For Tami Nathan, her fight with breast cancer began one August morning in 2015 at 42 years old.
While just out of the shower, brushing her hair in front of a mirror like any other morning, she noticed what appeared to be a golf ball size lump on her left breast. Two years earlier, Nathan had received a mammogram and been diagnosed with Fibrocystic Breasts, a benign condition brought on by years of caffeine and nicotine use.
After discovering the lump, Nathan contacted her physician who set her up with an appointment at the SOMC Breast Center for a diagnostic on Aug. 28. Thirty minutes into her diagnostic appointment, Nathan was scheduled for a biopsy.
On Sept. 9, 2015, doctors performed two biopsies on two discovered masses in her left breast, one at 12 and one at 2 o’clock. On Sept. 11, 2015, Nathan was diagnosed with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), a type of breast cancer that does not express the genes for estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor or Her2. This makes Triple-Negative Breast Cancer more difficult to treat since most hormone therapies target one of the three receptors, often requiring a combination of therapies.
On Sept. 30, just a few short weeks from her diagnosis, surgeons performed a mastectomy to remove Nathan’s left breast. October 17 marked the beginning of a radical chemotherapy treatment for Nathan, which resulted in hair loss between the first two treatments alone due to the aggressiveness of the treatment. Nathan continued chemotherapy treatments until May 12, 2016 and began reconstruction June 20 2017.
When asked about what her journey has been like so far, Nathan simply replied, “It’s been hell.”
“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and it’s also been the most enlightening thing I’ve ever been through,” said Nathan. “I would not wish it on anyone. The being sick, the one thing after another. The chemotherapy caused permanent hair loss, my eyebrows are nothing what they used to be, and my hair is still very thin. I have a rapid heartbeat, Tachycardia, a year later and I still have to take medication for that which is a side effect of the chemo.”
Nathan stressed how she still lives with some of the more severe side effects of chemotherapy, although it’s been over a year since she completed treatment.
“That’s something they don’t explain to you, the chemo-brain. Physically while you’re going through the chemotherapy you search for words, you lose time, you lose things. They don’t tell you that some of that never goes away. I still have leftovers from that.”
Nathan believes the battle against breast cancer is never really over.
“It kills your immune system, I get sick really easy, and I get tired really fast. It’s a never ending battle. Anyone that says they can bounce right back from it is a lot better person than I am,” said Nathan.
Nathan traveled out of state in order to have her right breast tissue removed, while also having a double reconstruction performed at the same time.
“I wanted to reduce that chance of getting it again, it’s not 100 percent, but it helps reduce my risk.”
Nathan is currently in recovery, having MRI’s of her chest and abdomen, and brain every year, for up to five years, to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
Nathan believes her family and the support she received from them, and friends is what helped her get through the hardest time of her life.
“My family has been amazing. I have two daughters and a son. My son’s wife, although they weren’t married yet at the time, moved in and took me to all my chemotherapy treatments. They were recently married and I couldn’t ask for a better daughter in law. She took care of me all throughout that year of chemo. I also have a few good friends that have helped me through,” said Nathan.
Nathan recalled a fond memory from the day of her mastectomy of her family and best friends gathering around her in her hospital bed eating pizza, and putting together a puzzle with her granddaughter.
“Those are the things you hold on to, you look back and you have to smile.”
Although Nathan doesn’t consider herself much of a people person, she did find some comfort in a few programs offered through the cancer center.
“I’m not one to whine and complain, I never wanted to be a part of group therapy, and it’s just not me. They have a class that teaches you how to do your makeup and how to draw on eyebrows when you’re sick, I took advantage of that. I have nothing but good things to say about the people at the breast center, the doctors and staff were amazing.”
Nathan’s words of advice are to pay close attention to your body, and any changes that might occur.
“I know people hear this all the time, men and women both, but you need to be aware of your body. All I did was see the lump. I was lucky that I noticed it in time and had such wonderful assistance from my physician.”
Overall, Tami believes that she didn’t let her battle with cancer change who she was.
“I didn’t let it change who I am, if anything I look at things a little differently now. Life is too short, there’s a lot of people that I lost touch with during my journey, and a lot of people who were really there for me when I needed them.”
As far as those who are still battling with cancer, Nathan had this to say:
“It’s not the end, the next year of your life is going to be hell, but it’s not the end. It seems like life will never get better, but it will. You can’t let it do you in. You have to let this experience make you stronger.”
Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932