My name is Tammy Myers and I am an advertising art director, photographer, designer, and budding blogger from Grand Rapids, MI with a background in healthcare and retail marketing and a driving passion for cause-based work.
My Journey with breast cancer really began when I was just 13 years old, when my non-blood, but closest Aunt was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer at 37 years old. She was my role model, my artistic life coach and my second mom in many ways, so her devastating news changed my world. She found the lump herself at 37, but was told by her doctors that she was too young to have breast cancer and sent home. She just didn’t feel right about it, so she did seek a second and third opinion, however by the time someone gave her the time of day, it was much further advanced. When I was 15, she passed away at the age of 40 leaving two small children without a mommy and a giant hole in my heart that could never be filled. A few nights after her passing I was laying in bed silently comforting her daughter, my cousin Tiffany who was 11 at the time. In my young heart-of-hearts I was at peace because I knew my dear aunt was no longer in pain, but my heart was breaking for the loss we were all feeling. I couldn’t stop thinking about what the kids and really all of us were losing with her passing, and really what the world was losing. I wasn’t raised in a church but I have always felt that I am a very religious or spiritual person. I looked up and silently made two life-defining promises to myself, to my aunt, and to god that night and I truly believe these promises have shaped me into the person I am today. These are promises that I have secretly thought about everyday for the past 20 years, but they are also promises I didn’t share with the world or really anyone until this past year. I promised that if my loving, kind, and compassionately giving aunt couldn’t be here on this earth to do all good she was doing in the world, then I would “be” and “do the good” for her. My Aunt’s spirit and this thought has been with me every second of every day sense, and it truly has shaped every decision I have ever made about the type of person I wanted to be on the inside and on the outside. I also made the silent promise to someday get involved with the breast cancer cause and raise awareness among young women but also to someday do anything and everything that I could to change social mindset that young women are not at risk for breast cancer, so small children like my cousins Tiffany and Adam would no longer have to lose their mommies and young teenagers like myself would never have to loose their aunts or lifetime role models to this awful disease.
I feel that I have made good on my promise to be the best person I could be and I have done my best to carry on the kind-hearted and giving legacy of my aunt, every single day of my life. She is part of who I am and I carry her with me in every single thing that I do. My second promise has been a little harder to make good on, but I am learning that this all may have been part of a bigger plan for me. I have worked on a few small awareness campaigns for breast cancer over the years and while I was in design school, and the cause has remained very dear to my heart, but I didn’t really get involved with the cause on a personal level again until a few years ago, when I met my now very dear “heart friend” Vicki. Vicki’s gentle giving spirit, and kind-heart, reminded me of my aunt in the first moments of meeting her, to the point that I remember feeling that tingling feeling sensation throughout my entire body like the moment was meant to be. But that feeling or connection felt even stronger when later that year, Vicki too was diagnosed with breast cancer. A few years after we met, and after Vicki had finished her year of treatment, Vicki and I collaborated for the first time as we started the first “Pink Time” facebook page as a way to share her journey with breast cancer. Although our efforts didn’t go as far as we had hoped, the bond that was created between us has deepened and has now grown into a very deep, loving, and beautiful friendship. In many ways Vicki has taken on the role my aunt once held as my second mom, my cheerleader and my life coach. I truly believe my late Aunt Pam had a spiritual hand in connecting the hearts of Vicki and I all those years ago, because she knew I was going to need both her spirit and the never-ending love and support of my dear heart friend Vicki more then I have ever needed anyone or anything this past year.
