Updated: Jun 22, 2021
We are talking breast cancer - and we are no longer speaking softly.
In this pilot episode of the Your Killer Life podcast, we meet Tammey and hear her discuss perspectives as it relates to success, love, trauma and advocacy in the midst of a breast cancer diagnosis. Hear her take you from stories of standing on the precipice of personal and financial ruin, due to health crisis, to finding her true voice, true passion and true reach to everyone in need of guidance. She will speak on health care, professional success, personal struggle, reclamation and much more. All in the first voyage of the ”Your Killer Life” blog and podcast. Get to know Tammey and see what she has in store! It might just change your life!!
“And then I learned with cancer, that time is not money. Time is your life. It is literally an exchange, a simple exchange of moments and experiences.” Click to tweet
Topics in this Episode:
If time isn’t money, what is it?
Turning adversity into success
How to use disaster to find your best self
The importance of self-advocation
Leading and moving forward with gratitude
Contact Information and Social Links:
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Tammey’s Original Blog, Killer Left Boob
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This podcast is professionally edited by Roth Media
Hello, and welcome to the Your Killer Life podcast. I am so excited to be here. I am your host Tammey Grable-Woodford. On this day 5 years ago, at least at the time of recording on this day 5 years ago, I was 18 days into the chaos, absolute chaos, of a breast cancer diagnosis, and I immediately started blogging when I was first diagnosed because it was a way for me to get my mind right and process information because so much was coming at me so fast and for those of you that are going through this or have been through this you know exactly what I mean. It is absolutely amazing how many providers, how many appointments, how much information is just being; pathology reports, imaging reports, all of that stuff it’s all coming at you so fast.
When first diagnosed – the denial
In fact, I remember when I was first diagnosed, the general surgeon’s office called me to schedule a consult appointment and I hadn’t even had my biopsies yet. So I had my mammogram and ultrasound and I was told on that day that I had cancer and a lot of it, and 3 days later I had my biopsy scheduled and in that day in between, the general surgeon called me and said “we want to book a consult with you” and I said “well I haven’t even had my biopsies yet, what will we be doing at the appointment?” and the scheduler says to me, “well we’re going to be talking with you about a unilateral or bilateral mastectomy and which you would prefer”.
I got that call at work and I remember being both somewhat relieved and a whole heck a lot of frustrated because nobody had prepared me for that conversation; and I guess if you think, if you think about the five stages of grief I was just told that I had cancer and a lot of it, um, but I hadn’t had the biopsies or the pathology back yet to even be thinking that far ahead. So, you really could say that I was in denial, without question, I was still in denial. I was not even 48 hours into it.
The cancer reality check, understanding the gravity of my diagnosis
So, 18 days in, 18 days in, I wrote about attitude in the blog and I wrote, “Attitude. I have been called a pathological optimist; something I accepted with great pride. Like a badge of honor for me you guys. I can’t remember the book, but I remember the quote from Victor Frankl vividly. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way” and that is so worth reading again.
Day 18 was the day after my breast MRI with contrast, and that was a true reality check in some ways, you know, maybe because the shock had worn off in 18 days or maybe because I was becoming aware of, oh gosh, my new realities. Right? Um, But there was just something, there was something about that ride and I vividly, I vividly remember it, you know. Face down, feet first into the MRI tube, had the IV for contrast; they blew out my vein when they did that, that was fun. And, I don’t know there was something about that that just kind of pushed me from, I don’t know, very rapidly but very momentarily, pushed me through those first 3 phases. It, it pushed me through the denial, and through the anger, and through the bargaining and I was there with an hour and a half, face down, really uncomfortable, thinking about nothing but the cancer.
Frankly, that appointment launched me straight into depression, and in some ways’ acceptance. That was the first day that I felt sick, meaning I felt, not physically sick, but I understood the gravity of my diagnosis.
How could I have breast cancer - I was healthy
Crazy thing is, I was healthy. I had nice hair, good teeth, right? Whatever, all of those things people look at you, my blood pressure was great, my blood-work was fantastic. Even with the lumps when they pulled my blood-work, I didn’t have the cancer antigens present.
I think that also afforded me a little bit of denial.
I was getting up at 3:30/4:00 o’ clock in the morning to go run 5 miles, and on the days I wasn’t running I was doing P90x for 90 minutes a day. I, at the age of 43, was doing pull-ups. I couldn’t do those in junior high!
I was so physically fit, none of this made sense. Even my doctors would say to me; “young, healthy person like you? You’re going to be fine.” Oh my goodness.
