One-on-One with Jamie Aten on ‘A Walking Disaster’

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“It is through our weakness that we are able to experience God’s strength more fully.”

Ed: How did you first get involved in doing disaster work?

Jamie: I didn’t set out to do disaster work. While I was studying to be a psychologist, I had planned on studying rural mental health disparities. I took a job at the University of Southern Mississippi right out of graduate school in hopes of getting to help churches in underserved areas address mental health gaps. Then, just six days after my family and I moved into South Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina struck our community. I witnessed first-hand the important role that faith and churches play in times of disaster.

Within weeks I was studying faith and disaster resilience and supporting church recovery efforts.

Ed: In your book, you write about your personal disaster experience with cancer. Can you share some about that?

Jamie: At the age of 35 I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. I was completely caught off guard. About a year before my diagnosis, I had seen a specialist about my symptoms but was misdiagnosed. Then, about a year later, the symptoms returned along with shooting pain in my legs and lower back.

The doctors discovered I had tumor in my colon and that it had spread to a mass sitting on a nerve bundle that was causing a lot of the discomfort. Learning I had cancer turned my world upside down. I was devastated.

When Katrina threatened, my family and I were able to evacuate. But what was so scary about cancer was that there was no way to evacuate. This time the disaster was happening inside me. By all accounts, I was a walking disaster. I ended up going through a year-long period of cancer treatments that included radiation, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and surgery.

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