Stories of Survivors

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Sarah Guido, Tammy Tanner, and Teresa Sims are all Omaha women who were diagnosed with invasive forms of breast cancer before the age of 45. All of them were scared. All of them underwent bilateral mastectomies and months of multiple reconstructive surgeries. All of them leaned heavily on family and friends for unparalleled support. But most importantly, all of them are survivors.

Each of these women has a remarkable story, marked by a journey that so many hope they will never have to take. But it’s a journey that develops strength, courage, and the realization of just how loved one can feel. It also develops a desire to help others, both by giving back to organizations and through sharing their stories of survival.

For Tammy Tanner, breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer ran in her family. So much so that she and her four sisters decided to receive genetic testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations. She and one sister tested positive for the BRCA 1 mutation, which meant their risk for developing breast cancer by the age of 70 was 87%, compared to only 10% for the general population. “We both decided to have prophylactic surgeries,” Tammy said. “However, I became pregnant with my second child, so I had to wait.”

Unfortunately, four months into that pregnancy, Tammy found a lump that turned out to be invasive ductal carcinoma, which required chemotherapy during the remainder of her pregnancy. “I just had to trust that the baby would be okay,” she said. And thankfully, she did deliver a healthy baby girl, then had to continue treatment for another five months. “Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean it has to all be bad,” she shared. “I carried a baby through it and ended up with a gift from heaven.”

Sarah Guido was living in Atlanta and in the process of moving to Omaha when she was diagnosed. She also tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation after learning her form of cancer was very aggressive. “I was moving to a new city, my daughter was starting kindergarten, and I had all these surgeries ahead of me,” she said. Thankfully, she found immediate support from her new neighbors and friends in Omaha. “They brought me meals, gifts, and helped with shuttling my daughters to school and other activities.  I will never forget their incredible kindness and support.”

Teresa Sims didn’t have the BRCA gene mutation, but her father was one of only 10,000 men to be diagnosed each year with breast cancer and fought it twice. “My mother was my rock,” she said. “She went through it twice with my father and then went through it with me.” Teresa wants women to know that it’s okay to ask for help, and that there are so many resources available to them. One organization in particular is Project Pink’d in Omaha. They provide gas cards to women during treatment, babysitting, meals, connect patients with companies that provide wigs, and the organization provides blankets and other items to those who have been newly diagnosed. Project Pink’d also sells calendars as a fundraiser, and Teresa was able to participate in its photo shoot this year. “Everyone’s experience is different and everyone has to go through it on their own,” she stated. “But that doesn’t mean they have to do it alone.”

All three women said that support, attitude, and keeping a sense of humor were key. Sarah’s sister organized “Sarah’s Strong Calendar” and scheduled friends and family to take turns visiting her during treatment. Teresa told cancer jokes as a way to help her kids cope. And even though Tammy couldn’t work during her initial treatment, she still went in to the office to see her coworkers who rallied around her. “Family and friends are the only way to get through it, and I had the best,” she said.

But the primary message from these survivors is that early detection is everything. Regular, monthly self-exams are vital, and if you do find something, don’t wait to have it looked at. “Technology is so advanced now, that combined with diligence and early screening, there are many ways to prevent it,” Tammy said. And even though cancer is a part of these women’s lives, they don’t live in fear of it. “It doesn’t define me, and I’m stronger for having gone through it,” Sarah said. Teresa summed it up this way, “If you can fight cancer, you can fight anything.”

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