By Crystal McGough
Within the last couple of years, Meagan Calvert discovered that there is more to breast cancer than the average person knows. During her mom’s 20-month-long battle against breast cancer, Calvert served as her mom’s caregiver. Through this experience, she gained insight on many misconceptions of the disease.
“PET scan and pathology results determined that my mom had a form of breast cancer called ‘triple-negative’ breast cancer,” Calvert said. “My reaction was, ‘Negative is good in cancer, right?’ Wrong.”
Tamra “Tammy” Calvert, of Clay, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer on Feb. 14, 2011. This is an aggressive cancer that does not respond to hormonal therapy, which is the most effective type of chemotherapy with the highest survival rate. This type of breast cancer is only found in 10 percent of breast cancer patients.
“The biggest misconception is that each cancer patient’s treatment and diagnosis are all the same,” Calvert said. “Actually, when patients are diagnosed with the cancerous tumor(s), each individual can have one type of cancer or a cluster of different cancers. Additionally, each breast cancer patient will not fight the same battle. Breast cancer is not a cookie cutter cancer, but a very complex cancer.”
After determining that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, doctors did biopsies of her lymph nodes, which had positive results. It was determined that aggressive chemotherapy and radiation were necessary.
During her battle, Tammy underwent an assortment of surgeries including: a double mastectomy, craniotomy to remove a lemon-sized metastasis brain tumor, partial hip replacement and fracture to her femur. She endured over 20 chemotherapy treatments and over three to four months of radiation.
“She was scanned from head to toe, poked, prodded, tested and completed several physical and orthopedic therapies to regain strength from multiple surgeries,” Calvert said. “Her weight fluctuated drastically and (she) lost her hair twice
. Her favorite wig she wore, which we named “Bridget”, made the loss of her hair more upbeat.”
At the age of 50, Tammy lost her battle against breast cancer on Oct. 2. A visitation, which 1,500 people attended, was held on Friday, Oct. 5 at Northpark Baptist Church, with a funeral service following at Jefferson Memorial Gardens.
“(That) is a testament to how amazing and special she was to not only me and my family, but to all who were fortunate to have known her,” Calvert said.
Tammy is survived by her husband of nearly 25 years, Dennis, 48; four children: Ashley Calvert Davis, 28; Meagan Nicole Calvert, 26; Lauren Kathryn Calvert, 21; Matthew Wilson Calvert, 16; and three grandchildren: Kathryn Grace Davis, 11; Dylon Tyler Davis, 10; and Alyssa Nicole Davis, 6.
Tammy’s diagnosis came as a surprise, as she had no family history of breast cancer, as well as no major health problems or risk factors for cancer.
Because of this, Tammy’s long-time friend Linda McAllister has been using this opportunity to educate her students at Brown Mackie College about common breast cancer misconceptions. She posted the message she has shared with over 40 classrooms on the CaringBridge website she created for Tammy.
“Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you are aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” McAllister said. “This October is especially meaningful to me because I lost my best friend of 30 years, Tammy Calvert, to a very aggressive form of this disease. I am using her as an example to share a very alarming statistic that few people are aware of: 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer today have no family history of breast cancer. Many of us are walking around lulled into a false sense of security that we are safe because no one in our families have had breast cancer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tammy had no family history either.
“Another alarming statistic, one out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Next time you are in a room full of women you care about, look around, it will really get your attention. And men, you are not exempt. Men get breast cancer too. Just last night one of our instructors shared her husband had a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery and is now a survivor…You’re risk factors are not as high as those of women, but they do exist….What does this mean to you? Take responsibility for your health. Early detection is the key.”
Even though she faced a rare cancer, having no known risk factors, and underwent extensive medical procedures, Tammy never felt sorry for herself during the course of her battle, Calvert said.
“My mom was a truly an amazing, godly, smart and selfless person,” she said. “She never complained about her condition or the pain she had from the all the surgeries and treatments she endured. She was my family’s “glue” to our family, and the void in our hearts will never be replaced because she was just a one- of-kind, remarkable person. I am fortunate to have had her as my mom and can’t wait for the day I can see my sweet Momma again.”