Tammy Ferrier's optimism and energy have helped her through ordeal
She's also not one to dwell on bad thoughts or ask questions such as 'Why did this have to happen to me?'
If there's one word that she uses to describe herself, and that others use, too, to describe her, it's definitely the word 'positive.'
'Her positive attitude is totally infectious,' said Ann Ange, her co-worker at the True Value distribution facility on Harvey Road in Manchester. 'I've worked with Tammy a number of years and found out late last fall she had cancer. She did so well and had such a positive attitude, I thought she'd be wonderful to get her message out.'
That's why Ange, a volunteer with the American Cancer Society for many years, thought Tammy would be a great person to speak before the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Manchester Oct. 21, starting at Arms Park.
Tammy consented, and along with her husband, Scott, will deliver a short talk before the walk. It's fitting for someone who not only talks the talk but walks the walk as well. She was still writing her three-minute speech when she sat down for this interview, so a preview was not offered, but remaining positive will definitely be a big part of her talk.
Tammy found out one year ago that she had a rare form of breast cancer, dubbed triple-negative because the tumor and cancer cells test negative for certain types of receptors, including estrogen and progesterone, and are not treated with hormone therapy such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors. About one in 10 breast cancers are found to be triple-negative.
Researchers are looking for new medications that can treat this kind of breast cancer, and Tammy has agreed to be part of a five-year clinical study testing the effectiveness of a drug called Metformin, which she takes daily.
Her cancer is gone, and the yearlong odyssey that began in September of 2011 when she was 39 years old has been a learning experience as well as a pathway to meeting and influencing many other women she has met along the way.
As a captain of a Relay for Life team at Livingtson Park in Manchester last year, Tammy and her team raised $2,600 to help in the fight to find a cure. And that was all done at the last minute, with her team entering and raising the money right before the deadline.
She and her husband of three years both work at the True Value Northeast distribution facility near the Manchester Boston Regional Airport, and Tammy also works part-time at Bunny's Superette on Webster Street.
► In today's Sunday News: A special six-page section on the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Event.
'I've always been very active. Nothing slows me down,' she said. She has two children from a previous relationship, including a 19-year-old son who lives at home, and Scott's 9-year-old twins, who are at home every other weekend. Facing cancer is not a solitary pursuit, since families who have a loved one battling the disease are also involved.
For Scott, being the voice of reason is how he sees his role. 'I went to every chemo, every doctor's appointment, and I'm still going to every appointment for the reconstruction surgery. ... Sometimes you have to be the one to do the real listening, despite what the news is. There's a time to be emotional and a time to be hard, the listener kind of deal.'
'He was great,' Tammy said. 'There's a lot of women who don't have that support. I'm at a support group with 12 women and some don't have the support from their families at all. When they hear my stories, they're like, 'Wow, Tammy.''
Ange, who works with both Tammy and Scott, calls Scott a 'wonderful supporter and caregiver, and he definitely makes the difference.'
For Tammy, hiding her illness during treatment wasn't an option, especially since she had lost all her long hair. 'I work with a lot of girls here (at True Value). They would all ask me questions. They were all scared. 'Wow, Tammy's 39 and got breast cancer.' I was very open. I never hid the fact that I had breast cancer. I was very open to talk about it, no matter what,' she said.
Tammy told Ange she was the type of person who couldn't sit still during her chemo treatments, and a lot of the people she met were more reserved, and 'she'd come along and get everybody talking and smiling,' Ange said.
Tammy keeps perspective on her ordeal. 'You have to stay positive, stay strong. I feel you just can't feel pity for yourself. Everybody gets sick for some reason in life. God chose to give me cancer and that's what I got and I have to deal with it.'
She credits her doctors, especially Dr. Teresa Ponn at Elliot Breast Health Center and Dr. Douglas J. Weckstein at New Hampshire Oncology-Hematology, PA in Hooksett, for their care and compassion.
'I feel like I had awesome doctors. I really do,' Tammy said. 'Dr. Ponn when I was first diagnosed with her, I was very, very scared and she was very honest and upfront with me. When I looked at her and said, 'Dr. Ponn, am I going to be okay? Am I going to die?' She said, 'Tammy, you're going to be okay.'
And Dr. Weckstein, the doctor who administered her chemotherapy treatment, was always reassuring. 'I came to all my doctor's appointments with a big smile. And I would say, 'OK, Dr. Weckstein, can you tell me why everybody thinks I'm going to die?' And he said, 'Tammy, you just go back and tell people that this chemo is working for you.''
Husband Scott jumped into action at this point, saying, 'When a doctor tells you you're going to be fine, and you overreact, you say, 'Oh my God, she says I'm going to be fine and I don't believe it,' you've got to be the voice (of reason) there and say, 'Listen, you're going to be fine. It's going to be tough, you're going to have some work to do, but you just have to put the work in.' And she doesn't need someone hysterical next to her if she's hysterical. You're not going to do any good.'
That positive attitude has served her well, but she admits, 'There were times I got out of bed and I would be like, 'I cannot get up today.' But I would just get myself up and start going. And once I started going, I felt like I never even had cancer. I was stiff from the radiation, but. I had to get motivated. Once I get going, I'm fine. My husband and I walk. We try to walk every night 3 or 4 miles and he pushes me. I'm starting to jog now. He pushes me to the point that I can barely move, but you know what, I do it. I just keep going.'
'I'm not worried about cancer ever coming back at me, but I just feel that if you stay strong and healthy, I find that I eat better, a lot more salad that I never ate. I try to eat healthy and stay more positive, not worry about the little things in life.'