On February 16th, 2015, at the age of 33, I myself was diagnosed with breast cancer and my entire world, as I knew it was turned upside down and inside out. At the time my husband and I had been married for just a few years, we had just moved back to Michigan to be closer to family, I had just started a side photography business, and we were in the middle of full-home renovation. We were also raising our beautiful 2-year-old daughter and were planning and trying to give her a 2015 baby sister or brother, when I found the lump. Even though I had already been touched by the sadness and devastation breast cancer brings, the disease itself really wasn’t on my personal radar, and I really didn’t think it would ever happen to me. After all I was only 33, I had zero family history of breast cancer, I don’t drink, I have never smoked, and I kept a healthy weight and lifestyle, so why would I be at risk? Although I was concerned, I told myself the lump was nothing, until I could no longer fight the nagging feeling in my gut that is could actually be cancer. After a few weeks I finally broke down and shared the lump and my fears with my husband, and it took me at least another few weeks to conger up enough nerve to make the call to my OB-GYN and admit that I had found a breast lump that I felt needed to be evaluated. From my first appointment, things moved VERY quickly. Looking back I really should have realized I had bad news coming because although I was told that doctors typically watch lumps like mine for months because it is natural to have changing lumps in your breasts at my age, NOT ONE person took any chances on me, and every single technician, nurse, and physician that treated me, got somewhat teary-eyed while in my presence. I was immediately sent to have what became two types of mammograms, and ultrasounds, and the radiologist on duty, broke the devastating news that he believed I had two aggressive forms of breast cancer during my ultrasound, which in retrospect gave me a chance to mentally prepare for what was officially about to smack me in the face before having to break all of this scary news to my husband and family. My biggest fears were confirmed when I met the diagnostic radiologist who has now become a dear friend on her biopsy table the following morning. Her gentle bedside manor and naturally caring nature put me at ease right away and made what is, for most, the scariest beginning moments, of their breast cancer journey; a comfortable, calm, and even at times enjoyable defining moment in my own breast cancer journey. She, my amazing biopsy nurse and I truly connected and formed a what I believe to be a lifelong bond while I was on that biopsy table in sharing stories and laughing about every day conversations. But the somewhat scary and emotional moment did come where I asked my radiologist if she could tell me what she was seeing. She calmly and tearfully looked me in the eye and gave me the devastating news that she already knew to be true, that I did indeed have breast cancer.
I have to be honest, if I had to get this news, I really wouldn’t have wanted anyone other then her to break the news to me and I am so thankful that she felt comfortable breaking this news while I was lying on her biopsy table. In doing this, she lovingly spared me the hours or days of waiting on pins and needles for the devastating phone call with the same confirming results and I was able to walk out that day with my heart full, my fists raised high and my mind ready to conquer the unconquerable.
The biopsy confirmed that I had several separate tumors and calcification throughout my entire left breast so it was recommended by both a medical oncologist, two separate surgical oncologists and an entire oncology team that I undergo a radical bilateral mastectomy as well as, an auxiliary sentinel lymph node dissection as soon as possible, because they believed my cancer was very aggressive and potentially advanced, as it is in most young women. They found 5 good-sized lesions in my left breast as well as calcification throughout and I believe some DCIS in my right breast as well, however only two lymph nodes were affected and removed. To everyone’s surprise and delight, despite the amount of tumors, cancer cells and calcification that was found in my breast it appears that we caught my cancer just in time. I was diagnosed with Estrogen & Progesterone +, HER2-, stage I-II invasive ductal carcinoma and received a high Oncotype DX testing score meaning that my cancer had a high risk of recurrence, so all preventative measures were recommended and taken.
Over the past year I have had several surgeries including the first, my bilateral mastectomy, my port placement, several beginning stage reconstruction surgeries including an immediate tissue expander placement, emergency surgery to remove my right tissue expander due to infection, fat and tissue grafting from my legs to be used in reconstruction, emergency egg harvesting and IVF, the preventative removal of my fallopian tubes and ovaries, and on April 12th, 2016, I had surgery on my port site to remove and treat irritated scar tissue, another round of breast reconstruction on my right side as well as left implant placement and nipple reconstruction, and fat and tissue grafting from my upper and lower legs. Over the past year I have completed 18 rounds of chemotherapy (6 of Adriamycin®, 6 of Taxotere®, and 6 of Cytoxan®), 28 rounds of radiation therapy, 9 months of Zoladex® therapy injections to induce early menopause and strip my body of cancer causing hormones that were allowing my cancer to grow, and I have started the 10-15 year hormone therapy treatment which is an aromatase inhibitor called Femara®. I also receive quarterly Zometa® infusions to treat early bone deterioration due to the hormone therapy and hopefully delay or prevent full-on osteoporosis as a result of the hormone therapy, as well as to, attempt to prevent my cancer from spreading to my bones. I see an Occupational Therapist 90 minutes a week to treat a pretty pesky case of post Mastectomy Auxiliary Web or Cording Syndrome the restricts the movement in my left arm and neck because of the common surgical damage to my lymphatic system in removing deeply rooted lymph nodes.
I entered my breast cancer journey with a few pre-existing medical conditions including Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Vasovagal syncope, and chronic migraines. I am told my cancer care and treatment is a bit more complicated and involved because of these cancer itself, the treatments and the surgical procedures exasperate the symptoms of all my medical conditions, as well as all of my complications and infections, thus putting my body in far more of a delicate state that will greatly extend or prolong my post-treatment recovery period. My medical, surgical, and nursing team often refer to me as their .1% because, I am that rare patient that gets every possible side effect, any possible infection, and/or complication. I was hospitalized several times because of extreme dehydration due to how my chemo treatments affected my POTS, multiple infections, and treatment complications, and I spent 3-4 hours out of nearly every single day in hospital infusion centers including some weekends to get IV meds and hydration infusions to control chemotherapy side effects and my exasperated POTS symptoms during my 9 months of chemo and radiation treatments and I am requiring 2 twice weekly IV infusions to control post treatment side effects currently.
