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Survivor Stories: Trainer Jalila’s Breast Cancer Journey
Back to all posts

Survivor Stories: Trainer Jalila’s Breast Cancer Journey

In the spirit of being Unfiltered for the month of October and in celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we're proud to share inspiring stories from our members who have battled or are currently battling breast cancer. This is more than just a chance to see how movement and P.volve played a role in their journey; it's an opportunity for the women in our community to take the mic and share their stories in the most honest, raw way—no filters needed.

For many women, breast health isn't top of mind. Between lack of education, healthcare and awareness, there are so many opportunities for breast health to take a backseat and for issues to arise. 

P.volve trainer Jalila Jones doesn’t just want to share her story with the community; she wants to shed light on the importance of listening to your body and getting regular mammograms. Jalila’s world was turned upside down when she received a shocking diagnosis late last year and began treatment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jalila’s story is one of both the physical and emotional hurdles a woman goes through when battling breast cancer: the loneliness, the shock and the confusion on how quickly your life can take a turn. It’s also a story of waking up every day and deciding to be bigger than your diagnosis, and finding a team of support around you to get you through.

We're so proud to welcome Jalila as our newest trainer on the team, and even more proud to share her story with you below. Join us in our continual support of breast cancer research by signing up for our Moves for Boobs class on 10/23. 

Below, Jalila shares her incredible journey with us:

"Up until late June of 2020 (for the last 5 years), I was living and working overseas, as a fitness specialist and trainer in Dubai. I was a Master Trainer at Physique 57, an Orange Theory Fitness Coach, a Talent manager and digital instructor for a fitness app called Active Stream, and a private in-home personal trainer. But this past November, my life changed forever. 

I like to consider myself quite healthy; I’m extremely active, I workout and dance everyday, I’m a pescatarian, and don’t smoke. So the events that have transpired with my health this year, like many, caught me by surprise. Late November 2019, I was experiencing consistent, sharp, pain in both of my breasts—so much so that I was finding it hard to sleep, bras were uncomfortable, and working out and running was painful. After a week of experiencing this pain, I decided to see an OB/GYN. I explained to the doctor my symptoms, she examined my breasts, and said, “You’re feeling a little lumpy, but it is good you are experiencing pain because if it was something like cancer, you wouldn’t know it was there, because it is silent and painless, but let’s send you in for a sonogram of the breasts just to be sure.You are only 32, you are young I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, maybe some fibroids.” 

The following week I went for my sonogram. The sonogram technician examined both breasts, and as the OBGYN presumed, she found benign fibroids in both of my breasts. The sonographer first examined and scanned my right breast, and then my left breast and at the end of my examination on the far left side, she noticed a suspicious lump hiding behind my benign fibroid. The sonogram technician told me not to be alarmed, that it’s probably nothing, then suggested I go for an MRI. She reiterated that I’m young, but better to be safe than sorry. I was not alarmed, I was not afraid, but I did have a gut feeling that it was something more serious. I was so grateful that I went to the doctor and got examined when I did. 

The following week I went in for an MRI of my breasts, the results stated that there was a 90% chance that the suspicious lump was indeed a malignant (cancerous) tumor. From there, things started to move quickly. I was in a foreign country, navigating my way through a medical world that was quite unfamiliar to me, from finding the right doctors and hospitals, to knowing all of my options with regards to how to treat this disease. I was being sent to several different hospitals and several different doctors before finally finding a specialist that would perform a surgical biopsy. After searching for a doctor that could do this procedure, on December 12, 2019, I was finally scheduled to have a vacuum-assisted core biopsy in a hospital close to my place of residence. I never had surgery before, so this experience (especially because you are awake for the entire procedure) was definitely a little intimidating, but I persevered. Luckily my mother flew in the day before my biopsy, and I had her there to support me. 

During this time I didn’t let anyone know what was happening; besides my mom, I kept it private. I think those were the darkest parts of my journey, because I was smiling, teaching, and going about my everyday life, and inside emotionally, I was scared and sad, not knowing what was going to happen to me. I felt alone. 

On December 17, 2019, after receiving the pathology report from the biopsy, I met with the surgical oncology team, and I was officially diagnosed with Stage II Grade II ductal carcinoma, with lobular features, positive in progesterone and estrogen. The cancer was growing at a moderately fast pace of 30% (average pace is 5-10%). Statistically with African American women, breast cancer spreads at a much faster rate than other demographics. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office the day they officially broke the news, and I tuned out. I was having an out-of-body experience; I was physically there, but mentally and emotionally numb and checked out. There were several doctors in the room, who were all men, and for the majority of the doctors English was not their first language. I felt like initially I was being spoken to like I was a science project and not a human. There was a lack of compassion from the oncological team, which left me with a feeling of defeat. The doctors were using terms I have never heard, this was a whole new world for me, and I was quickly realizing that my journey in the fight for my life, was just beginning. 

The oncology team suggested I start chemo immediately before my surgery, which I refused, because there were two pending pathology reports that would help determine if I would benefit from chemo, so until I got those results, I tried to hold off on chemo for as long as I possibly could. I heard so many things about chemo and the scariest thought for me was not only the fact that I was going to physically look unwell, but I would potentially lose the chance at having children, and starting a family. When I would describe my trepidation with chemo to friends and family a lot of the feedback I received was, “Why wouldn’t you take it if it will save your life?”, “You can adopt”, “Your hair will grow back.” I feel like from the outside my family and friends were more concerned about my survival, than the probability of me having children and my physical features completely changing. 

It’s hard to imagine in the course of five weeks your life changes; not only do you have cancer, but a part of your breast will be removed, you will have a scar that is permanent, you will lose your hair, and you will probably have much difficulty reproducing. To receive all of that information in such a short amount of time was overwhelming. The doctors were talking to me quite scientifically and robotically; I had nowhere to decompress how all of this was taking a toll on me emotionally. I chose to hold off on chemo until it was absolutely necessary. I was praying for a miracle, hoping there was another way. 

