Most Viewed Stories
Keep Fighting: fundraising event reminds survivors, loved ones that 'cancer never sleeps'
As Tammy Kahlen walked around Desert Sun Stadium Saturday with her husband and young daughters, she was happy just to be alive and be with them.
Tammy is currently taking chemotherapy treatment for Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.
According to the California Breast Cancer Research Program, when breast cancer spreads through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, this is described as “distant metastasis.”
The woman whose breast cancer has metastasized or who has been diagnosed initially at Stage IV must live knowing her breast cancer can no longer be cured, and that the disease is very likely to take her life.
“You have to somehow come to peace with that,” Tammy said. “Do I want to leave? No. I have little children. I want to be here for my family beyond a shadow of a doubt, no matter what. So I will keep fighting and trying new drugs and doing whatever it is we have to do.”
With the knowledge of her mortality, Tammy enjoys every moment she has with her 8-year-old daughter Katie, her 7-year-old daughter Madison and her loving husband Matt.
The family was at Desert Sun Stadium to celebrate Tammy and other cancer victims and survivors during the 2011 American Cancer Society Relay For Life held from Saturday night to Sunday morning.
During the event, 130 teams and 1,871 participants took turns walking all night to remind the public that “cancer never sleeps.” By Saturday afternoon the teams had already raised $137,653.73, which will be donated to research dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.
Tammy's ordeal with cancer began in April 2009 when she discovered a lump in her breast while performing a self examination.
“I went to my gynecologist and she ran some tests and recommended I get a biopsy,” she said.
Tammy learned over the phone she had cancer.
“My doctor said, ‘I really hate to have to say this on the phone, but it is cancer.' You don't know what to do or say. You get that nervous feeling inside and your heart starts beating. Then you just cry and think ‘Lord what is going to happen?' Oh my gosh it is devastating.”
The news was heart breaking for Matt, who didn't want to believe it at first.
“Tammy, in the past, tended to be a little bit of a hypochondriac, so we made a joke out of it,” he said.
“When we found out it was the real thing and was serious – you always think cancer is something somebody else has - somebody else's family that is not really yours. You just don't see it coming. It's like a freight train.”
Matt faces the very sobering possibility of becoming a widower.
“You start thinking about what life would be like without her - being a single parent with two kids. It's terrifying.”
After learning of the breast cancer, Tammy went to an oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer tumors.
Not knowing yet she had metastatic cancer, Tammy decided to undergo a “Lumpectomy” - the removal of the breast tumor and some of the normal tissue that surrounds it, but not the entire breast - rather than a “Mastectomy” which would completely remove the breast.
“We thought, best case scenario, it's just going to be a lump, we are going to remove it and everything is going to be good. You always hope for the positive.”
After the procedure, Tammy was given a CT Scan and learned the cancer had spread.
“It wasn't just there in my breast, but had already gone through my lymph node system and was in my bones. It is completely terrifying.”
In response, the doctors initially opted to try a hormone therapy.
“They found hormones drive my cancer. That didn't work so they tried a regimen of drugs for three months. They typically will try new drugs for three months and then do a CT Scan to see if it works. Then they will try it again.”
Tammy is still fighting the cancer, but hopes it will go into remission once an effective treatment is found.
For now the prognosis remains the same.
“They haven't said anything good or bad,” she said.
Next, Tammy is hoping to be accepted into a new cancer treatment clinical trial in Scottsdale. As part of that trial, the doctors would investigate Tammy's tumor to see what drives it specifically, and will hopefully be able to recommend a treatment tailor made for her chemistry.
“I'm encouraged,” she said with a smile. “My doctor sent my records and that is a possibility for me. I'm kind of anxious to talk with them. That is my new thing on the horizon. Is there something they can do from a different perspective? I'm looking forward to it.”
For now Tammy will fight on with her family's support. She also finds solace in her Christian faith.
“I'm thankful that I feel good,” she said. “My daughters know about heaven and that's where they are going to go. I just try to focus their hope on that.”
Tammy said she and her husband are very up front with their daughters about her serious condition.
“I always tell them I'll be honest, and never tell them it is going to be okay all the time. If we are always trying to protect them and aren't truthful with them - when something traumatic does happen in their life - then it is almost like you were lying to them.”
Often she tells them simply, “I love you. I'm here today."