Each year, Johnstown Magazine highlights some of the brave individuals who faced a breast cancer diagnosis and plowed their way through.
Tammy Stuver, a 12-year breast cancer survivor, says attitude is an important component in battling the disease.
“If diagnosed, stay strong and stubborn and fight,” she says. “Surround yourself with positive people and don’t allow negativity in your life.”
Tammy was diagnosed in August 2009 after a routine mammogram.
“At first I was so scared, because when you hear the word ‘cancer’ you just think it’s a death sentence,” she says. “That only lasted about a day, then I got mad and decided this was not going to take me out. I was not ready to go yet. I still had lots of things to do.”
The scan found two tumors in her right breast, but after a breast MRI the doctors also found three in her left breast.
“After talking with my oncologist and getting a second opinion, I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy with breast reconstruction,” Tammy says.
The surgeries took place two days before Christmas that same year.
“It was a long surgery, but all went well,” she recalls. “They did a sentinel node biopsy and found that the cancer had not spread, so that meant no chemo or radiation.”
Still, her recovery was not easy.
“I slept in my recliner for weeks because I couldn’t lay down. I could not shower.
“I made several trips (sometimes twice a week) back and forth to Pittsburgh for checkups and to see my plastic surgeon.”
She ended up having five major surgeries over a 10-month period.
“When they found my cancer, the doctors also found a spot on my kidney that had to taken out, so I had a double whammy,” Tammy says.
Although she hasn’t talked much about her ordeal, she says she wants to “let women know that there is hope and life after breast cancer.
“The best advice I could give anyone would be to always, always have a yearly mammogram. I probably would not be here if I had not made that appointment. Remember that breast cancer is not a death sentence if caught early. The treatments and surgeries they have for this now are so amazing and lifesaving.”
Tammy says having a supportive family was crucial in her battle with breast cancer. She and her husband, Jesse, are third-generation owners of Stuver’s Nursery in Riverside. The couple has three daughters and three grandchildren.
“My husband was there for every appointment, every surgery and never left my side. He would have to tell me everything the doctors would say because I could never remember. He was my rock!
“My daughters were home with me also – checking my drains, making sure I was taking my medications, helping me bathe and washing my hair and on and on.”
Tammy says her mother-in-law cooked meals and neighbors, friends and other family members called and sent cards.
“Those are the things that get you through it,” she says.
“I felt so guilty because I felt like I was disrupting my children’s lives to take care of me. I’ve always taken care of them and now the roles were reversed. I don’t know what I would have done without my family.”
Tammy says having breast cancer made her look at life differently.
“Your life can change in an instant, so enjoy every day you have,” she says. “Be thankful for what you have, be kind, be crazy and don’t ever care about what others think. Life is too short.”