Mesothelioma Survivor Celebrates 20 Years of Giving
Tammy Frank recently filled her kitchen with more than a dozen friends and family, all gathered to help bake enough Christmas cookies to feed an army.
Spreading holiday cheer is an annual ritual and part of her 20-year anniversary celebration as a mesothelioma survivor.
She loves to share goodwill.
“I spend most of my time now helping others,” Frank said from her home in Cartersville, Georgia. “I never, ever thought I’d still be here 20 year later. I’ve been blessed. So I must be here for a reason.”
Giving is better than receiving.
Doctors never thought Frank would last 20 months after her initial diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma in 1999. They thought 20 weeks would be a more accurate estimate.
And she prepared for the worst.
Living Each Day Like It’s the Last
Frank made funeral arrangements. She purchased a scenic cemetery plot.
She wrote future congratulatory notes to her two preteen children — on graduation, marriage and parenthood — and left them in a safe deposit box with instructions for the appropriate delivery of each one.
A family trip to Disney World was planned, and Frank bought a new camera, making sure there would be plenty of happy photos for the kids to remember their mother when she was gone.
That was 20 years ago.
“I lived every day back then like it would be my last because I didn’t know if I would have a tomorrow. I’ve got a ton of great memories,” she recalled. “I certainly didn’t prepare for a future.”
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Counseling Other Cancer Patients
Frank, 58, spends considerable time now trying to bring hope and encouragement to those less fortunate, especially those suffering from cancer.
She volunteers as a counselor with Imerman Angels, a national cancer support community that provides one-on-one mentoring. She organized Tammy’s Helping Hands, another support group that is part of My Cancer Circle.
“She’s the type of person that if she had just a dollar in the bank, and met a homeless person, she’d use it to help that person. It’s just the way she is now,” said Jackie Cook, her daughter. “She always makes sure everyone else is taken care of, before she even thinks of herself.”
Cook vividly remembers her mother 20 years ago, barely able to stand, nauseous from the chemotherapy side effects, still in the kitchen, struggling to make homemade biscuits before a doctor’s appointment.
“We were out of school that day. She was so sick, and I said ‘Mom, what are you doing, you can’t even eat anything? You should be in bed.’ And she said she wanted to make sure everyone else had something for breakfast,” Cook said. “That’s how she is. I’m blessed to have her.”
Loves Spoiling the Grandchildren
Cook has a daughter, Annabelle. Frank’s son, George, has two daughters, Korra and Chloe.
Frank spoils all three of the grandchildren — and is proud to admit it — because she never thought she would live long enough to see or enjoy them.
“To think I almost missed out on this, it makes me realize how fortunate and blessed I am,” Frank said. “I’m loving every day helping others.”
While she lives a busy, active life today, she rarely talks about her earlier, and current, struggles.
Battling mesothelioma was a fight that required exhaustive chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, extensive radiation and the will of a mentally and physically strong woman.
Twenty years ago, at the age of 38, she was told her abdominal pain was being caused by an ovarian cyst. Surgery, though, uncovered a much more serious problem.
Back then, not many doctors could even identify peritoneal mesothelioma. It took months, and multiple tests, to confirm the worst case scenario.
“I had to be strong for my family back then. It was hard,” she recalled. “Initially, I was mad. I got a pillow, cried in it and punched it, then let it go and moved on. My pity party didn’t last very long.”
Fought Through Hard Times
Franks credits her husband Mike for providing the unwavering support she needed to withstand the grueling treatments to beat the disease.
In the early years, she battled an addiction to pain medications, particularly oxycodone, which was tough to shake.
She still sees her oncologist annually for scans that check for new tumor growth.
“It’s still in the back of your mind what could happen, even after 20 years,” she said. “I’m still scared of that. I’m just very, very grateful to be alive today.”
Frank suffers today from Crohn’s disease, a gastrointestinal condition, and interstitial cystitis, a chronic bladder condition. Both stemmed from the chemotherapy regimen.
She considers those problems a small price to pay for the reward of seeing her children graduate, marry and start families of their own.
Living 20 years also allowed her to provide daily care for three years for her own mother, who suffered from dementia and died a year ago.
“I’ve seen a lot that I never thought I would see,” she said. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride, that’s for sure. If I can inspire others, provide some hope, I am happy to help in any way I can.”