Breast cancer is rare in young women – fewer than 5 percent of breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. occur in women under 40. But when they are, they often add complexity surrounding fertility and starting or growing families. Here to share the story of how she is trying to expand her family following breast cancer treatment is Tammy Myers.
Tammy Myers is an advertising art director, photographer, designer, and most recently, a blogger from Grand Rapids, MI with a background in healthcare and retail marketing and a driving passion for cause-based work. At the age of 33, Tammy was diagnosed with breast cancer, which turned upside down and inside out. She had recently moved back Michigan to be closer to family, started a side photography business, and was in the middle of a full-home renovation – while raising a 2-year-old daughter and planning and trying to give her a baby sister or brother. On today’s episode Tammy shares her story.
For more on Tammy, in her own words, visit: https://ww5.komen.org/Breast-Cancer-Stories/Tammy-Myers.html
Breast cancer is rare in young women. Fewer than 5% of breast cancer diagnosed in the U S occur in women under 40, but when they are, they often add complexities surrounding fertility and starting and growing families here to share the story of how she is trying to expand her family following breast cancer treatment is Tammy Myers. Tammy, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
Tell me about your breast cancer journey and then I want to talk about your family journey.
Sure. so it’s a long story. Five years ago when I was diagnosed, I found the lump myself. Obviously I wasn’t being screened at the time because I was way below 40. So I found the lump and I was feeling it for probably a few weeks and doing a lot of research before I even got the nerve to tell my husband. And then I knew I had to make the call, call my doctor. I’m really thankful that I got in right away. And I saw a doctor who was young herself and also had a family history, so she wasn’t willing to take any risks with me, which was great. They ended up sending me for immediate tests within a few, few days. And that very same day I was told that I had breast cancer at the age of 33, which was crazy. I had no risk factors. I had never smoked and barely drink and I was really seemingly healthy so it wasn’t on my radar and mobile. And hit me like a ton of bricks. I had the typical routine with chemotherapy, radiation. I did an immediate bilateral mastectomy and for the past five years, I’ve had a lot of surgeries and a lot of complications that have followed. I think it’s over 20 now. I’m doing well.
I’m glad that you’re doing well and I’m, and I’m really glad that you’re able to join us and talk about this. So let’s, let’s talk about, about family just for a minute. So I understand you’ve got a seven-year-old daughter. So how old was she when you’re diagnosed and how has, how does having a daughter, you know, affect your desire to give her a sibling and, and changed your trajectory for that?
Yes. So family, is huge for me. I knew I wanted children since the time I was a child. So the planning started early. Kerryn was too when I was diagnosed, so she was really young and we were actually trying for our second because we were trying, I think it, it helped bring the topic up in the initial meetings with my oncologist. Actually, to go back to that day, she looked me in the eyes and told me it was cancer and I had two questions for her. The first one was, of course, how long do I have? And after she explained that breast cancer is no longer a death sentence my next question was immediate, can I have another child? Is that possible for me? Unfortunately, my cancer is highly hormone positive and gets like around 98%. So she knew right away that I shouldn’t carry another child because it would really, really increase my risk of a recurrence.
So because of those questions and because all of that happened immediately they pulled some strings because they knew it was important and got me into a fertility specialist here in grand Rapids within, I want to say like three days, which is unheard of for this doctor. Wow. It was crazy. Actually. It was a Friday afternoon and my mastectomies were the following Monday at like 6:00 AM and I met the doctor and we went through all of my histories. He read through all of the results from the biopsies and the staging of cancer and that type of thing. He looked at me and I could tell he had more bad news, which I was, it only been that five days really since all of this had started. So my life was really kind of flipped upside down. But he said, really the only way that you can have another biological child is if we do an emergency harvest. Right after your surgery before your treatments began. He explained it would kind of put me at risk because it would be pumping my body full of Morton months and I’d have to get my oncologists to agree to it. But that would be the only way. So I left there, I want to say it was like a Friday at three o’clock in the afternoon and we had the weekend to make the decision. And the worst part was we also had to come up with the money by Monday. It was nuts. Yeah.
Wow. That’s a lot to take in. And in a really, I mean a really big decision to make like you said, over a weekend.
