hour DIEP Flap (which takes tissue and vessels from the abdomen to reconstruct the breasts) followed, which would be the hardest surgery from which Hamilton would have to recover.
“I was in and out of consciousness and hallucinating and confused for three days,” Hamilton said. “They could not control my pain.”
One month after surgery, she was finally able to walk unassisted for 30 minutes straight around her neighborhood. It was a true accomplishment for Hamilton, one that she had to work up to on every one of the 30 days prior.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of her surgical journey. Six more surgeries were needed to reconstruct her chest (her body had rejected the previous attempts) until the last one in 2017, which was successful. In the midst of this, Hamilton completed her chemotherapy and Herceptin treatments and was declared cancer-free in April 2013.
There was a celebration, and many happy tears with that news, but a sadness came with it as well. Our aunt Jeanette passed away from her own long battle with breast cancer in the months before Hamilton was cleared.

“She was a such a caring, loving woman who fought valiantly for so many years and recurrences,” Hamilton said. “I grieve for her and her family, as she was diagnosed many years before me and did not benefit from the treatments I did.”

In the years since her diagnoses and then remission, Hamilton has realized that cancer has, and will continue to, affect her entire life.

“Herceptin damaged my heart and that required treatment itself. Chemo left me with neuropathy that still plagues me. It is said that 90 percent fully recover from pain caused by chemo. I was part of the one percent of my age group that would get breast cancer. I am part of the 10 percent for whom nerve pain continues indefinitely. Most people don’t seem to understand that even though I have hair and breasts and am working again, I will never feel the same,” she said. “Just having enough energy period is a daily struggle, now. It also left me with brain fog that continues to affect me. I don’t speak as concisely now as I used to and my thoughts wander all over the place, making things very difficult.”

Still, Hamilton (and her family and friends) considers herself one of the lucky ones. She learned through all of it that “people will show up and love you even when you don’t think you are worthy of it. God is sovereign,” Hamilton said.
And her message for others, whether they’re going through cancer or a chronic illness? “Get help and be kind to yourself. And don’t let any person steal your joy if you have any power to change that. Life is too short.”
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