I am a breast cancer survivor of six years. Before breast cancer, it was every day going to work, taking care of my family, my children and my husband, celebrating big birthdays, just celebrating life, being happy-go-lucky, just everyday life like normal people.
My view on mammograms was I need to get one because after a particular age it should be done yearly. So I did that, but I'd had what they call a false positive. I just never thought about it because I didn't think it ran in my family, so I didn't think I could get cancer. It was just something that I thought I should do.
In January 2016, I was due for my screening. It was a cold, icy day, and I thought no, I don’t need to go. I can wait. But something inside of me kept saying, "Tamyra, you need to go, you need to go," and so I put my coat on and went out there because it only takes 15 to 20 minutes.
The next day they called and said, "Oh, we may see something. Let's come back again to the breast diagnostic center to see, to have another mammogram." I did that.
About a week later, they called me back and said, "Let's do a biopsy because we see something." At that point, I still wasn't afraid because, in my mind, I thought it had to run in your family, and I hadn't known anybody in my family who had had breast cancer.
I wasn't really afraid, but at that point, I was sharing it with my husband. We went to the diagnostic center, and got the biopsy done. About two weeks later, they called and said, "The doctor would like to see you." I was at work and thought, “Can you tell me why?” Of course, they wouldn’t tell me that over the phone, so I got a little worried at that point.
I got to the doctor that afternoon, and she walked in and said, "Well, how are you today?" I remember vividly, and I said, "I don't know, you tell me." She said, "We found a tumor on your right breast," it still didn't faze me, and she said, "And it is cancer."
I think immediately I must have blacked out a little bit because when I came to, I was sobbing. My husband was standing in front of me, and he said, "Whatever it is, we're going to get through this."
But I didn't know what “whatever” was. I knew that:
I didn't know what that was.
When I met with the oncologist for the first time, she said, "Because of the kind of cancer you have, we have to go through the chemotherapy journey, and you will have to have radiation."
I said, "What kind do I have?" She explained that there were four types of breast cancer, one being triple-negative. That's what I had, and that was apparently one of the worst ones.
I had a lumpectomy in March. They removed the tumor and took out a lot of lymph nodes. The surgeon said they got it all. I didn't still realize the journey was going to be so difficult.
Chemotherapy began, and the oncologist told me I was going to lose my hair. She said, "This is going to happen, this is going to happen, this is going to happen, but by December, your hair will be growing back."
My husband said, "Just remember, you make your hair; your hair doesn't make you." That has stuck with me for so long.
Losing my hair, I thought, was the end of the world since every Friday, I went to the salon to visit my friend, Toni. I took pride in how my hair looked. I talked to Toni and told her I didn’t have any hair. What are we going to do? And she told me she could make a wig that looks just like what I have.
But I remember I would not put my wig on by myself; my husband did. He would put my wig on, and I'm telling you, some days, it looked a mess because he didn't put it on right. I would twist it, and I would put my makeup on. I didn't let my kids see me bald because I was ashamed, and I didn't know how it would impact them.
It was getting to be summertime, and I wanted to walk around with my head bald. So my husband brought the kids into our room, and I took off my wig. I remember my son looking at me and grabbing my face, and kissing my cheek and the top of my bald head. He says, "Mom, you look beautiful." My daughter said, "Can I shave my head, and we can rock this together?" and I said, "Absolutely not."
It was the encouragement, it was the love that I received during that time to help me understand my husband was right. I made my hair, it didn't make me. I made it through, and that's my mantra, I made it. I don't care how it looks sometimes: You can make it. I don't care how tough it is. I made it. I survived.
That journey of chemotherapy, and I'll tell anybody I don't sugarcoat it, is difficult. But with the research and all that's happening these days, cancer isn't a death sentence.
Once I was cancer-free, things changed. I became a better person. I realized the importance of life and the importance of loving people and being kind and cherishing your loved ones and your friends. It has changed me for the better because I didn't look at life as I do now prior to breast cancer.
I realized screening is something I have to stress. It’s something I have to do now, and not just me, but everybody that is in my circle, every person that I come in contact with. I stress screenings because it's so important. Because it can really save your life. Because my screening, it saved my life.
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