Hailing from West Portsmouth and a Shawnee State University graduate, Tammy Hamilton is a breast cancer survivor and a fighter to the core.
In 2009, Hamilton’s mother passed away, and her daughter had a tragic car accident that left her paralyzed.
“The doctors said that a traumatic event and stress can cause cancer,” Hamilton said. “Somehow, stress can change your DNA and causes cancer. People think stress is no big deal, but stress is really bad for your health in different ways. So, they told me that they think because the two traumatic events that happened so close to each other, I developed stage-3 triple negative breast cancer.”
Many people who have breast cancer contain the BRCA gene, it is an indicator that someone is susceptible to this specific type of cancer. However, there are no traces of this gene in Hamilton’s family. The doctors found it odd that Hamilton developed breast cancer, and it came to her by surprise as well.
“When my daughter was injured, I spent a whole year with her in the hospital doing rehab, and that was all of 2010. Then by 2011, I started feeling tired. But I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms, because there aren’t any symptoms with breast cancer other than fatigue sometimes, and you can shrug that off to anything. By December of 2011, I felt a lump under my right arm. It felt like a rock.”
Working as a nutritionist at OSU, Hamilton was encouraged to get examined at the free screenings that happen every year in January.
“It’s funny because I did every checkup except for the breast exam,” Hamilton said. “My sister ended up talking me into it when SOMC had the free ones. I don’t know what people would do without the free screenings that they do every year. Those are wonderful.”
When she had her breast exam, the professionals kept her behind to run more tests.
“They were giving out t-shirts, and my sister said I needed to go check it out,” Hamilton said. “They kept me. When they find something at those screenings, they don’t mess around. I told my sister I went over for the free t-shirt and ended up with breast cancer.”
Even though Hamilton was diagnosed with cancer, her biggest concern was for her daughter. However, she was hopeful because she was able to stay and have treatment close to home.
“I had been up to different cancer centers in Columbus,” Hamilton said, “but I decided to stay local. In Columbus, they were good, but there is quality care happening right here in Scioto County. Dr. Scarpinato and his staff were amazing and I contribute them to saving my life. I had to go through a double mastectomy and reconstruction. Dr. Suber did my latest reconstruction and she is absolutely wonderful. It was nice having that right at home, not having to go out of town.”
There were many times it was hard to keep going, but Hamilton pushed through.
“My twin sister and my son helped tremendously,” Hamilton said, “but a lot of times it was just me and my daughter here. Every day I would still have to get up and help her. Dr. Summers told me that whenever you sit
down, it gets you. No matter how bad it hurts, you have to keep on going. I think my daughter kept me going. I had to get up, because she needed me. Really, we needed each other. You have to keep going. When things seem dire, you have to keep going, because you never know what the outcome will be. I can look back, and recognize that yes it was hard, but I learned quite a few things.”
Hamilton had one primary source of motivation to fight against this vicious disease.
“What kept me going is love,” Hamilton said. “I love my daughter, I love my son, I love my family. I was going to do whatever it took to stay with them. I didn’t care how many surgeries I had or how rough it was. I was going to do everything I could to be here for a while.”
She fought with everything she had, and is now on the other side.
“Right now, I’m five years out,” Hamilton said. “I just went the other day to the SOMC Cancer Center and had my last check-up. I’ve been cancer free for five years and I attribute that to those who took care of me. I’ve realized life is too short, and I want to focus on the positives.”
Every October, Hamilton fundraises to give to the Compassion Fund, because of how much it helped her in times when she needed it. This is where she received her first wig, and they sent a maid to clean her house when she was too sick.
“That money stays local. Dr. Scarpinato started the SOMC Compassion Fund because it is hard to get money back from the American Cancer Society sometimes. It’s a wonderful fund, and I will donate to that every year.”
Currently, Hamilton is selling Texas Roadhouse peanuts as a fundraiser.
“We’ll be at the West Wheelersburg game the 27th selling them,” Hamilton said. “You get a bag of peanuts and a free appetizer for $5. It’s a good deal, and it helps a great cause.”
Lastly, Hamilton provided good advice for those who have been diagnosed with cancer, as well as those who are healthy.
“Don’t let fear take you over,” Hamilton said. “Being diagnosed with cancer is not a death sentence. In my case it was curable, but many cancers are treatable, so don’t let fear win. Also, don’t take your health for granted. Take advantage of those free screenings. Having your health is everything. Be proactive about these things. You never know what could happen.”
Hamilton sets a good example of a strong woman who has taken on fear and didn’t let anything stop her. Cancer does not have to be a death sentence.