“Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you, too, will keep encountering challenges. It is a blessing to be able to survive them, to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other—to be in a position to make the climb up life’s mountain, knowing that the summit still lies ahead. And every experience is a valuable teacher.” ― Oprah Winfrey
Tina was diagnosed with HER2- NU double positive breast cancer in 2017, after having a clean mammogram only 8 months before.
“I think the pinnacle moment for me was obviously the "phone call", but when it got "real" for me was when I met with the surgeon and was told about the type of cancer, how aggressive it was, and treatments ahead of me. I was most fearful of the chemotherapy and although it may sound silly, losing my hair.
What got me through that moment was to tell myself I knew I could survive the cancer if I could just get through the treatments. I was never fearful that the cancer would kill me. I was confident in my team and also in myself that I could do this.
The tough chemo, radiation and surgery are out of the way, but I remain on infusions ever three weeks, daily oral chemo, as well as reconstruction surgery ahead of me. I found my cancer during a self-breast exam, and was terrified.
I lost my mother to another form of cancer, she was only 66 years old, and my father was diagnosed with colon cancer two days after my diagnosis. We both continue the fight, and hope for remission.”
Tina goes on to tell about her mother and the illness she battled at the end of her life.
“My mother was a vibrant person. She was semi-retired and living in Phoenix, AZ…
…I flew to AZ on that Sunday, and was shocked to see a woman curled up on the couch, ashen grey, confused, and very ill. I poured though the notes from urgent care and her CT scan results - although nothing confirmed a cancer diagnosis, I assumed it was knowing what doctor appointments needed to be made. To spare you all of the details, I had an ambulance pick her up on Tuesday morning, and by that afternoon I put her hospice and she was moved to a hospice facility. By the next day at noon she passed away.
I don't think she had any idea she had cancer, and she had no previous doctor appointments showing she had any concerns. My mom came from little means, and struggled on a daily basis to make ends meet, but she was always a compassionate and positive person.”
When her father was diagnosed with colon cancer just two days after her diagnosis, Tina was in disbelief.
“I was more scared and concerned about him than I was for me. Our treatments were at different facilities, but I tried to go to a few of his appointments, and visa-versa. It was scary, but also really unique and comforting knowing someone knew how I was feeling. We have grown so close and supportive of one another - in a strange way cancer has brought positive aspects to my life, it hasn't been all negative.
With my dad, our relationship grew stronger simply because we spent more time together. We decided to stop waiting to do things, and to just DO them - like going to New Mexico last October. My dad is an avid hunter, so I went with him into the Santa Fe mountains to camp and Elk hunt. It was a very special time and something my dad really wanted to do. We plan to go again this year.
I also enjoyed many breakfasts with him at this tiny little diner on Main St. of our home town.
I've learned so much more about my father - there have been many blessings to having cancer, and just having more time together was a simple one. We may not have been feeling our best, but we were determined to find the positive in the simple day to day things.”
Tina remembers a very special gift she received shortly after her diagnosis.
“A big moment for me was receiving a box in the mail from a friend who had battled breast cancer. It contained all sorts of fun things, but most importantly was a 3-page handwritten letter that bluntly explained what to expect, wig stands, shampoos and conditioners, a bottle of white wine and several wigs!
My friend had shared she would be sending me a box of a "few" things. The most ironic part about receiving this box was I had no idea that my friend had ever battled breast cancer. We live in different states, and she kept her journey very private. She was also a person I did not expect to reach out to me - a complete, but a very welcome surprise. We were friends on more of a work-based professional level, so it was a big surprise and made an impact on me.
When the box arrived, it was BIG - I was scared and a bit intimidated to open it. Once opened on the top there was a 3-page back to back hand-written letter on yellow steno paper. She had beautiful cursive writing, it was inviting and comforting from the very first words. Jan never held back with her words, they were blunt, sharp, and black and white. It was good to hear it, and that's what I needed - a person to tell me what to expect with none of the sugar coating, I'm sorry, you'll get through it, etc. It may not have been what I wanted to hear, but I knew it was real, from her heart, and a kick in the pants to suck it up and to get going with my treatments so I could be done and get on with my life.
