Take Charge

Tara's Story: I’m so Happy to be Sick

March 17, 2017

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When Tara began feeling pain in her finger nails that were nearly disintegrated from chemotherapy treatment, she didn’t mourn a manicure destroyed by cancer. Instead, she thanked God that chemotherapy spread throughout her body and reached the tips of her fingers.

In the summer of 2016, the Tallahassee resident felt a lump in her breast, but the first available mammogram appointment wasn’t for three more weeks. She reserved the spot, but didn’t want to wait that long, so she decided to go the doctor’s office and sit in the lobby just in case they had a cancellation and could get her in. It worked. She got a mammogram that day and it changed her life forever.

Tears well up in Tara’s eyes as she remembers the medical team telling her it was probably just a cyst and nothing to worry about, but as she peered through a half-open doorway she saw her image on the screen with a large mass lit up.

When doctors told her it was probably stage 0 breast cancer, she decided to come to Moffitt Cancer Center for a second opinion. Tara sought treatment at Moffitt because she liked the multi-disciplinary approach to cancer care.

Tara ringing the bell on last day of radiationThe first step in Tara’s treatment was surgery that revealed 24 lymph nodes had cancer, but she came out of the operation with complete joy because it meant seven lymph nodes were clear. Even the news that her breast cancer was stage 3 and not stage 0 didn’t steal her joy.

It’s unusual to hear a patient say chemotherapy was an awesome experience, but that’s how Tara describes it. She did cry on her first day of chemotherapy treatment, not because she was sad, but because she was happy she was getting immunotherapy in addition to chemotherapy.

She always looked up to former President Jimmy Carter and remembered he underwent immunotherapy and beat cancer. She
was going to be a survivor just like him. With her mentor in mind, Tara would visualize her cells with swords and shields. She’d give pep talks to her body by telling her cells they were about to be attacked and they needed to love it. In her mind’s eye she’d see healing happen. The bone pain she experienced just meant the chemotherapy was working.

After chemotherapy, Tara underwent radiation, the final step in her treatment plan. Every day she would walk down the same hallway to the radiation room. She memorized every scuff on the floor and knew each piece of artwork on the walls by heart.

On Friday, March 10, the sounds of her shoes echoed down the hallway as they’d done so many days before, but on this day, each click of her heel was a step closer to being cancer-free. 

Tara counted the steps as she took her final walk down the hallway and opened the door that would lead from one world to the next. As the door opened to the radiation room, she prepared to say goodbye to a life of cancer, doctor’s appointments and medication.

As she lay on the table that became as familiar as her own bed, she couldn’t believe this was the last time she would slide into the machine and her the beeps associated with treatment. Ten minutes later, she got up from the machine for the last time, thanked the medical team and opened the door to a whole new world. A world she left behind nine months ago.

As she turned the handle she saw the faces of the medical team she would be saying goodbye to as well as the familiar faces of her family and friends as they lined the hallway cheering, hugging and giving her high fives as she made her way down the aisle for the last time. With her fan club by her side and her graduation certificate in her hand, Tara jumped for joy as she rang Moffitt’s celebratory bell signaling the end of cancer treatment.

The chime of the bell signals it’s time for Tara to get back to her life as a computer programmer working on a plan to give deaf children the gift of hearing through cochlear implants.