A killer diagnosis
But back to attitude, so, looking back it was so important to me that, I don’t know, that I recognized that this killer diagnosis; and I call it a killer diagnosis because anyone who’s been diagnosed with cancer, anyone who reads the statistics, anybody who’s had a friend or a family member, I mean cancer touches so many people and it can be a killer diagnosis. The great thing is there’s also so many people who do go on to live for so many more years; and there are some people that go into remission and stay there until this meat suit of ours passes and we continue on to our next journey.
Community, let’s talk about it, let’s dive in, what you can expect
The podcast is really a space that I want to create for this community of people, and I mean breast cancer, yes; cancer in general, but breast cancer for me because it is such a, because we are talking about breasts, it tends to be this somewhat verboten or forbidden kind of conversation that we can only say so many things or we can only speak of it softly. And I kind of want to beat the drum… a little bit, I want to give us some space to talk about these things because with breast cancer, it impacts, with any cancer it impacts you. I can only speak from my experience with breast cancer.
It impacts every element of your life, and so the podcast is this space where we can talk about trauma and loss and treatment options and side effects and money; oh my gosh. The stress, the bills, the sex, we can talk about sex, we can talk about relationships, hope, happiness, mental health. Where we can dive-in to every element.
In this podcast we are going to have interviews with all kinds of experts. We are going to be talking with medical experts, we are going to be talking to mental health experts, we are going to be talking with nutritionists and fitness experts, we are going to be… because I don’t know about you, but getting weight back off after all the surgeries I’ve been through and everything my body has been through, that has been a challenge so we’re going to talk about that.
We are going to talk with non-profits that provide support and services to those who are diagnosed with cancer and breast cancer. I know for me there was so many, and I was so amazed at the type of support that was out there, where it was coming from, and the generosity and graciousness of people. Oh my goodness.
We are going to talk with entrepreneurs that specialized in supporting cancer patients and we’re also going to talk with other survivors. Because face it, there are so many different treatment options, there just are, the treatment options and of course, every “body” being so different, every stage, and there are multiple types of cancer. So, we are going to talk with other survivors because I think it’s really important, especially now that I am in some survivor groups, and I didn’t realize this when I was first diagnosed, I am, very much a researcher. So when I was first diagnosed I just buckled down and I just I went to work, and it was actually a few years before I felt confident and comfortable enough to kind of dive into the support groups, and what I found was just how important that is, for, especially those who are newly diagnosed.
We are also going to talk with men, because breast cancer is not something that just happens to women, in my life I actually, I have two friends that have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have had to have treatments for it. So, we’re going to be talking about that, we’re going to be learning from one another, so powerful.
We’re also going to talk to caregivers and honor them. Look, my guy is going to be on here and we’re going to co-host and have at least one episode a month that’s the two of us. As we kick off it may be more than that initially. I’ve also told him I’ll probably toss the reins over to him because, frankly I think it would be cool for him to talk with other caregivers.
There are just no secrets anymore
You know, it’s so impactful as we talk about sex and relationships and breast cancer. So impactful when you think about, kind of, gosh, you know, how do I put this? There’s just no secrets anymore. Right? Like I’ll never forget having to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to ask for help getting off the toilet. Okay, that is embarrassing still. And yet that was my reality. Right? I felt like I had T-Rex arms I couldn’t do anything with them after my surgeries and, you know, what a terrible predicament. There’s no secrets anymore.
So we’re going to talk with caregivers about what they go through, and how they can be supported, and what they need to nurture, to be nurtured. But also, how to repair, I don’t want to say repair, but how to really get back, and you can’t really get back to where you were, at least, not for me. I haven’t been able to do that. But at least find that intimate space again, that is intimacy that’s not cancer related.
We’re going to talk about hope. We are so going to talk about hope it is so important. Mindset and hope, it’s going to be information in inspiration.
We’re going to talk about happiness. Yeah, we’re also probably going to cry a little bit. Might even ugly cry, because some of the topics we are going to cover are going to be very, very personal. And we decided to also have this be a video podcast so you can find an episode on YouTube. Because, we wanted to extend that intimacy to you.
You’re not alone. And whether you’re the person that has been diagnosed or whether you’re the person supporting the love in your life that has been diagnosed or your sister, or parent, whomever it is. We wanted to be able to connect with you in this way.
Create your best life now
I think it is so important when it comes to happiness to focus on creating your best life now, And I wish I had known that earlier in life, right? Don’t we all say that? I wish I had known that earlier. You know in my 20’s, my 30’s and my early early 40’s, OK up until I was diagnosed in my 40’s and I was diagnosed at 43, I um, I was so career focused. My identity was tied up in my position, my title, my status. And I had a list of things I wanted to do, but those things were, I don’t know, always on that “I’ll have time”, “I’ll get to it later”. And, I wasn’t living my life to the fullest.