Probably the funniest thing in her letter was a list of numbered items on what to expect when I begin chemo - I laughed out loud when I read #5, "Your butt is going to hurt!", meaning expect changes in your bowel habits and here's what you need to prepare. And let me tell you, she was spot on. I took her letter and other suggestions such as trying popsicles to help with the pain of mouth sores to heart, and I went shopping!”
Tina’s friend also included three books in the box that offered encouragement and stories of other women’s journeys with breast cancer.
“One of most favorite books was written by Gail Germain called Gracie's story - a book about herself and her breast cancer journey. She was two years younger than me when she passed away in 2015. Her book was short, an easy read and was very helpful. Later I received a care package from thegraciefoundation.org full of useful and thoughtful gifts such as a blanket, lotions, a night mask, a mug (I use every day!), etc. Little did I know another one of my lifelong friends from the equestrian community was best friends with Gail when they were racing NASCAR, and she vowed to keep Gail's foundation going after she died.
Another book I love is called The Language of Healing by Pat Benson & Linda Dackman. It must be a popular book as I've seen it in several doctor's offices.
And lastly, Uplift by Barbara Delinsky - a book written with passages from other survivors and their day to day dealings with breast CA. “
She received the box before losing her hair, and says that reality really hit home at that point.
“Two weeks later I invited my closest friends to come over and "together" we shaved my head. We cried, we laughed, took pictures and videos... but when it was time for everyone to go home and I was alone, I felt terrified. It was emotional and gut wrenching, still to this day the hardest thing I had to do. I continue to go through chemo and would endure extra chemo infusions in trade for not having to lose my hair. Wigs made me feel beautiful during times I was at my very lowest.
A huge part of my cancer journey was I never wanted to look like a cancer patient. I never liked any of the head scarfs, hats, etc. I never went a day without putting on makeup, eventually eyelashes, or a wig.
I felt much better about myself when I didn't look as sick as I was.
I tried the wigs on my friend had sent but she had short light brown hair and I just looked ridiculous. Before shaving my head, I had long platinum blonde hair and I had never known any other color. So, I started searching for wigs, and I knew absolutely nothing about them. What I eventually found the most fascinating is how many people wear wigs! What was really cool is how many celebrities wear wigs, and that was my inspiration.”
Tina realized that there is a learning curve with wig-wearing, and getting comfortable is the biggest one. She says that once she figured that out, wig shopping was actually fun!
“The first time I found a style that looked like the ‘old me’, I cried. I was almost as emotional as when I had to shave my head. From that point on I never went a day without wearing a wig, and it's actually been a lot of fun. I get more comments on my hair now than I did before my cancer, and that has actually helped me to know which styles are right for me.”
A local support group call Firefly Sisterhood provided Tina with a special and unique kind of friendship.
“I was paired with a team member who was cancer free, but had the same cancer and similar treatments. This was invaluable support - someone who understood my cancer and current treatments.
My Firefly sister's name is Judy. She's a few years younger than me, a school teacher, married, etc. Her weekly calls were awesome, I looked forward to talking with her and receiving the cards she would send every week. It was really nice being able to talk to someone who really understood, had suggestions, and to offer support for whatever was going. She always knew what to say, and encouraged me to ask to the right questions at each doctor’s appointment.
We got to meet last summer at a Firefly Sisters gathering. She was absolutely REAL, I could touch her, hug her, look into her eyes, cry with her and know she knew my journey and journey yet to come. We didn't want to say goodbye that day - I felt like a had a real sister, and I am an only child!
We have become good friends, I am grateful and blessed she is in my life. The best cheerleader I could have!”
Tina has decided to be public about her cancer, and has used social media as a platform to educate men and woman about breast cancer, and share her journey.
“It has been very positive and I get messages everyday about woman getting their exams, woman battling now, and woman who are in remission. A cancer diagnosis creates new normals, and will challenge you in many ways. How you chose to fight those challenges can make all the difference!”