RELAY: Survivor relays her victory over cancer
COLUMBIA CITY — Tammy Gross will never forget that day in August, almost six years ago, when she heard the words “breast cancer” attached to her diagnosis.“August 15, 2006, I received my diagnosis of breast cancer. On that day I became a survivor,” said Gross.In the months that followed, Gross underwent four surgeries, over five months of chemotherapy and more than six weeks of daily radiation. “I remember being in my parents’ van on the way to my first chemo session. My cousin Mari was with us and she said she was excited to start chemo. I was kind of taken back by those words. I was surely not excited to start chemo. Then she said that by starting chemo we were now fighting back against this cancer,” Gross said.Upon going for her first chemotherapy session, Gross was unsure of what to expect.“It was scary to walk into Fort Wayne Medical Oncology and Hematology the first time, not really knowing what chemotherapy was and what they were going to do to me.”Eventually, Gross began to see that with each visit she was conquering cancer. “Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t enjoy having the chemo. I didn’t enjoy losing my hair, feeling fatigued all the time and gaining 35 pounds because of all the drugs I was given. But all those things that were happening to me were helping me survive cancer.”In the spring of 2007, Gross heard the good news that she was cancer free. It was then that she was introduced to Relay for Life.“After I had finished all my treatments in the spring of 2007, my Aunt Elaine told me about Whitley County’s Relay for life.“That first year, Gross’ mom and aunt joined her on the infamous survivor’s lap. This lap is a special trip around the walking track, especially for cancer survivors and their care givers. Gross said, “I walked with many other survivors. It was emotional for me walking around that track. About half-way through it hit me that I survived cancer. Every year it still hits me that I survived.”Gross attributes her surviving cancer to the many people who cared for her while she was battling the disease. 2010 marked a turning point for Gross. Wanting to do more than just walk the survivor’s lap, she started thinking about being an instrumental part in the event’s planning.“Shortly after the 2010 Relay, I was asked to join the committee by a former American Cancer Society community representative. That is how my involvement with Relay for Life began.”Gross is now the Whitley County Relay for Life survivor chairperson. Before her own battle with cancer, Gross had never been involved with Relay for Life, but now it is a part of her and her story.“I am passionate about helping to find a cure.”When asked why she participates in the relay, Gross said, “Probably the same reason most people do. To celebrate, remember and fight back. But I also relay for those who supported me through my journey with cancer, those who saw me struggle through the worst times can now watch me celebrate life with the other survivors. I relay so my nieces and nephews never have to hear the words, ‘you have cancer,’ but if they do, they also hear, ‘this is how we cure it.’” Relay for Life is a 24 hour fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. Those 24 hours are filled with celebration for survivors and remembering those who have been lost.“I want to encourage all survivors to come and walk the survivor lap with me,” said Gross.The survivor lap will be June 2 at 5:30 p.m. at Indian Springs Middle School. Those who are or have been caregivers are welcome to walk with the survivors they have supported. For more information on Relay for Life or to donate to a team, visit www.relayforlife.org.