This month I want to share a story of courage and survival with you. Tommi found a lump in her breast during self-examination. “It was large enough that I knew I needed to see a doctor,” said Tommi. “I met with my doctor and by Friday that week I had an ultrasound. The radiologist that read the ultrasound was confident that it was a benign tumor. I felt great but was concerned and asked for more testing to be done especially since there was a history of cancer in the family. The following Monday I had a needle biopsy performed. The biopsy slides came back with the diagnosis of breast cancer. I was just 33 years old.”
Tommi is my daughter. I want to share her journey as a young woman who survived breast cancer, not just because she is my daughter, but because breast cancer can strike a woman at any age. It is a myth that young women do not get breast cancer and studies show that the possibility of breast cancer in young women is on the upswing. By sharing Tommi’s story with you, I hope to raise awareness that women of all ages need to be advocates for their own health.
Looking at Life in a Different Way
After the diagnosis, Tommi was scheduled for a mastectomy to stop the spread of the cancer. “Surgery went well. I found out how important nurses are. After surgery it’s difficult to even sit up.” Soon Tommi began chemotherapy treatments. “The anti-nausea drugs that I took were quite good but emotionally it was hard. This was a very clarifying time in my life. What I thought was important was not. It makes you look at life in a different way. It makes you pause,” she said.
Family Support was Crucial to My Recovery
“I had a strong support system during this time. I was fatigued and keeping people up-to-date was overwhelming. My mother and my sister went with me to appointments and helped me remember all the information that I was being told. They kept other family and friends informed of my situation. My dad and brother were great too!”
I Didn’t Lose Control to Cancer
“It was important for me to continue a normal routine. I worked and tried to continue with my daily chores. I found out that it was better for me to be prepared than for cancer to continually throw me something I wasn’t ready for. For instance, I knew I would be losing my hair from the chemotherapy. So before chemo began I choose my wig and scarves and had them ready. You don’t want to go out and chose a wig or scarves when you don’t feel good,” shared Tommi. I decided when I wanted to shave my hair and my brother shaved it for me. I was able to take control of a few small, but important things in my life.”
Cancer Support Groups Played a Role in Recovery
“A support group was started at the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation. I met a group of young women who were all diagnosed around the same time as me. We were having some of the same experiences so we could share our feelings. Out of the support groups we came up with the idea of holding wellness camps, where experts brought us information on everything from diet to exercise to massage all in one morning. We ended up being amazing pillars of strength to each other for over two years,” said Tommi.
Tommi’s Advice for Young Women
“You know your body best. Listen to that inner voice. You need to open the communication with your doctor. You want to catch things early so you may need to point out a symptom to your doctor. You are your own best advocate. It is never too early to think of your health.”
“Fertility is an issue that young women with breast cancer face that older women do not face. Treatments such as chemotherapy can cause problems with fertility. You need to have those conversations with your doctor so you can be empowered. Even if you are single, you need to ask your doctor about fertility options because this is a whole new dynamic in your life.”
“If you can find a support group with women of your own age who are diagnosed around the same time, you can gain so much from each other,” said Tommi. “Gilda’s Club has young cancer support groups.”
My Thoughts and Hopes
I believe it is much more difficult to see your own daughter go through breast cancer than yourself. Seeing her go through surgery and chemotherapy was extremely hard, but she had and still continues to have a strong spirit and positive attitude. This year Tommi is ten years cancer free! Tommi asked her doctor questions because she knew something wasn’t quite right with her body. I want you to open that conversation with your doctor and ask questions. Be an advocate for your own body and health.
Because it all beings with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit www.wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.
After Breast Cancer Diagnosis Glendale
American Cancer Society Madison
Breast Cancer Recovery Madison
1-(608)661-4178 /Toll Free: (888)821-1140
Gilda’s Club Madison
Stillwaters Support Group Waukesha