Rewind to September 2009, meet young, lively, spirited Tiffany, a branch manager and librarian for one Philadelphia’s busiest Public Libraries. Tiffany was in the best shape of her life, feeling great, looking fantastic and loving life-then she found a “lump”. In September 2009 Tiffany felt a lump in her breast, but because she was in the process of training for a triathlon and in in the best shape of her lif,e with no family history of breast cancer, she shrugged it off assuming it was a result of her diet or something else that would correct itself. By November of 2009 Tiffany found herself at her primary doctor’s office to have the same lump, now larger, checked out. Although the doctor agreed it was probably nothing, Tiffany was advised to have a mammogram and ultrasound of her breasts. “I still assumed it was probably nothing. I’m a person who tends to thinking that being afraid of the unknown is a waste of my energy.”
Tiffany was able to wait for the results of her mammo immediately after the test, so she sat in the waiting room until she was invited to the consultation room (Note: On the table sat two boxes of tissues). In the consultation room it was suggested that Tiffany have a biopsy performed on the suspicious mass, but it could wait until after the holiday (remember, it was November). Tiffany decided that there was no time better than the present and opted to have the biopsy done right then and there.
“I started to getting teary eyed and was hoping for a sign. This is the time when I really wanted to hear “it’s probably nothing”; I didn’t get that message. I knew in my heart I had breast cancer and the biopsy results confirmed it. I was diagnosed December 18, 2009 at age 35 with stage 2 breast cancer.”
With her head in full spin not knowing what to do, where to turn, what to do….think about it, She lives and works in Philadelphia, a city where everyone knows everyone, neighbors are not strangers, and one thing Tiffany knew from the start was that she was afraid to “look sick” and be put on the spot with uncomfortable questions about her health. Using the effectiveness of social media in today’s world to her advantage, she turned to Facebook where she posted a message for the whole world to see (after telling close friends and family of course); An announcement telling the world that she had breast cancer. “Cancer is NOT a dirty secret and being upfront helped me get through it”.
Tiffany recounts the early days of her treatment; meeting with an onslaught of doctors at Jefferson Hospital, from surgeons and oncologists, to fertility doctors and more, she was poked, prodded, stuck and examined more times than she could count. Needless to say she had a full calendar in late 2009/early 2010 and luckily an understanding employer. Tiffany explains her treatment plan in her own words:
“My first meeting was with the breast surgeon who decided to do neoadjuvant chemotherapy, to reduce the size of the tumor and perhaps conserve my breast. Then it was off to the oncologist! At the oncologist’s office I learned that I may never be able to have children (due to chemo putting me in permanent menopause) and that was the most heartbreaking news yet. So, off to the fertility specialist! I decided to skip the egg freezing aspect and take my chances. I really didn’t want to delay treatment and I figured I could always foster or adopt but being alive was more important to me. Yes, I was now officially scared. Chemo?!!!! I watched my father go through this treatment and swore I would NEVER do it. Yeah easy to say right? Chemo became my new best friend. The one you love and hate at the same time.”
All said and done Tiffany completed nine months of chemotherapy, much more than the four months she was told to expect. During those nine months of treatment her boyfriend broke up with her just two weeks after her first chemotherapy treatment, and she registerd for the Tour de Pink 3-day bike ride for Young Survival Coalition.
Being a librarian, Tiffany began researching breast cancer almost immediately after her diagnosis, where she discovered the Young Survival Coalition (YSC). She did a lot of online discussing with other survivors on the online discussion boards where she got a lot of support, hope, and strength, plus loads of helpful information. “It’s different for younger women. I went to my first meeting in March. I was scared to put myself out there but I was met face to face with amazing women who were or have gone through what I was about to go through. It was a lot more comforting as I didn’t feel I had much in common with the blue haired ladies sitting next to me during chemo.” During chemotherapy Tiffany registered to participate in the 2010 Tour de Pink, completing all 220 miles just two weeks after her last treatment! Truly an amazing accomplishment, especially never having done long distance riding prior to Tour de Pink and after such a demanding treatment period.
“The actuality was, this was NOT the plan (riding 2 weeks after chemo) and probably did most of the miles on a steroid high. Ha! It was the best thing I did for myself. Riding with other survivors, training all summer, feeling pain that wasn’t related to cancer and knowing I was still living.”
At the ride they asked all survivors to stand and that was her first time standing as a survivor (she actually still had cancer as the tumor was still palpable and surgery hadn’t taken place yet). Tiffany stood with tears in her eyes and decided that “surviving” started when she first learned she had to prepare for battle. Tiffany will be riding again this summer, her third year. If you want to support Tiffany please visit her TDP page here.
Fast forward to November 2010: surgery takes place. Tiffany originally opted for a unilateral surgery with immediate reconstruction, unfortunately they discovered that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Welcome to stage 3, add radiation and change reconstruction options. Radiation finally ended in March 2011 and reconstruction was discussed, resting on a technique known as a Lat-flap. Tiffany decided to wait until November 2011 to have the reconstruction surgery done since she was planning to ride in the Tour de Pink in October of that year.
Where is Tiffany today?
Fast-forward, now all done with treatment and has bigger boobs as her prize. Tiffany is very happy with the results, very connected with YSC and is even a new group leader for a local Philly breast cancer group. She states that YSC definitely helped her through the toughest and loneliest of times. “Once I met some sisters I realized..I can do this. They did this, I can do this. And they helped me so much that I can’t even imagine if I hadn’t been connected. Not to mention you can’t tell a sick, twisted, cancer joke to your friends or family (they don’t laugh…at all!). YSC sisters will laugh with you, but never at you.”
“My life has changed dramatically. I do of course worry more about lumps and bumps and pains but I’m living. I’m living every day and like the old cliché, I have a greater appreciation for life. I’ve met wonderful people, made new friends, cried more than I thought imaginable and now I consider myself a long distance biker (even if I still hate those freaking climbs!). Oh, and I’m engaged now to the most wonderful and supportive man who met me in the midst of this and took me as I am. Scarred, scared at times, and definitely crazier!”
5 Fun Facts About Tiffany:
1. I can’t fall asleep without reading a book
2. I love pit bulls!
3. I stare at my fake cleavage often
4. New Orleans is my favorite US city
5. I hate to be called “mam”
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