Close friends battle breast cancer together

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Julie Nordeen and Jamie Dahl have a lot in common.

"We live a couple blocks from each other,” Dahl said. “Our children go to the same school and are in the same class, and were each other’s first friends when they were children.”

Nordeen and Dahl went to Central High School together, and after 30 years of friendship, they're about as close as can be.

"Our anniversaries are a week apart. Both our birthdays are a day apart, our husbands and us,” Dahl said.

“It's a little creepy.” Nordeen said.

“It's a little weird,” Dahl agreed.

A routine mammogram led to Nordeen’s breast cancer diagnosis on March 16th, 2017, three years after her son underwent chemotherapy treatments himself.

"I didn't even think cancer was this cruel,” Nordeen said.

Meanwhile, despite a recent mammogram coming back clean, Dahl had noticed a lump.

"The day Julie came up to my car at the drop off at school and said, ‘I have breast cancer,’ my heart sunk,” Dahl said.

Dahl made an appointment, and her breast cancer diagnosis came just 11 days after Nordeen’s. Both were in their early forties, healthy and had no family history of breast cancer.

"I thought, if this happened to me, it can't happen to my friend,” Nordeen said.

Both went to Gundersen Health System for treatment, where doctors said it's not unusual for one person's diagnosis to prompt another's.

"It was very fortunate,” Dr. Leah Dietrich said, because when breast cancer is found early, there are better outcomes and often less treatment required.

"The truth is that breast cancer is a common cancer,” Dr. Benjamin Parsons said. “One in eight women will have breast cancer in life. That’s 12 percent."

Nordeen and Dahl now have even more in common, between treatments, surgeries and bald heads.

"There's a whole lot of Halloween costumes we can pull out of this,” Nordeen said.

They both said laughter really is the best medicine.

"One of the funniest things was right before surgery, we were talking about what to expect on the wall in front of my house, and a car drove by and a woman stared at us,” Nordeen said. “We said, 'What, you've never seen two bald women sitting on a wall?' It's a whole different level of friendship.”

Cancer takes away a lot, but the fight against it brings people closer.

"It's something that will tie us as friends no matter what,” Dahl said.

Both friends urge everyone to keep up on self-checks and mammograms. They said their doctors and staff were nothing but supportive.

For those handling a cancer diagnosis on their own, hospitals such as Gundersen offer support groups and counselors.

This weekend’s Steppin’ Out in Pink event, which raises money to fund local breast cancer research, also offers support. It’s on Saturday at Gundersen’s La Crosse campus. More information can be found here.

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