I was trying to bank those moments, right? I was trying to bank those experiences. I was like “nah, I’ll get it, I’ll get to it later, I have plenty time I’m 27”, “I have plenty of time I’m 35”, “I have plenty of time I’m only 40 and things are really starting to cook!” And y’know, and they were. At the age of 42, I had finished my master’s degree, run for state representative, was working full time at a job I absolutely loved, and I mean I was just burning the candle at both ends and milking, milking life, I thought, for everything. Right? But it was all focused on career.
Time is not money. Time is your life.
And then I learned with cancer, that time is not money. Time is your life. It is literally an exchange, a simple exchange of moments and experiences.
And so now when I think about it, and I think about happiness and I think about building this life. This life that when I get up in the morning and my feet hit the floor, I am excited to step into my life every day. And I think about that happiness and I can remember back. I can remember back to that day I was diagnosed at 43. And I can remember having that taken away from me.
I can remember sitting in the ultrasound room with a warm towel wiping the cold ultrasound jelly off my breast. I can remember the look of the room, I can remember the squeaky wheels of the radiologists chair as he scooched up to me and said: “I need you to hear me”, literally with his hand, “I need you to hear me”, making sure we had eye contact. And he said, “You have cancer. And a lot of it.”
I remember the ultrasound tech standing with her back against the door in the corner of the room and her eyes flowing with tears as she silently, silently cried and softly sniffed I remember that and I remember thinking to myself “it must be a lot of cancer because she sees this how many times a day, and why is she crying now?”
I remember the feeling, of the oxygen leaving the room, and my happiness following it.
It gets dark so fast. So fast, so very fast. And it can be so hard to climb out of it. The day-to-day treatments and treatment decisions and doctors and doctors appointments and meeting new people and it’s like a second job when you start this process and you’re still trying to figure out how the heck you’re going to balance your life and what this means, and how, how badly the treatments are going to impact you, all of this stuff.
I’m here. I feel pretty good. I might just live.
As we launch this podcast, I have a confession to share with you. Just passing that 5-year mark, where I was told I would be lucky if I had 5 years to live. As if there was some, secret expiration date at the bottom of my foot that I couldn’t see but the oncologist could. And, it wasn’t until was speaking at a women’s event last October, that it started to hit me. And I’m on stage and talking about how time isn’t money and time is life, and I’m in the flow and it hits me, I remember saying to the audience “you know, I might just live.” Like, holy crap! Here I am, 5 years is around the corner. The doctors are possibly wrong. I had thought that I had dismissed that data. It’s not even data. That opinion, I thought I had dismissed it I thought I had moved beyond it, I thought I had not allowed that to impact my mind, my heart, my soul, my life. And yet I found that I had just been walking like a zombie for these 4 years. Surgery after surgery, prescription med after prescription med, treatment, doctor, all this stuff and then it hits me. I’m here. I feel pretty good. We can’t find anything wrong with me. I might just live.
Second opinions, this is what hope looks like
When I was, and I saw pretty much, I don’t know I got a second opinion on every doctor that I went to because, look, you know you might think it’s all woo-woo but I’m like “you’re going to have your hands inside my body this is so intimate I want to make sure that your energy is in harmony with mine and that I genuinely like you and I trust you because I’m going to be asleep and you have a lot of hard work to do.
So, I met with multiple oncologists, I met with… I got a second opinion for everything. From oncology to surgery to plastic surgery to radiology to radiation, excuse me, the radiation oncology. So, all of that. Met with multiple doctors. And I’ll never forget after kind of feeling like there was no hope, you know, this sort of grimness that comes upon every one of these appointments. And I had a doctor that gave me hope and I’m not going to share that with this, I’m going to save that for later because it was so powerful, his words were so powerful, but what I will say is this. I walked out of that appointment into the reception area, and the receptionist asked me if I had just had a vitamin infusion. And this was in an integrative oncology clinic. And I said “no, I didn’t have a vitamin infusion. This is what hope looks like.”
The person I was walking in that door with defeat and the person I was walking out of that door with hope, was such a difference that they noticed at the front desk. That’s the power of words and it’s the power of thinking.
That provider was breathing life into my spark, and into my hope. All of that, galvanized my determination to create this life, the life I love waking up to, and stepping into, every morning.
Don’t give away your power
I promise, you have that power too. It might not feel like it and you might feel so tired and so weary, and I understand. But I promise you, you have it too. So, I hope that you will continue to join me, or join us; myself, my guests, my co- host as he comes on. As we launch this podcast and reframe this journey and dedicate ourselves to living our best life now.
Because here’s the deal, a killer diagnosis doesn’t have to kill your passion for life.