Bittner Cancer Profile

Tammy Bittner of Somerset, sits alongside her great-nieces, (from left) Ellison and Adalyn.

As a home health worker who has also spent years helping her mother-in-law get through breast cancer, Tammy Bittner was already well aware of the serious challenges the disease can pose.

That didn't mean the Somerset woman saw it coming, she said.

"I messed up – I was so busy taking care of other people that I let my own health go," Bittner said. "I missed my mammograms for four years."

A part-time worker at Oakbrook Golf Club, Bittner said she started feeling ill in late 2019, but first thought it might be due to periodontal disease complications.

After her issues worsened – putting her in the hospital – a battery of tests were ordered, as well as a mammogram.

She soon discovered she had a tumor in her left breast.

After an official diagnosis on March 10, 2020, she expected to begin treatment in the weeks ahead.

Then COVID-19 hit.

"Everything shut down," Bittner said. "And my treatment was delayed."

'Someone I trusted'

She was given a chemo medication at home for 90 days, but it didn't work.

By that point, her cancer was considered at Stage 3, she said.

She said she's fortunate she had steadfast support.

That includes her husband of 34 years, Michael, and their children Alexandra, 28, and Jonathon, 22.

And from the beginning, she trusted Dr. Patti Ann Stefanick to help her through the process.

"She was my mother-in-law's doctor when she had cancer in 2015," Bittner said. "I knew right away she was someone I trusted."

Bittner said she ended up receiving chemotherapy off and on for five months – although not by design.

Surgeries, challenges

She developed shingles, along with complications from a bee sting – and also had to pause her treatment when her parents contracted the coronavirus, forcing her to quarantine.

She ended up having two surgeries. The first was in February 2021.

Three weeks later, a test of her lymph nodes showed that potentially cancerous "hot spots" were confirmed under her left arm.

She said she received 25 rounds of radiation from April to June.

There have been difficult times.

A self-described "tireless worker," Bittner said she has had days when she could barely get on her feet.

Her hair fell out, too.

Positive attitude

Her pastor, Dave McCall, said he remains impressed with how Bittner always kept her unwavering smile.

"For all she's been through, all her setbacks, I've never heard her complain," said McCall, a senior pastor at Somerset First United Methodist Church.

He said Bittner and her positive outlook serve as an example to others on who are facing challenges.

"When others throw out their hands, she throws her hands up," McCall said. "She's more focuses on how she can help others."

Bittner said she told herself from the outset that she wasn't going to let cancer bring her down.

"Maybe it's because I'm bull-headed," she said with a laugh. "But all you can do is take it day by day."

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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