[Today's guest blogger is my friend and sister-Survivor/Author/Blogger/Pink Ribbon Girl, Tami Boehmer. Tami is the author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors who Beat the Odds. Besides beating the odds herself, Tami has spent the past couple of years traveling around the country talking to others who are living with stage 4 cancer, gathering stories of hope to share in her book, on her blog, and when she speaks. Because it's such an inspiring book, and in the spirit of battling cancer and beating the odds, The SCAR Project Cincy would like to offer a free copy of Tami's book to one lucky reader. Follow The SCAR Project Cincy blog on Facebook, or leave a comment here, and when we hit 100 followers on Facebook, we'll write everybody's name on ping pong balls and throw them in a keg, I mean, a barrel... then I'll get my hairdryer, and we'll have a fabulous drawing! Ok, not exactly. I don't have a hairdryer. But I can promise you this: it will be completely random. And somebody will win a copy of Tami's book.]
Guest Post by Tami Boehmer
It is interesting how roads intersect in the breast cancer community. I met Joules Evans, who is heading up The Scar Project Cincinnati exhibit, through my cousin’s ex-wife. After much chatting on Facebook, we met in person and, with Joules’ boundless enthusiasm, she told me about this outstanding piece of work.
Later, I had the pleasure of meeting three amazing local women featured in the exhibit. Well, surprisingly I already knew Heather Salazar -- she is a fellow board member of Pink Ribbon Girls, which is the beneficiary of the exhibit! Pink Ribbon Girls (PRG), like The Scar Project, is dedicated to helping and spreading awareness of young breast cancer survivors.
I was 38 in 2002 when I was first diagnosed with stage II breast cancer … too old to be featured in The Scar Project, but young nonetheless. If it weren’t for PRG, I would have felt all alone as I sat in the chemo suite full of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. While there were many nice people I’ve met while getting treatment, I had a different experience from them. I was working and had a three-year-old child. When I went to my first meeting, I knew I had found a home with these upbeat, brave women, many of whom are still friends today. I later joined its board, paying it back for all the support I’ve received.
In Feb. 2008, I insisted on seeing my breast surgeon a month earlier than my regular check-up because of a large lump I discovered in my right armpit. I had worried from time to time about some swelling and hardness. Since the swelling would go down, my surgeon thought it was probably hormonal. I was so relieved; I didn’t question it.
She sat me down with the results of the ultrasound, and sadly looked at me. My worst nightmare came true – after five years of being cancer-free, it had come back with a vengeance. The tumor was a very large nine centimeters in diameter. My PET scan report showed spots in lymph nodes in my chest and, most worrisome, my liver. It was stage IV breast cancer.
My first thought was my daughter, then nine years old. I knew I had to do everything I could to be there for her.
I made the decision to not return to a very stressful job and start the new job of getting Tami well. I researched clinical trials and other research online and sought several doctor opinions. I made exercise, prayer, visualization, and affirmations a daily routine and switched to organic, whole foods and products.
But still, I fought off depression and was haunted by the sinking feeling I was going to die. With all the focus on myself and getting well, I felt useless and empty. Yet I gained strength from hearing success stories of other survivors.
After more than 20 years as a healthcare public relations specialist, I decided to put my interviewing and writing skills to good use. I began interviewing cancer survivors from around the country for my book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odd (released June 2010). My book features 27 stories of individuals who beat the odds of a terminal diagnosis.
I also started a blog, www.MiracleSurvivors.com, where I share stories, cancer resources and my own experiences as a cancer survivor. One visitor recently told me that at her one-year check-up, her doctor was surprised by her new, upbeat attitude. She told him it was from reading my book and blog. That’s what makes it worth it to me.
My goal is to give people hope and a different way to see themselves as a survivor and patient. I encourage my followers to be active participants in their healthcare by researching their options, getting additional medical opinions and taking care of themselves in body, mind and spirit. I feel it’s detrimental to give patients death sentences. My mantra is: “Statistics are just numbers that lump together a large, diverse group of individuals. You are not a statistic.”
This seems true to my situation as my scans have been stable with only two spots in my armpit. My goal is “no evidence of disease,” and I believe I’ll achieve it. When I struggle, I think of how the people who shared their stories in my book and on my blog never gave up despite setbacks. It gives me hope and purpose, knowing I’m helping others get through their struggles, too.
I support The Scar Project because of the way it empowers women who participated in it and those who view it. These women are taking back their lives by baring it all. There is no shame; just beauty and strength emanating from them.
And I’m so grateful the exhibit is supporting PRG, an organization near and dear to my heart. PRG is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and is reaching even more women with its Mommy Has Breast Cancer (MHBC) program. MHBC is expanding what we’ve been doing for years: assisting young mothers with services and support to make their lives a little easier while going through treatment. By attending the exhibit, you’ll be inspired and empowered, knowing you are helping young survivors. Hope to see you there!
From Incurable to Incredible is available at Joseph Beth Booksellers, Whatever Works, New Thought Unity Center, and Good Samaritan Hospital’s gift shop in Cincinnati. You can also find it online on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and Tami’s site, www.MiracleSurvivors.com.