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TAMMY DONOHOE: MY BREAST CANCER SURVIVORSHIP STORY

October 11, 2018

My name is Tammy Donohoe. I am a wife, a mom to three boys and two daughter-in-laws, and a new Nana. I am at my one year anniversary since my breast cancer diagnosis. My cancer was discovered from a routine mammogram. You never expect something like this will happen to you, but I believe the biggest lesson God taught me this past year is that life is a gift and every day we have is precious.

My story begins August 25, 2017 when I was called back for further imaging after my yearly mammogram. After a repeat mammogram and ultrasound, I was told by the radiologist he recommended a surgical consult for a breast biopsy. My mom had negative breast biopsies, so I tried to remain positive, thinking mine would be negative as well. I was scheduled to see a surgeon the following week.

The weekend was full of much prayer and self-talk, trying to not worry and just trust things would be fine. I saw Dr. Sam Miller, Tuesday, August 28, 2017. Dr. Miller told me after looking at my ultrasound the tumor looked “ominous of malignancy”.  I will never forget those words. I couldn’t believe I could have cancer. I was a healthy 47 year old, working full time as a nurse, with many plans for my future. How could this happen? I quickly went from the role of the caregiver to the role of being the patient.  I called my husband, Rick, of twenty nine years and told him the news. Our lives changed that day. I had a breast biopsy the next afternoon and the cancer diagnosis was confirmed the following day.

Dr. Miller is an amazing surgeon, showing much patience and compassion to my husband and me. After much discussion, the decision was made to do a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. He explained the oncology decisions would be decided upon my pathology reports. I remained hopeful the cancer was confined to the breast since my tumor was early stage and was small. I waited a week for pathology reports and received the news the cancer had spread to my axillary nodes. I was officially diagnosed as Stage 2 invasive mammary carcinoma of no special type, Grade 1, DCIS present, ER/PR+, HER 2 -. I remember feeling a bit numb for days realizing my treatment would definitely be more extensive than we had prayed and hoped.

I was scheduled to see Dr. Siddique, medical oncologist, Monday, September 25; I could never thank him enough for his professional expertise, support, patience, and encouragement. I was not prepared to hear I would need twenty chemotherapy treatments, four Adriamycin/Cytoxan and twelve Taxol, and that I would start receiving chemotherapy the following week.  I remember him explaining the treatment plan, but I was in shock as I attempted to process what my future would entail.  It was so surreal. I was scheduled for a PET scan, chemo class, and a mediport insertion the next week.

I had my first chemotherapy treatment two days after my 48 birthday. I had to stop my chemotherapy prematurely after my ninth Taxol treatment due to neuropathy symptoms. After a month of rest from treatments, I then saw Dr. Thomas, a radiation oncologist, and received thirty radiation treatments, finishing April 23. Since my tumor was estrogen positive, the decision was made to remove my remaining ovary and that surgery was done this past August. I will now take medicines for the next ten years to reduce my risk of cancer recurrence.

I cannot say enough positive things about my experience at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital and the NMH Cancer Care Center. The staff was caring, informative, and supportive to me and my family. I was welcomed with smiles and many days I left with hugs.   I had frequent contact with lab, radiology, registration, and surgical services at the hospital and can attest we have amazing, compassionate staff that were all part of my recovery. We are blessed to have a comprehensive cancer care team in Seaford to provide such exceptional care so close to home. I will be ever grateful to each and every one of them.

Those six months of treatments were full of doctor appointments, lab work, testing, and some days were better than others. I was able to continue working, taking some days off after treatments as needed, but working helped me to maintain a sense of normalcy in my life. The toughest part of the journey is the lack of control over your life. Losing your hair, worrying about the impact of your disease on your career and finances, body image issues due to surgery and medication side effects, and fatigue are all real concerns. There were days full of tears when I didn’t feel well physically or emotionally. Fear can play tricks on you mentally and keeping a positive outlook on life is crucial. I am blessed to have a wonderful husband, family, and friends, who supported me in so many ways. I was also blessed to gain a lifelong friend, Jill Rice, who was going through treatments for breast cancer at the same time. We were a support group of two.

Although I would not choose to be diagnosed with cancer, this journey has given me a new perspective on life and I am so grateful for every day. Every sunrise and sunset is spectacular in my eyes now. In spite of the diagnosis, I found joy knowing God was using everything in my life for His glory as part of my journey. I realized that to be content is to realize at the end of my life what really matters is my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with the people I love, and whether I lived my life to the fullest. At one of my follow-up appointments with Dr. Miller I was still searching to find an answer for why I had cancer. He told me I could chase for answers I won’t find or I just simply LIVE my life. Live my bucket list. Live every day to the fullest. That is what I choose to do.

No one is guaranteed tomorrow. I am thankful for the gift of a new perspective on life since my breast cancer diagnosis. I am thankful for my family, friends, and care givers. I could never express my gratitude for the acts of kindness and love shown to my family and myself.

If it is time for your mammogram or if you have a family history of breast cancer, talk with your healthcare provider today.  To learn more about services at Nanticoke, visit www.nanticoke.org/mammo or call 302-628-1507.