“I lived a very carefree, adventurous life. I was living abroad. I traveled a lot. I enjoyed meeting new people from all around the world. I guess I always thought that I was invincible, you know?”
As told to Britt Julious
It was October 2009 that I was diagnosed. In terms of timing, it was very lucky because they were able to catch it early at stage I.
I was angry because I felt like this was interrupting my life. I felt in the back of my mind [that] it was inevitable since I carry the BRCA gene. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer literally a year before. I did not need radiation or chemo. I felt a sense of relief because I thought, ‘This is going to be OK. This is something that I’m going to be able to get over and survive and manage.’
The biggest hurdle was the surgeries. I had a TRAM flap surgery where they removed my stomach tissue and reconstructed my breasts because I had a bilateral mastectomy. Unfortunately, a week after that, the right side of my breast [had] a blood clot, so they had to remove that side and replace it with back tissue. For me, a lot of [my] trauma was the surgeries. I was single. I was just thinking, ‘Who was going to accept me in this new body?’
I had all of these goals and aspirations. I didn’t want anything to get in my way. I told myself that once I got through those challenging times, I would set out to travel. [I’d] always wanted to go to India and go to the Taj Mahal. And then after that, I’m going to live out my dream and move to Israel, teach English, improve my understanding of the culture and the language and become more fluent, meet new people. And I actually did those things. And on top of that, I got more into exercising. Eventually, I joined a hiking group where we hiked and traveled all around Israel. That’s how I met my husband.
It was then that I finally got comfortable in my own skin and really truly accepted myself, scars and all. He was the first person that I started dating that really wasn’t scared of my story. Some guys would just be like, ‘Oh, this is not for me.’ But with my husband, it didn’t faze him. He was so open and accepting and made me realize that we all have a past.
I think [cancer] makes you realize that you’re not invincible and that life is short. You just never know what is going to happen. And so you have to follow your heart and follow your intuition and instincts and go with that. I’m glad that I did that.
At the time of photoshoot, Jamie Zeller Bitton was pregnant with daughter Maya born September 2017. She and husband Liad have since welcomed their second daughter in August 2021.