It is, it is.
So, talk just a little bit more about the financial sides. He said you had to make the decision over a weekend and had to come up with the money. Can you talk about what the financial challenges were and maybe even some grants or other means that you use to meet that challenge?
Yes, I can. Honestly, cancer is expensive. It’s expensive for anyone, but I think it’s even harder for a young person to tackle because, you know, they’re just getting started in life. They’re just getting married, they’re starting their families. They’re really just starting their careers. I know talking from experience myself, I didn’t have a nest egg and I wasn’t prepared for something huge like this to happen in my life then honestly, it really couldn’t have come at a worse point. We had recently just moved back to Michigan and I left my job. I had two days before, accepted a new position. But because of everything that was going on, I wasn’t able to take it. And to make matters worse, we were in the middle of flipping our first home. So it was like all of our savings were wrapped up in this house.
Like it really couldn’t have been a worst time to happen. Not any time, but we got that news and you know, we were blindsided by it. And you’re really, you’re not thinking about the finances initially. You’re just thinking about like, can I survive this? And it all moved so fast. And my husband and I didn’t really know how to move forward. So financially that, I mean that was a question but it wasn’t something we could fully understand right away. And then when we started talking to the fertility doctor and they threw those numbers out at us, I want to say it was upwards of, it would have been around $20,000. And I think because of the lymph live strong foundation, we were able to get some of that paid for, think about half of it. But we did have to come up with the rest in cash in person within that first appointment if we wanted to move forward, not knowing what the future would hold, not knowing if I would even be here to try for a second baby.
It was a really, really tough decision. In the end we realized that if I did come out of this, okay, we would regret not doing it because of how having a family is. So we, we did have some hard conversations with family and we did end up borrowing money to do the initial egg harvest over the past five years. Like I said, cancer is expensive and it depleted everything that we had and really put us in a giant hole. And I think it does for most people, especially young people. And you know, it’s something that we’ve been working on and trying to pay off, but it’s not something that’s ever going to go away. Cancer is, it’s always going to be a part of my life. And even though I’m doing well, there’s always testing, there’s always appointments, there’s always maintenance and that kind of thing.
So the baby thing for us, it’s always been what we wanted to do, but we didn’t really know if we would be able to afford to take that next step, knowing how expensive it is. And then about what to say. It was last summer, so not quite a year ago maybe. August actually I was fumbling through some, some social media apps and came across the video from Sam fund and it, it was talking about this new grant program they had for building families after cancer. And it struck a chord with me because the first thing that she said in the video is cancer is expensive. Right away started talking about the impacts that has on young people and how hard it is in that situation. And I was glued we were actually in the parking lot and I had to send my family into the store without me and I sat and watched the podcast. I had about, I think it was two days before the application was due and I really thought I had no chance of getting this grant, but I stayed up all night completing the application. Wow.
I want to say three months later that I was my family was chose to get the grant.
Wow. That’s wonderful.
That’s so amazing. That makes me so excited for you.
Thank you. And it kind, it doesn’t pay for the whole process though. It is a huge help and make, made something for us that wasn’t feasible. A lot more feasible.
Yeah. Yeah. I totally, I can, I can empathize with that. Now, so I, and I also know that the COBIT crisis has had some personal implications for you related to this journey. Can you tell us a little bit about how that’s affected you as well?
It has, sadly. It’s had some big implications for us and it’s, I mean, it’s hard to complain knowing the state that the world is in right now. But for us, you know, the process kicked off really quickly. Once we found out that we had the grant, there’s a timeframe that you have to use it in. So we had to hit the ground running. We didn’t have a carrier at the time, so we went public with our news in search of one. And for us in Michigan, the laws are really tricky because they haven’t evolved since the 1950s and legally a woman who is carrying a child is legally the mother, even if it isn’t biologically hers. So the laws are you, you’re not allowed to pay someone to carry a child for you. So in our, in our case, that is a good thing because we couldn’t have afforded to pay someone per se like it’s done in California, but at the same time we had to find a really amazing person who was willing to give us this gift to.
