I met Tammy through one of my prayer warriors, Leigh. And I met Leigh through my amazing friend, Laura, who passed away in 2013 from this dreaded disease. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Laura is gone. I still see her signature symbol (rainbows!) all over the place and I notice her love of people, her legacy, really, lives on as great people continue to connect because of her.
Tammy’s story is much like the rest of ours – an unexpected cancer diagnosis for a young woman. But I especially relate to her as a mother. The news of a cancer diagnosis rips right through you, no matter what, but for a mother, there is this additional second terror that hits you What is going to happen? What if I’m not ok? Who will cut the itchy tags from their little shirt collars if I die???
I’m pleased to share Tammy’s story with you. I wish she never had to go through any of this stuff, but because she did and shared her story, it strengthens and galvanizes me in my own fight. (5 chemo rounds down. 7 to go!)
What I want you to know is that Tammy’s is a story of hope and current good health. She is here today, in part, because she FOUND SOMETHING and she CHECKED IT! Please let this be your weekly reminder that getting anything that concerns you checked out is your first punch in fighting cancer. Earlier is always better and easier!
Here is Tammy’s story in her own words:
“I‘m sorry. You have cancer.”
You are never prepared to hear those words. My cancer story began in the summer of 2010. We planned a quick getaway with friends to Deep Creek for a weekend of boating, bonfires and board games. It led me to discover a small lump on my chest wall. After taking a nasty spill off the tube, my life jacket pulled and I felt a pop. I made my way back to the boat and could feel a small lump or something. It never changed in size like it would if it was swollen from the fall and no bruising, so my friend insisted that I call my doctor just to be safe.
Normally I avoid the doctor at all cost but something just stayed with me to get checked; after all it couldn’t be cancer because I was only 38.
I did what we all do and I googled the symptoms of breast cancer other than this small bump which was obviously totally related to the life jacket. I didn’t have any symptoms.
I met with my doctor after the initial exam things moved at a quick pace. Initially they led me to believe it might be a cyst so that day we did an ultrasound but the location was tricky. They felt it best we should do a mammogram and a stereotactic biopsy just to cover all the bases. Great! My lump was not in my breast – it was about 1/2 inch below my collar bone (the life jacket pulled so part of the tumor could be felt beneath the muscle.) About a week later I had the testing and a week after that which was July 19, 2010. I received that call and no matter how sympathetically it is delivered, the words “you have cancer,”STOPS YOUR WORLD.
The future is never given but now it is dark, scary and fast. As hard as it is to hear it is even harder to say. In the moments after the call I had to call my husband and I just cried on the phone. The words just stuck in my throat. Finally, I said it and it was even worse saying it than hearing it.
I had to leave work. Fortunately I work with amazing people and they were quickly learning of my meltdown and as I exited my office I saw the fear on their faces as i shared my news. As the hours of that day past and my house filled with family and friends I needed a few minutes to myself.
I was out of tears – you can only cry so much – so I prayed for God to take my worry. I prayed that I would do whatever the doctors wanted, see, do, take whatever, just carry my worry, God. In that instance I was at peace and was overwhelmed with love and strength which slowly built to hope. It’s with that hope I carried to my many doctor appointments and it’s that hope I kept in my heart.
It made hearing Stage 3, multiple types of cancer discovered, 8 rounds dense dose chemo, port, hospital stays, radiation, BRCA 2 gene, mastectomy, prophylactic oophorectory (sounds like a Dr. Seuss word but it’s removal of ovaries and the Fallopian tubes), bone treatments not just manageable to survivable. Hope and holding hope high in your heart allows you to not only survive but thrive.
When I began treatment my daughters were 6 and 3 my hair was falling out so I armed them with safety scissors and they gave me the most beautiful haircut ever. The fear disappeared from their faces and I gave them the power of hope. And hope is like magic – it changes your attitude when the power of God intersects with your soul. The power of prayer and hope were my “secret” weapons in my cancer fight. And if it wasn’t for that life jacket pulling the muscle I may have never detected the tumor which secretly was growing under the my chest muscle. Miracles happen every day. I am forever grateful for my prayer warriors, family, friends, Dr. Keenan, Dr. Rubino and Dr. Analo of West Penn great cancer care.
Remember…if it concerns you, CHECK IT. And if your friend tells you about some bump or lump or weird thing, tell them to CHECK IT.