There it was. A post in my Facebook Newsfeed that I simply wasn’t prepared for. I paused, staring at it for an eternity.
A thousand thoughts raced through my head. Holy Crap! I went to High School with her! She’s MY age! She has CANCER!?!?!?!
It was true, I did go to high school with her, and we were the same age, and yes, she did…she does…have breast cancer.
Everyone has a story, and Tabatha, well she has enough stories to tell for a lifetime. If I am being honest with you, reader, I want to tell you all of it, from the beginning, to give this story, her story, the depth that it deserves. Of course, I don’t need to really expand beyond the fact that she was 26 when she was diagnosed with Stage 0/1 breast cancer the FIRST time. That is story enough, truly.
But, what if the worst thing that has ever happened to you, wasn’t getting cancer? What if it was tragically losing your spouse before you even had a chance to start a life with them? Tabatha was 23 when her Marine husband, of almost three years, passed away unexpectedly. Life, as she knew it, had been turned upside down. Her soul mate, best friend, love of her life…gone. Could you imagine suffering such great loss at such a young age, healing from it and moving on, only to discover you have cancer just a few short years later? To take it even further, can you imagine recovering from all of that, only to find out you have cancer for a second time? If your head is spinning, don’t feel bad, because mine still is!
Losing someone you love, someone you intended to build a life with, memories, kids, retirement, the works; it’s a fear that many of us live with. When it does happen, when your love and your life are suddenly ripped away from you, you can’t help but wonder what the purpose is behind it? Tabatha not only had to heal from such a traumatic experience, but little did she know, she would have to become stronger in ways she could have ever expected.
Barely three years had passed since she had lost her husband, when one morning after taking a shower, she decided to administer a self breast exam. A random thought maybe, but Tabatha had been doing them ever since her OBGYN taught her at her first Well Women’s check-up at 16. What she didn’t expect was to actually feel a lump in her right breast.
The lump felt squishy and had definition, but didn’t hurt. These days, it’s hard to not be paranoid about our health. With the wide media coverage on everything from breast cancer to skin cancer, it’s hard to not assume the worst when you find or feel something that isn’t normal. Based on a few things she had learned about the human lymphatic system and what the body experiences during cancer and diseases, she had a feeling she already knew what it was. But, Tabatha did what she was supposed to do and made an appointment with her doctor to find out the truth. She had an ultra sound, mammogram, a biopsy of the lump, and in March 2011 it was determined that she did, in fact, have breast cancer.
Things would get better though, and thankfully, because her cancer had been caught in the very early stages, the biopsy had removed all of it and she wouldn’t need chemo or radiation. A slew of various surgeries would follow though. In a span of almost three years she would have a mastectomy on her right breast, a nipple-sparing mastectomy on her left breast, reconstructive surgery, back muscle surgery, and even skin surgery!
Life was going pretty good. With the surgeries finally all over in the winter of 2013, Tabatha could now focus on moving on with her life again and staying healthy. Then, this summer, she started to feel sick. At first she thought that maybe it were her allergies or asthma even, but her symptoms were not going away with medication, they were lingering…and in her heart she knew; her cancer was back.
Tests would reveal that she has a mass right above her heart; located in a complicated enough area that surgery will not be an option. This time, she will have to do chemotherapy as her treatment.
Some may wonder if perhaps this second round of cancer wouldn’t have happened if she would have had a complete double mastectomy during her first round of cancer, but not Tabatha. One of the life lessons she has learned and lives by, is to not live in the land of “What If’s”. She knows that asking questions that don’t have an answer, serves no purpose. Instead, she chooses to roll with the punches and takes steps to make her situation better instead of dwelling on something she cannot change.
To meet Tabatha today, you would never know that she has cancer. She is funny, positive, relaxed, confident, and a plethora of other amazing qualities. When most people who don’t have cancer, think of someone with cancer, they assume a few things about them. One of those things is that they absolutely must be depressed, rightfully so, or at the very least, slightly less positive than those of us without cancer. I mean come on; it’s cancer, what is there to be happy about, right?
But this is not the case with Tabatha, she is actually thankful. Why? Because she knows “it could be worse”. Though Tabatha has had a mountain of obstacles come her way, she has survived them and come out on top each time. Does she have her moments? Of course she does, she may be a Super Woman, but she is still human and definitely has bad days. However, she doesn’t’ let those bad days define her or control her.
“Maybe I make it sound easy” she says, “I’m not perfect and there is no perfect way to feel when you have to go through any of this, but I do know that as long as I am alive I just want to be happy and spend my time laughing and being goofy. You now? I have great friends, I have my family, my dog, a roof over my head, health insurance. I feel like I still have a lot going for me despite having cancer.”
And that, dear readers, is why sharing Tabatha’s story is so important. She has survived a lifetimes worth of ups and downs in her short 30 years on this earth, and yet, she has nothing but gratitude and a love for her life. She knows she is allowed to feel sorry for herself, she knows that no one could blame her if she became cynical and disheartened; but that’s not in her DNA. Tabatha wakes up each and every morning, not with fear, not with anger, but with hope.
What’s the most important thing Tabatha wants you to take away from her story, though? Well, like her famous Facebook PSA that stopped me in my tracks, it is to “FEEL YOUR BOOBIES!”.
Authors Note: Tabatha is still in Chemotherapy, but has had much success in the treatment and has already seen a 70-80% improvement. She doesn’t know how many cycles of Chemotherapy she has left, but prefers not to think about it. Instead, she takes it one day at a time. Even though her treatments make her tired, she has recently started going back to the gym and doing Yoga to help her get back into shape.
*Update 3/10/2016* Tabatha passed away peacefully last night after fighting her battle with this aggressive form of cancer. She remained brave and positive till the end.