Tammy Knoll was not going to be a statistic. Knoll knew from the beginning that while she couldn’t change the fact she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she was not going to allow it to defeat her.
Tammy Knoll was not going to be a statistic. Knoll knew from the beginning that while she couldn’t change the fact she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she was not going to allow it to defeat her. She stayed positive, surrounded herself with family and friends, and forged ahead through the treatments, surgery and recovery.
She will always advocate for yearly exams. That may indeed be what saved her life.
At the time she was diagnosed, she was a busy, 43-year-old wife and the mother of young son. There was no history of breast cancer in her family and during her annual doctor’s exam, her physician said everything checked out fine.
“She then told me that there were varying recommendations for frequency of mammograms and I didn't necessarily have to have one that year,” Knoll recalls. “I told her that I had just seen that my sorority sister had breast cancer and I wanted to get one for my peace of mind.”
A few weeks later on Mother's Day, Knoll was coming back to the lake from St. Louis and picked up the mail. In the mail, there was a note from her physician saying she needed a follow-up mammogram.
“When I called my doctor, they reassured me that it happened all the time and it was mostly likely due to ‘dense breasts’ and an inability to get a good image,” she said. “I went alone to the follow-up mammogram assuming nothing was wrong. They told me I would get the results that day and I texted my husband to let him know. We still both assumed it was nothing.”
She was told they would do another mammogram and then possibly an ultrasound. "It wasn't until I was having the ultrasound and the tech said, 'Let me see if I can see what they are seeing,'" that Knoll realized something might be wrong.
“The radiologist then told me he was very concerned about what he saw and I needed a biopsy. I could tell at that point I was probably facing a cancer diagnosis. Two weeks later, I got the official news that I had breast cancer,” she said.
Knoll ended up going to the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia for a second opinion on treatment. That was when she found out the cancer was already in her lymph nodes. Based on that discovery, she started chemotherapy right away and delayed any surgery until after she completed it.
To hear someone talk in terms of being lucky seems odd at first when talking about chemotherapy but that’s exactly how she feels.
“I was lucky. Chemo was relatively easy for me and I continued working full-time except for the days I had treatment,” she said.
Following chemo, Knoll made the decision to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
“I personally didn't want to deal with the feeling that there could be another lump that no one could feel growing in my breasts. During my surgery, they could find no remaining cancer also referred to as Complete Pathological Response to the chemo. I did not require radiation,” she said.
Her son, Joe, is now 8-years-old. There was definitely a moment early on before she started treatment that she worried about not being there for his future but once she had a treatment plan she just didn't doubt that she would be fine.
These days, Knoll says she doesn’t often think about her cancer history. Sometimes it is so far in the background that it almost disappears but then something comes up. A random pain that someone else might dismiss makes you worry. Last December she noticed some swelling in her arm on her cancer side. She went through therapy for lymphedema. It had been three years since her surgery.
She has moved on and lives each day with positive thoughts. She continues to consider herself one of the lucky ones.
“I was able to keep a really positive attitude during the entire process. I had a ton of support from family and friends. I take daily medication but I haven't suffered any side effects. I am one of the lucky ones. I definitely have friends that would say their entire life changed with their diagnosis,” she said. “It does feel though like my breast cancer is something always in the background waiting to come up.”