One day in August 2007, Tami Strantz felt a lump in her breast and scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound that day.
“The radiologist pulled me aside and said, ‘I’m not going to sugarcoat it; it doesn’t look good,’” she said.
She was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Strantz shares her story of survival and stresses the importance of early detection with monthly self-exams and yearly mammograms.
After a mastectomy that month, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and Strantz would require chemotherapy. After four treatments, the cancer was gone, and she has been in remission ever since.
Losing her hair was difficult, but keeping a positive attitude through her treatment was vital, she said.
“I just told myself, ‘What are you going to do?’” Strantz said. “You have to be positive all the way through. It will eat you alive if you don’t.”
Surviving cancer changed her life, said Strantz, 45. Since 2007, the Cambridge Medical Center nurse has devoted her spare time to raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
“Breast cancer has changed my life in so many ways. This year was my five-year milestone as a survivor and it’s special to me for many reasons,” she said. “I’ve really been compelled to educate people about breast cancer and fundraise.”
Every year, she walks in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day with her team, Wild Women Walking. To date, the team has raised over $80,000.
Walking for the first time helped keep her motivated and gave her a positive attitude, Strantz said.
“I decided that I was going to do the 3-Day and instead of dwelling and being mad and angry, I was going to get even,” she said. “If I would be preoccupied with my cancer, I’d go and work on fundraisers.”
Wild Women Walking has been creative with raising money. One summer, they tied bras together and strung them over trees in peoples’ yards, leaving a sign that said “Boobie Trapped: Benefits the 3-Day.”
They would leave a flier at the house that explained a donation could be made to find out who “boobie trapped” them.
“Everyone’s just been so generous,” Strantz said. She’s had coworkers, friends and family donate items for garage sales with proceeds going toward the 3-Day. Strantz makes tote bags with pink thread that she sells, the team puts on silent auctions, bake sales and much more.
Having the support of her friends and family, including her husband Cary, has helped her through it all, she said. Last year, Strantz and her daughter Andrea LaRowe walked and together raised $4,800.
“My family and friends have stood by me through so much and supported me with every angle of this disease,” she said. “I’ve grown confident and determined to fight this disease every day of my life. Cancer should have never picked me as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to make a difference.”
The biggest piece of advice she’d give to women is telling them to do monthly breast self-exams and get a yearly mammogram.
“Sometimes the only way to find that little lump is to get a mammogram, and it could save your life,” Strantz said.
She’s honored to use Breast Cancer Awareness Month as an opportunity to educate people about the importance of early detection.
“We all need to be aware of cancer risk factors and understand how important it is to have routine screening,” Strantz said. “When it comes to breast cancer, yearly mammograms can mean the difference between life or death.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.
The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 36. Breast cancer death rates have been going down. This is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatment. Right now there are more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2012:
• About 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women
• About 63,300 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be found (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
• About 39,510 deaths from breast cancer (women).
The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for finding breast cancer early in women without symptoms:
• Mammogram: Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should keep on doing so for as long as they are in good health. While mammograms can miss some cancers, they are still a very good way to find breast cancer.
• Clinical breast exam: Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a regular exam by a health expert at least every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health expert every year. It might be a good idea to have the CBE shortly before the mammogram. You can use the exam to learn what your own breasts look and feel like.
• Breast self-exam (BSE): BSE is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limits of BSE. Women should report any changes in how their breasts look or feel to a health expert right away.