This column is in no way meant to take away from or minimize anyone else’s battle against breast cancer.
It is one person’s story and how that story inspires others who face serious medical diagnoses or devastating illnesses.
Tammy was my favorite coworker in our medical records department at the former Woods Memorial Hospital. My desk was situated by the windows and I remember how I used to look forward to seeing her walk to the employee entrance every morning.
I was always excited to see how she was dressed because I never saw Tammy without every single piece of clothing she wore matching. The colors blended perfectly, as did her makeup, which was always applied evenly and with just the right amount.
Also, her hair always looked like she had come from the beauty shop to work. She always reminded me of a fashion model because everything about her looks was perfect.
Her desk was right inside the front door of the department and my favorite time of the day was upon my return from lunch when I would stand and chat with her for just a few minutes while she continued to work. I would tell her what foods to look forward to in the cafeteria and laugh when she would roll her eyes.
Then we talked about everything from high school sports to local headlines. Although those few minutes didn’t last long, my day was not complete without them. When I was laid off in 2012 I missed everyone in that department, but it was Tammy and those few minutes every day that I missed the most.
One evening I was sitting at my computer desk working on a column and my phone rang and it was Tammy. I was so glad to hear from her, but she was calling with some bad news. She wanted me to know that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Oh Tammy,” I said. I couldn’t believe it. She began to tell me all she knew at that point, which wasn’t much, and I told her I would be praying for her and checking on her. She told me she would appreciate my prayers and she would take all she could get.
Immediately after the call I fell to my knees and asked God to be with Tammy and her family and to help her through this ordeal. Having enough experience in the medical field to know the pitfalls and all of the things that can happen with breast cancer, I knew Tammy was in for a battle. What I did not know was just how big of a battle she would face. She faced the diagnosis with grace and began her fight. She made tough decisions, she bought a wig, she prepared herself as much as one can for surgery and chemotherapy.
She had surgery and began the physical battle. Even through chemotherapy she worked when she could. Being a thin person, the sickness had taken its toll, making her lose weight and leaving her very weak, so much so that she ended up having to have a blood transfusion. Then one day she got a surprise — and not a good one. On a pre-chemo scan, another spot had shown on one of her kidneys, which was suspicious for cancer. Her oncologist referred her to a urologist who biopsied the spot and determined that it was cancer. When she told me I said, “will this chemo treat it too?” and I was shocked to hear that it was a completely different type of cancer and would require a different combination of chemotherapy drugs or surgery.
I had never heard of anyone developing a different type of cancer while on chemotherapy for another type. This was a twist no one expected and added to the difficulty of Tammy’s fight.
The doctors stopped the chemo for the breast cancer and Tammy underwent surgery on the kidney and it was a serious one, but it was successful. Neither time nor space permits me to tell you Tammy’s entire story, but suffice it to say that after 18 months of chemotherapy, radiation and six surgeries, this is a woman who knows firsthand the struggles of fighting breast cancer.
It is about going from the depths of despair to the heights of joy. It is about facing the possibility of death to celebrating the certainty of life. It is about exercising unwavering faith in God while going through debilitating sickness and bodily changes such as those caused by chemotherapy, some of which last long after the treatments.
After her last treatment, Tammy took a well-deserved vacation to Tybee Island and, while there, she took a photograph which was entered into a contest. Her photograph is currently in second place and the contest ends Oct. 31.
If she wins, the grand prize is a trip back to Tybee and her friends believe she deserves this prize. We call ourselves “Team Tammy” and we are fighting hard for her to win.
The rules of the contest require people to first vote (and you can vote only once) and then rally for Tammy every day. You can rally through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn once every 24 hours. Rallying can be done right from Facebook or through a link, which is flip.to//D5O4XK.
If you’ve ever faced breast cancer or some other devastating illness, or even if you haven’t but you know someone who has, we hope you will help Tammy Averett to win the contest and the grand prize. She deserves it.
Haroldean Thompson is an Etowah resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org