We put a post out there and we were so scared. It was a real nerve-wracking kind of opening up like that. And then we didn’t look for about a day and I think we had about 10,000 views in the first 24 hours. So it went somewhat viral, was amazing. And we had some women come forward that were more than willing to do this for us. We made our decision and we got to get things started with the fertility center and the lawyer, there has to be a legal side of it because of the laws here. Things were going really well with the whole process. We did have a little bit of a fluke cycle, or I guess I should say our carrier had a fluke cycle, so things weren’t progressing as quickly as they should, but it was moving along and we had just gotten the green light that her body was officially ready for our embryo transfer a few days before COVID hit.
So initially it was a lot of buildup, a couple of months of adjusting medications and constant ultrasounds just to try to see where we were in the process. So to get the green light, we were so excited. I have to say like this whole process for us, it’s been a roller coaster for the past five years of a lot of negative or sad things that have been taken prospect for the first time in five years we were focusing on our future and that wasn’t cancer. So it brought so much happiness to our family. So when we got that news or that phone call from the nurse, we were over the moon excited. And we were just starting to hear that things were happening with COVID. But I don’t think any of us really thought that it was real or, or really understood how big it would be.
So we didn’t consider that initially. I mean, we were worried about it, but we didn’t think that it would hold our process. So when we got the call it was, it was hard to hear, but of course, we didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t safe at the time. We were told that we could go put things on hold, that we could keep her body ready up to a few months. And as soon as the stay at home order was lifted, we would be able to get right in and do the embryo transfer. That gave us a lot of hope. So we kind of held off for a while, but unfortunately about a week later we got a message that our carrier was no longer willing to be a carrier for us. So I’m sorry to hear that. Yes, that’s tough. It was really hard. Honestly, we’re still kind of working through that. I would say going from that really, really joyful hi to getting used like that. Hit us pretty hard and you add that all of that hope was ripped away during a difficult time anyway. Made it pretty difficult.
Yeah. Well let’s talk about that for a second. So how, I mean, so what does the future look like from here and how are you keeping, you know, keeping faith in spite of setbacks at this point?
Well, for me as my husband would say, I’m an optimist to a fault. So I have my, my dark days. I’ve definitely had a lot of dark days with cancer, but I usually can pull myself out of that hole and I am a believer that things can come full circle. I believe that a lot of the things that have happened in my journey were meant to be. And I just I believe that there are good things coming for us. So yeah, that’s right. But we’re not really sure what the process will look like or if this is still a possibility for right now we’re still trying to, to be helpful and we’re into everything on our end. Financially we were hit pretty hard because everything that we did initially and all the money that we have spent and that, and the grant as well.
I mean that was all out with all of the procedures and medications that we did in the beginning. So I think that’s the hardest part for us is trying to figure out if now if we can afford to move forward. I will say that we reached out to one of the other carriers who really, really wanted to do it for us in the end. And she did say that without hesitation, she still would love to give us this gift and she’s been excited about it. So we do have that. That gave us a ton of hope. Yeah. We’re just trying to figure out the other side of it right now and trying to make it work. I don’t think we’re ready to give up.
That’s good. That’s good. And nor should you. Related to that, do you have any final advice or parting words for listeners that may be in a similar situation, having faced a breast cancer diagnosis but still wanting to continue to grow their families?
It’s hard because there’s a small window of time that you have to make a decision like this. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was really lucky that I had the conversation and it’s topic was brought up because a lot of young cancer patients do not realize that cancer treatments can affect your fertility in the future. So my advice would be, you know, look going into it for us. And even over the past few years we knew that it was going to be really expensive and something that seemed impossible for us to do when we were right there in the moment. But we also knew that having a family was important to us. So I would say don’t be afraid to ask the important questions or be your advocate. And don’t be afraid to take a risk because here I am, five years out being cancer, still a part of my life, but I’m doing really well. I’m in remission and I’m looking towards my future right now and I do not regret making such a huge financial investment in my family. Yes.
Tammy, I love that we’re kicking off mother’s day week with your story. Thank you for coming on the show and for sharing your story. I’m truly inspired and, and an early happy mother’s day to you.
Oh, thank you so much. And thank you again for having me.
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