A girls night out. Nothing too extravagant, just friends enjoying the simple pleasures of life while also partaking in the intoxicating aromas of a massage party.
However, what was supposed to be an evening of relaxation became a night that Tammy Henry will never forget.
The morning after the massage, April 20, Henry woke up with severe pain. She could barely touch her left breast.
“I felt this huge knot. I told my husband, we’ve got to go to the doctor right now,” Henry said. “So, we went to the emergency room. They did a mammogram and an ultrasound that day.”
Henry, who was no stranger to breast cancer, having witnessed her mother and grandmother suffer previously, routinely received examinations. Her last examination occurred in September, when Henry had received a clean bill of health.
April 21, Henry had a biopsy on a “golf ball” sized lump in her left breast. The few days later, Henry received the called.
“They called me and told me it was breast cancer,” Henry said.
Shortly after facing the harsh reality, Henry went to see Dr. Vincent Scarpinato at SOMC. After the initial testing, Henry had a lumpectomy. Two weeks after the lumpectomy, Henry received a phone call from the genetics team, informing her she had a rare gene called a PALB2.
“My only option was to go through my chemotherapy and then have a double mastectomy, because if I didn’t, within five years, I would have an 85 percent chance of having it again,” Henry said.
Henry went through several months of chemotherapy, which concluded Oct. 22, 2016. She had her double mastectomy Jan 3, 2017. Since her double mastectomy, Henry has had three other surgeries due to reconstruction.
“As of now, everything’s great,” Henry said. “I’ve got to be checked every few months right now.”
Henry has three children, two are married and one just turned 18. She also has two step daughters and seven grandchildren. During her ordeal, she only had one wish.
“When my babies were growing up, I’ve always asked God, ‘Please, just let me see my babies grow,’” Henry said. “I want to see my babies grown, that way I know they’re taken care of.”
At the time of her cancer diagnoses, Henry’s youngest child was 16, which caused a flood of emotions.
“That was the first thing that was on my mind,” Henry said. “Oh my God, my baby is 16, getting ready to turn 17. Please Lord let them get this. The day that they told me I had cancer, I fell apart of course — anybody would. For about two minutes, I just sobbed and then it was like, ‘Girl, you’ve got too many kids, too many grand babies. So, suck it up and find out what to do next.’”
Henry took her own advice and immediately created a Facebook account, called Hope Anchors the Soul. She documented her entire journey on the site.
“There’s days where I would hurt so bad and I would just vent,” Henry said. “I would be like, ‘Why do I have to hurt like this?’ I never asked God why I got cancer, because he has a reason for everything. I would be like, ‘Why does this medicine make me hurt so bad? Why can’t they give you something different that doesn’t make you hurt?’”
Henry always turned to God for support, as well as her husband and her children.
“You see so many stories of women getting cancer and their husband, or their boyfriend, or whoever just walks out, they can’t deal with it,” Henry said. “My husband, Jeff Henry, has been my rock.”
“If I was having a bad day, he was there for me to vent to and he would love me no matter what. He went to every appointment. He went to every chemo session with me. He would be there from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon. He never left my side.”
With the support Henry received throughout her journey, her faith never wavered. As a way to give back and support individuals who weren’t as lucky, Henry’s site, Hope Anchors the Soul, is a way for Henry to offer support to women who have nowhere else to turn.
Maybe someone hasn’t had a mammogram in years. Maybe a woman with cancer is afraid to go to her chemo session, Henry is there to support those women.
“I’ve even gone to the cancer center with different women who have been afraid to go by themselves,” Henry said. “If they want to know what it feels like to go through the chemotherapy, it’s crappy. But you smile through it, because if you don’t, you’ll go through a depression and that’s hard. There were days were I would be like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Then I’d pray about it and think, ‘No, whatever God’s will is for me, that’s it.’”
Henry has even started a club through Facebook to check in with women who have been dealing with cancer. If different women are suffering from cancer or undergoing chemotherapy, Henry will send them a card to let them know that they are not alone.
It’s been a 17-month journey since the night she went to have a massage.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1927, or on Twitter @crslone.