Although this nasty decease brings even the strongest women to their knees and tests every once of faith that you have in your body, it also brings many gifts and blessings to your life as well. Having cancer allowed me to let my guard down for the first time ever and truly open my heart to my family, my friends, and the people I meet every day, it has deepened my relationship my husband, my parents, my siblings, and friends new and old. It has mended broken bridges and brought both sides of our families back together. It has given me the gift of knowing how much I am loved and the gift of watching a community of supporters rally around me to support me during the hardest days of my life. It has brought so many amazing people into my life that I never would have met if cancer hadn’t come into my
life, including current and past physicians and nurses that I now feel blessed to call friends, and it has brought many amazing women who are or have walked this same path into my life as well. Being faced with cancer has shown me just how strong and determined I can be. It has taught me patience and the importance of rest. It has helped me to appreciate even the smallest things in life, and most of all it has helped me to grow into the person I believe I was always meant to be.To quote a personal thought I wrote down early on in my treatment… “Having cancer put the thought of dying in my mind, yet taught me how to live at the same time. I would never wish cancer on anyone, but I do very much wish I could package up all of the amazing life perceptive it has given to me and give it to everyone I meet. I know this is going to sound almost crazy, but I really do not think I would take my first year with cancer or any of the painful experiences I have faced back, if I could, because I am so very thankful for the many positive gifts and blessings that those painful cancer moments have brought to my life.
Breast cancer was not on my radar, however, from the very first moment I was told I had it, I have felt it was something that was always in the cards for me and that it was all part of a bigger plan or purpose. I have since started to believe that my late aunt may have had a spiritual hand in my openness to understand and believe in a higher power’s bigger plan behind my own diagnosis and fight so early on in those first terrifying first days of diagnosis. From day one, I wanted to do what I feel like my aunt and Vicki would have done if they would-have had my recourses. I wanted to document and share every aspect of my breast cancer journey in a raw and real way through both photos and open and honest blog posts in an attempt to not only raise breast cancer awareness among young women, but also to offer support, understanding, and inspiration to anyone who has been, or will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetime. In creating the “My Personal Pink Time” Blog and facebook page, I forced myself to step out of my once VERY small comfort zone and opened up in ways that I never thought were possible. At first it was a little difficult to be the subject rather then the photographer, and I will admit it took me a while to get used to being exposed and photographed during the most emotionally vulnerable moments of my life, but oddly the writing aspect seemed to come quite naturally. It’s hard to explain, but there are times when the words seemed to flow so effortlessly to my fingertips before I have even had time to process them in my own mind. To be quite honest, letting my guard down 150% behind the keyboard and allowing myself to openly express every honest and real thought, feeling, fear, and even self realization that has been going through my mind during the hardest year of my life, has become quite therapeutic for me. But the most amazing aspect was that all of this has given me the chance to finally make good on a promise to myself, to my aunt, and to god 20 years ago, that I would someday get involved and make even the smallest difference with the breast cancer cause. My husband now jokes that I have approached my entire diagnosis and treatment year as a marketing project. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, there is some truth behind his statement. In part, it was a very natural step for me considering my background, but what he and I may not have noticed is that by opening myself up to document breast cancer in the real and honest way that I have, was also the very first step in accepting that even something as scary as being diagnosed with cancer can better your life in more ways then you can count.
Although my external transformation this past year has been painful for me to bear and for those who love me to watch, my internal transformation has been amazing for me. I am not really sure what is happening to again lite this passion inside of me, I’m not sure how far this journey will take me, or if there is a higher power at work here, but I have to admit that it has already opened me up in ways that I never felt were possible, and shaped me into what I believe to be the very best version of myself. Most of all, it has made me see the “good” that can come from even the scariest of situations. It warms my heart to hear that in sharing, I am helping others and it very much motivates me to continue doing what I am doing no matter how hard it is at times. I made a promise on day one, that I was going to stop being a type-A, control freak, for the first time in my life, and I was going let this journey with breast cancer and the spirit of my late aunt lead me wherever I was meant to go. At this point, I do not know what lies ahead, but I do believe every aspect of this past year including the people cancer has brought into my life, is part of a much bigger plan for me, and I believe that it is leading me to discover what my true purpose on this earth really is.