With every visit to the oncology team, they slowly started to warm up; they scheduled my lumpectomy surgery, the plan was to remove the malignant tumor from my left breast and five lymph nodes from underneath my arm to check if the cancer spread outside of the breast, which thankfully, it did not. A couple days before my scheduled surgery during an examination, the doctors also found a tumor in my uterus. So my scheduled lumpectomy surgery turned into three surgeries: a Myomectomy, a sentinel lymph node biopsy, and a lumpectomy. Luckily, the 9.2-centimeter benign tumor in my uterus was benign. They were also successfully able to remove the malignant mass in my breast. 

I was having a hard time processing all of this privately; I was feeling so alone with my diagnosis, like I was living a double life. So on New Years Eve of 2019 I decided to share my journey and post my diagnosis on social media. Although I tried to remain as positive as possible, I wanted to remain authentic highlighting good days, bad days, strong days, scared days, sad days, defeated days, and triumphant days. I realized living in the Middle East, where the environment was quite conservative, there were many women, unbeknownst to me, including my clients going through, or have gone through a similar health battle. They would show me their scars, give me doctors recommendations, they were so supportive. I finally found an international community of people, of warriors, who inspired me, and encouraged me with their strength, to keep fighting. The outpouring of love and support from my family, friends, colleagues, and complete strangers was incredibly touching; it ignited this strength in me that made me want to fight this very long battle. For the first time I didn’t feel alone, I had people to relate to. By making the choice to share, even though many people tell me how brave and inspiring I was, I was able to find healing through sharing.  

Being such an active person, teaching 20+ classes a week, personal training, and working out and dancing myself,  post surgery recovery was quite an adjustment. After my surgery, for the first two days I was unable to walk, it was very hard for me to stand, mainly because of the myomectomy, I could not lift my left arm. The lack of functional movements, and not being able to walk was really heavy on me not only physically but emotionally. It is still hard for me to raise my arm over my head, do a push up, lift anything heavy, do cartwheels or handstands, things I used to do easily. As soon as I was able, I did any type of exercise I could, whether it was walking, or climbing the stairs in my building, but I knew it wasn’t the same. My body was healing, it changed, I had to be patient with myself, and not be so hard on myself. My body needed love and time.

I finished my surgery right before the COVID-19 lockdown. During the lockdown, I then had to complete 18 rounds of radiation. My mom and I would drive an hour and ten minutes everyday listening to podcasts and Audible books as we went through various driving checkpoints, because you’re not allowed to be on the road unless it is an emergency, so we had to have a driving pass to drive to the Abu Dhabi Gulf Cancer Center. After radiation I would come home, get on Zoom, and teach classes. Some days I would come home and just dance in my living room, which would brighten my mood. The radiation was exhausting, they are basically radiating the area the tumor was located, the process burns the affected area and leaves you with dark scarring around the breast. Each round gets a little harder. Each round you are a little more exhausted, and fatigued, the actual time you are receiving the radiation for about 10 minutes, is painless. The side effects of radiation are irritation, exhaustion, pain and burning deep inside the breast tissue.

The next steps after radiation was hormone suppression synthetic menopause therapy called Tamoxifen. I am to take this medication for the next 10 years, which I started after radiation. Once radiation was complete in May 2020, my mom and I evaluated whether I should continue my battle with cancer in Dubai or back in the states. After five amazing years living overseas I resigned from my job, and decided to moved back to the United States, I continued to teach my own online Zoom fitness program, which benefitted me because I was immunocompromised and I was able to social distance and still be active, by teaching. I received amazing international support, I was teaching clients and doing what I love to people located in Saudi, Dubai, London, and all throughout the United States. 

While home, I came across this amazing opportunity, recommended by a dear friend who suggested that I apply to be apart of the P.volve team. Getting this amazing opportunity aligned so naturally with my professional goals, and after being invited to join the P.volve team I took my very first class this past July and loved it. I truly believe in the P.volve method and the amazing results I get from each class. I love the focus on functional training; not only am I sculpting areas of my body that are unique and hard to target in a gym, but I am able to safely target the areas affected by my surgery. Post surgery I used to find a plank painful, since taking P.volve I am able to do a plank with ease. The P.volve community has been so encouraging and supportive; I am so grateful to be part of such an innovative kick-butt team. I hope with this new opportunity I can contribute my love for teaching, but also continue to raise awareness, and expand and build a relationship with the vast community of warriors. 

I really want to encourage people to stay on top of their physical and mental health. Give yourself a lot of love and patience, and don’t be so hard on yourself. Be as aggressive as cancer is. I received so much feedback about the fear and trepidation that comes with staying on top of your health. Whether it be cancer or any other underlying health issue so many people are afraid that they wait until the last minute, and often it is too late, and patients face a problem that could have been avoided, or been easier to deal with if handled earlier. Your physical and mental health should be a priority in your life. My intention behind sharing my journey (and making it so public) is to help eliminate the fear of going to the doctor, getting checked, and getting your annual mammogram. We are brave, we are strong, and we are not alone. If I had not felt pain in my breasts and sought help immediately, my fight and journey with breast cancer would have been much harsher. Cancer and any illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone, and it is not your fault. Whatever you are facing, know that you have a community and friend in me, and I am so grateful to share my health journey with the P.volve community, and I look forward to sweating with you soon."

Sign up for our Moves for Boobs class on 10/23 to work out with Jalila and support the Society of Women's Health Research. Then, keep moving with Jalila and the rest of our trainer team with a 14-day free trial to our on-demand library.