Shawn and Jamie Reid and their children, Lanie and Matthew. PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMIE REID

Breast cancer patient praises husband’s strength and devotion

ELLSWORTH — Jamie Reid knows her husband might take some ribbing at work for this. But she wanted him to be recognized for everything he’s done.

Reid was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer six years ago, on Valentine’s Day of 2012. She got the news over the phone, locked in a closet, out of earshot of her two children.

“I just remember the floor falling out from under me. I was in shock,” Reid says. Her voice shakes even all these years later.

For months after Jamie Reid lost her hair due to chemotherapy treatments, she wore a wig so her children, Lanie and Matthew, wouldn’t get questions from friends. “But when the kids were starting back at school my daughter said to me ‘I want a picture of real mom.’ And real mom had no hair.”

Her husband, Shawn, was at work at Gilman Electric, where he is a manager.

“My first thought was ‘I can’t leave my kids.’ But then I called him and he immediately said ‘You’re going to be OK. We’re going to figure this out.’”

The couple met in the summer of 1994, when Reid was just 17. Shawn, a few years her senior, was riding a motorcycle and wearing a helmet, and all she could see was a small portion of his face. But that didn’t matter.

“The very first second I laid eyes on him I knew that I loved him,” Reid said. “It was just this intense feeling. I felt like I knew him already.”

The two started dating that week, and married after she graduated from University of Maine at Farmington in 1999. They built a house on land her grandparents had given them in Dedham. They had a daughter, Lanie, shortly thereafter, and a son, Matthew, a few years after that.

It was in the spring of 2011 when Reid started to get sick — colds, the flu, odd illnesses. Working at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, it wasn’t uncommon to pick up bugs from the kids, but this was different.

“This wasn’t normal for me,” Reid said. “I’d had strep throat seven times in seven months.”

On Super Bowl Sunday, she found a lump while doing a self-breast exam. Reid was 35, with no family history of breast cancer, but mentioned it casually at a doctor’s appointment she had that week.

“It was a snowball rolling down a hill,” she said.

Within days, doctors had scheduled a mammogram, Reid’s first, since women aren’t eligible until they’re 40. Within two weeks she had started treatment.

“It was just a freak thing,” Reid said.

“My doctor told me that had I waited to go to the doctor and have a breast exam, which was scheduled in August, I probably wouldn’t be alive,” Reid said. “My cancer would have been so far advanced because it was so aggressive.”

The Ellsworth native, who works as a librarian at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, stopped working the day after she was diagnosed. She had surgery, and 16 rounds of chemo. And her husband was there the whole time.

“He cleaned the house, he picked up the kids. He stepped up and he did it all,” Reid said. “Cooking, getting the kids to events, packing their bags.

“All the while he took care of me too. He was so strong.”

Reid started chemotherapy once a week. The treatments took a full day and she left feeling exhausted and sick. But her spirits were buoyed by Shawn, who came to every appointment.

“While I was hooked up to this machine, port in my chest, he would say ‘What do you want for lunch?’ and we’d have a date,” she laughs.

“We’d snuggle in my chemo chair.”

“In a way it brought us closer together. I knew I could count on him for anything no matter what.”

Several weeks into treatment Reid’s hair began falling out, in pieces at first, and then in clumps.

“It was hideous. I hate it,” she said.

One day her husband came home with a new pair of clippers.

“He made it like a party. ‘Come on, kids, we’re going to shave Mom’s head!’ He was so upbeat about it.”

“I was so thankful to have it gone. It was like this big weight had been lifted. I wouldn’t have thought to do that otherwise, but he did.”

Reid says the experience showed her the measure of her relationships — with her husband and friends.

“I knew I’d made the best decision marrying him,” she says. “He’d seen me at my absolute worst. And he sacrificed so much.”

The mother of two knows the toll something like this can take on a family, and on a couple. Although she’s been in remission for four years, “it’s in the back of your mind that it’s going to come back.”

Her advice for families struggling with a difficult diagnosis?

“Be honest with your children. Try not to let the stress of it all divide you.”

Reid says she got advice from a friend who had survived cancer to “try and see the gifts.”

One of these gifts, says Reid, is her husband.

“He was so reassuring. He didn’t fall apart, even when I was. He was strong. I don’t think it was necessarily because he had to be. I think that’s part of his personality.”

Years later, Reid still tears up when she tells the story. She says cancer gave both of them a greater appreciation for the way they work together as parents, and of their relationship.

“It was nice to know that when I laid my head down at night that the person beside me was fighting as hard as I was,” Reid said.

The family is saving to put their two kids through college, but her diagnosis forever changed the way they approach their lives.

“Don’t wait. If we can take a vacation and we can afford it, we just do it,” Reid says. “What are we saving for? One day? We might not have one day. We need to live.”

The Reids have no particular plans for this Valentine’s Day-they have to pick their son up from wrestling-but say they may go out on a date to Finn’s on Friday.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]