Looking back I don’t see my actions, my thoughts, or even my words and wish I had done anything differently. This past year my physical exterior has drastically changed in every way possible, my anatomy has changed as I was forced to say goodbye to a lot of what makes me a female including the ability to bare another child; but my heart has only changed for the better. Today I appreciate love and life so much more. The best transition is that I no longer take little things for granted and I do my best to always express how thankful I am to the people I am lucky enough to have surrounding me on this journey through life. Early on, cancer gave me a perspective that I don’t think many people on this earth are blessed to have, and I do not plan to waste it. I look at every moment as a blessing and although in the back of my mind the “awful C-word” will always be looming, I truly believe that I am here on this earth for a reason that is much bigger then me, and I plan to keep walking forward down the path that feels right, in hopes that I truly can make a positive difference in this world.
But as I also reflect on the past year, it is hitting me that I really knew so very little of what coming my way a year ago, however I am also proud of the strength I blindly conjured to stand up and face cancer head on. I now have the outside perspective to know that although I wasn’t yet winning my battle with cancer one year ago today, I also wasn’t loosing my battle either and I find myself wishing I knew then, what I know now and inspires me to keep sharing. The truth is, my battle was just beginning and I was walking into it ready to fight with everything I had in me.. I knew it was going to be a hard fight and I was ready to face it. But I still had the voice in the back of my mind reminding me that cancer does take lives of people even when they are strong. What I wish I knew was that hearing the word cancer associated with your own name doesn’t always mean cancer is going to take your life and if it does, you could still have many many years left to live, love, and make your mark on the world. CANCER IS NOT ALWAYS A DEATH SENTENCE anymore. Someone told me something months ago that has stuck with me. She said… and I quote “I know more people living with cancer then I know who have lost their fight with cancer” and this thought alone gives me strength every single day.
No matter what its that you are faced with in your lifetime or how hard it is for you and the ones who love you, it is still in your power see the light in even the darkest of tunnels
I have entered year two of breast cancer and I am now facing the struggles that come with accepting that cancer wasn’t just a bad year that happened to me. I am working to fully accept that cancer is and always will be a part of my life and I am also learning to be a peace with where I am right now physically and emotionally. I am doing my best to accept all of the life-long struggles that a cancer diagnosis brings your life, because I now know this is an ever-evolving process in itself. In some ways this second year is far harder then my treatment year because I am faced with the dreaded and painful surgical phase, post treatment emotional and physical pain, worry, and stress, and painful and often debilitating muscle and joint pain and weakness from the hormone therapy. But the hardest part of year two thus far, is that I am now also faced with the very difficult task of trying to transition myself from being a full-time and fully-medically, monitored cancer patient into a my “new normal” and reintegrate myself as someone who appears on the outside to be a “normal” functioning member society again. This task is especially
hard because although my hair is starting to come in, I now have budding lashes and brows, and I can still flash my big and genuine smile, it doesn’t mean that I am not hiding an immense amount of physical and emotional pain from the cancer that will be a part of the rest of my life, every single second of every single day. The truth is, I will never be the person I was before cancer and maybe that’s ok and even better. I have earned my badge of pinkness and I wear it proudly even if I am the only one who notices it. I plan to fight on, forge forward and focus on the exciting aspects of moving past my first year with the awful “C. My year and my fight with cancer has re-lit a fire and passion inside of me for cause-based marketing and design and now that I am putting my hardest treatments behind me, I am finally able to put all of the crazy ideas that have been spiraling around in my creative and chemo-fogged mind during the hardest year of my life, to good use. I am finally starting to set some of my plans into motion and best of all, I feel like I can finally say that I am making good on the rest of the promise I made 20 years ago with a few projects or hopefully a movement that I have in the works, that will be starting in the form of a breast cancer awareness campaign. Without giving my plans away,my hope is to use this passion and fire as well as my background in healthcare marketing to women, photography, and design and my own personal experiences with breast cancer to make a real difference and to most of all, provoke real change in the social mindset that young women like myself, are not at risk for breast cancer.
I leave you with one thought. No matter what it is that you are faced with in your lifetime or how hard it is for you and the ones who love you, it is still in your power see the light in even the darkest of tunnels, and to accept the gifts that come from even the hardest, and scariest, of situations. We all have the ability to be who we want to be in this world, and I am thankful that cancer gave me the foresight to see and embrace the power in this thought.