When Tammie Jo Berg, of Iola, shares her personal journey with breast cancer, she talks about how her family, friends and faith helped her get through it.
“In December of 2010, I found a lump while drying off from a shower,” Berg said. “It startled me and as any responsible person would do, I proceeded to ignore it for about a week.”
Berg said she continued checking every day “to see if it was still there or if I was just imagining it.”
“When she told me about the lump on her breast, I saw a look on her face I’d never seen before,” said her husband Brian Derus. “I felt my job at the time was to be as positive as she always is and assure her that things would be fine, even though I had no idea if that was true.”
Two days after Berg saw a doctor, the news came back that it was cancer.
“I never became angry over this disease,” Berg said. “I was scared for about two hours thinking of all the negative possibilities cancer could create regarding my children and husband.”
“I live on my laptop, so I had access to a wealth of information, but chose to only gather the basics because I know that each person is different,” she said
“I did not understand the severity of the cancer at the time,” Derus said. “Dr. Onitillo was so reassuring that if the cancer did not spread into the lymph nodes he could get it with surgery. He put her on chemotherapy immediately, before surgery, which is not the norm, but he wanted to stop the chance of it spreading.”
Berg said she started chemo immediately because the cancer was aggressive.
Her oncologist recommended four chemo treatments every other week, of a very potent cocktail, then 12 weekly treatments of a less strong cocktail, followed by eight weeks of daily radiation.
“The first four treatments were the worst,” she said. “Those first rounds of treatment were awful; nausea, weakness, fatigue. I don’t have another word for it. There would be one good week, then the tough week. I just kept telling myself that the chemo is doing its job.”
By the fourth treatment Tammiejo found herself both physically and psychologically drained.
“My mom was a trooper,” said her daughter Paige. “I knew how much fight and optimism she was capable of. I always told people that surviving breast cancer is just one more thing she is going to be able to check off of her already 1,709,427 mile long list of incredible things she’s done in her life.”
“My mother is one of the strongest people I know,” added daughter Alex. “She has so much strength, faith and optimistic outlooks on life. To see her struggle as she went through treatment and recovery was hard.”
“I was never quite sure what kind of state my mom would be in,” said son Zach. “She was physically and mentally exhausted from the therapy, but that would never stop her from smiling.”
Losing her hair was inevitable.
“They said I would lose my hair within 20 days,” she said. “It was coming out in handfuls at 10 days. I opted for bald is beautiful and had my head shaved.”
“I remember looking up ways to wear a headscarf and make it look fashionably cute,” Alex said. “My mother was a little hesitant at first about the idea, but I can recall one night, when I was home from college and my mother and I we’re going to watch my sister’s high school basketball game. I brought the idea up to my mom to wear a headscarf, but could tell she was a little hesitant. So, I told her that I would wear a headscarf to the game with her. So we did.”
“I think for a woman to lose all her hair can be devastating,” said Derus. “But Tammie took on the bald is beautiful mentality and hardly missed a beat.”
“When my mom started to lose her hair, I decided to shave my head,” said Zach. “I didn’t want her to be the only beautiful, bald Berg in the family.”
Once treatments were complete for Berg, she had to have a lumpectomy.
“My tumor was dissolved,” Berg said. “I then had a lumpectomy removing the tissue around the area that my tumor was located. They hope in the future to be able to avoid a surgery all together when a tumor completely dissolves.”
Having two daughters, Berg also had some immediate concerns for them as well.
“I had the genetic testing done to see if I had the breast cancer gene BRACA 1 or BRACA 2,” said Berg. “I do not, so there is a bit of relief. The chances of them getting breast cancer are like any other woman.”
Through it all, her family and faith provided strength and comfort.
“My faith was a great source of comfort,” she said. “Support from many people offering prayers was my strength. I knew, without a doubt, that I was in God’s hands. I knew I just had to take one step at a time and God was walking with me – whatever the outcome.”
“Compassion means sharing the pain. When compassion awakens in us, we are more willing to be vulnerable and genuine with each other,” she said.
“We tell our stories of suffering as a way of offering healing and hope,” she said. “We feel their heart bleeding into ours; we catch their tears. We relieve their pain as much as we are able.
“When a suffering is shared, its weight is divided, And when a joy is shared its delight is multiplied. We need each other,” Berg said.
After two years, Berg remains cancer free.
“When I was diagnosed, I remember that the doctor say it is a very aggressive form of cancer and that is why we started treatment almost instantly. Then afterwards, at my two-year cancer-free checkup, he said that patients that make it this long without another cancer diagnosis almost never have a re-occurrence. He also said if I had waited a couple more weeks from when I first felt the lump, it would have probably been unstoppable,” she said.