October marks breast cancer awareness month which impacts approximately 1 in 8 women in their lifetime.
Tammy Clark, 54, is one of them.
Clark’s mother had breast cancer so her instinctive reaction was to begin mammograms in her 40s. In 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But what caught her off-guard was the way cancer impacted her, something she had not expected from her mother’s experience.
“What I knew was that all breast cancer is the same and what my mom had is probably what I will have. This is the thing with breast cancer, there are so many factors to it and I didn’t know that before I got cancer,” Clark shared.
Looking back at her journey she explained that women should try not to overwhelm themselves as they battle through breast cancer.
“Just take it one day at a time and do what you have to do today. I used to be one of those people who didn’t want to ask for help but, ask for help and people will be thrilled to help you. Enjoy life, smell the flowers and go out for a walk when you feel better.”
Jackie* (not her real name) agrees. With strength in her voice, she shared her feelings nearly 12 hours before her first chemotherapy session at the Ridge-Meadows hospital.
“I think I am in emotional denial that this has happened but I will get through this,” she said.
A single mother of twin daughters, Jackie had no family history of breast cancer and was playing with her daughter one evening when a ball hit her breast and she felt a hard lump.
“I stopped wearing short sleeves or sleeveless shirts because I had golf size lumps in my armpits and I was embarrassed. But I found a lump in my breast in August and was diagnosed in September.”
Jackie was optimistic and although she knew very little about breast cancer, she knew it was treatable.
But, her world was really shaken when she found out it was stage four.
“I have been calm and optimistic. I know people through work and who have survived breast cancer. I have had to take time off from work and will be going back to a lower pay so finances are a concern for me,” she said.
She is relying on the Cancer Drivers Society for rides to and from her chemotherapy sessions and has found people in the community who have extended their hand to help.
“A coworker’s sister died of breast cancer because she wasn’t given the care she needed in time and it really hit me hard. So, I would say, advocate for yourself and don’t take no for an answer. Get yourself examined and treated.”
She added that women should get themselves checked because there are different types of breast cancer and nobody should think it wouldn’t happen to them.
“I have been bombarded with information that you should use this and that to cure your cancer but I refuse to do so. I don’t believe in it but other people might because when people are desperate to live, they will do anything to survive.”
Ridge-Meadows Hospital provided her with a list of resources available for support and all costs are covered by the healthcare system.
*for safety and anonymity Jackie is a pseudonym used for the person interviewed for this story*