Tamara Berry has been working for Denver Water for 24 years, currently as an application developer.
Tami enjoys spending time with her husband and her 8-year-old daughter, who is in the 3rd grade. When she’s not cycling on her road bike, she enjoys kicking back and watching television.
In December 2012, Tami began to feel strange sensations in both of her breasts. Although she knew she should have a proper breast exam to evaluate what she had found, she didn’t think it was necessary to schedule an appointment.
Several months later, her 11-year-old nephew was running around the house when he accidentally struck her left breast. When Tami noticed an unusual amount of pain in her breast, she gave herself a breast exam.
“Basically the pain was just to get me in… to me [it was] like a warning sign to get in, to have somebody look at it,” she says.
During her self-exam, she felt a bunch of bumps, but couldn’t find anything particularly troubling. When her husband examined her next, he found the lump that her primary care physician, Dr. Crista Spears, would soon discover as well.
“I knew it was something serious because I saw her eyes get really big, and I’ve been going to Crista for years, and I’ve never seen her look like that,” Tami says.
A mammogram and an ultrasound were ordered but didn’t reveal much. The mammogram results were benign, but because of the unusual lumps in Tami’s breast, Rose mammographer Dr. John Lewin wanted to continue monitoring her for hormonal changes.
In late April 2013, Tami went in for her follow-up appointment, and an ultrasound revealed that her symptoms had remained the same. Deciding against scheduling an appointment in another six months, Dr. Lewin did a needle biopsy immediately, and called her soon after with the results.
Tami was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer –a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Because the cancer was hidden among cysts and dense breast tissue, Tami’s medical team was concerned about the true extent of the cancer.
Rose breast surgeon Dr. Barbara Schwartzberg met with Tami to discuss her surgical treatment options. As part of Tami’s breast cancer work up, Dr. Schwartzberg ordered an MRI of both breasts. The results of the MRI showed that Tami had a large area of DCIS and a suspicious mass. Tami was scheduled for another biopsy.
The next day, Tami received another diagnosis. It was more cancer, but this time it was an aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma. She was told that her chances of survival were 70 percent.
“I could handle the Stage 0, but when it got to the Stage 1 that’s when I kind of broke down,” says Tami.
Because Tami had such extensive cancer in her left breast, to effectively remove the cancer, she would have to undergo a mastectomy. She met with Rose medical oncologist Dr. Dev Paul. After running more tests, Dr. Paul told Tami that if she didn’t get a double mastectomy, there was roughly a 90 percent chance of her developing cancer in her right breast.
It was extremely difficult for Tami to process all of the information she had just received. She thanks Rose Breast Health Navigator Ingrid Van Den Abbeele for helping her through it. Dr. Marty Bernstein, Tami’s psychologist, has also been an ongoing source of support for Tami as she works to overcome any obstacles in her path to recovery, she says.
After coming to terms with her diagnosis, Tami decided to move forward with the double mastectomy.
“Of course, me being an accountant by nature, I decided, with the numbers, that it was just best to have a bilateral mastectomy,” says Tami. She admits that reaching this decision wasn’t easy.
“I still want to look nice, and sexy, but I don’t necessarily have to be so vain to where I wouldn’t get rid of my own breasts, and endanger my life. And I felt like they were endangering my life, so they needed to go,” she says.
Tami had the procedure about a month later, and Dr. Schwartzberg coordinated with Rose plastic surgeon Dr. John Bershof to simultaneously prepare for breast implants. Tami received a double mastectomy in May 2013, began chemotherapy in June, and by September she had finished her six rounds.
She has been cancer free since her surgery, but she continues taking medications along with chemotherapy treatments to ensure she remains healthy.
“I do miss my real breasts, I thought my real breasts were gorgeous. But when I look at myself now in the mirror, I feel like I have a badge of courage, a badge of honor, I feel like I’m invincible, fearless,” she says.
Tami has spent a lot of time at Rose, and she put her trust in Drs. Paul and Schwartzberg.
“Both of them are amazing, and everybody at the Rose Breast Center was telling me that I had a top-notch pool of doctors that are going to be working with me that are internationally known, that are respected in their field, that if Dr. Paul tells you he can get you to this level, you take that to the bank…” she says.
She found strength in the love she felt from her co-workers and her company.
“Everybody was just so supportive and loving, and just the outpouring of love that I got made me want to fight,” she says.
Of course, an immense amount of encouragement came from her family. “Once I was diagnosed with cancer it really put a different perspective on where we want to be and how we want our lives to be. It has brought us closer [and] we take each day, instead of taking it for granted, each day is a blessing.”
Her daughter, Tami says, saw little change in her daily routine. Although her daughter wasn’t fully aware of what Tami was going through, she knew it was significant and she supported her mother.
“She keeps making me all these little pink trinkets, little animals and stuff around the house, because she likes arts and crafts,” says Tami. “But I don’t think she knew the fight I was going to have to go through to be here with her. My whole fight was for my family, to make sure I was around—especially for my daughter.”
Tami is finally beginning the recovery process, and she remains incredibly thankful for all of the things that permitted her to deal with her cancer so successfully. She has persevered, and hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“You never can imagine what those people are going through until you walk in their shoes. Now that I’ve walked in their shoes, I’m very empathetic and sympathetic to any type of cancer patient,” says Tami.
The Rose “Surviving Well” calendar is a 12-month calendar highlighting our cancer services, physicians and inspirational stories from our patients. Tami is our survivor for February.