When Tammy Kaiser received a call from her doctor’s office after a routine mammogram, she didn’t think it was a big deal. She had received such calls before. But this time was different. When she went for additional testing, a biopsy showed that she had stage 0 breast cancer.
“I was surprised,” Tammy recalls. “I didn’t know there was a stage 0.”
She learned that she had ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS — abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast. Considered the earliest form of breast cancer, it has a low risk of becoming invasive. As she was beginning to process the fact that she had cancer, she learned that she had another type of breast cancer as well, an invasive cancer.
Finding services and support
After she told a friend about her diagnoses, the friend told her about Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center and suggested she check it out. Waterford Place offers services, support and programming, free of charge, to anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis. Programs include educational lectures and workshops; support groups; wellness programs like cooking demonstrations and yoga classes; mind, body and spirit programs designed to reduce stress; and salon and spa services that focus on skin and hair care.
Tammy decided to look into it. Aside from her husband and children, she has no extended family in the area, so she felt the need for more support.
“From my initial orientation, I knew Waterford Place would help,” she says.
Seeing all the programs offered, she was eager to try new things. Because of the pandemic, Waterford Place was offering classes online in place of in-person classes, so she started with an online exercise class. She took a tai chi class, then a yoga class — she had never done yoga before.
“It was exciting to learn new things and take my mind off all that I was going through,” she says.
One of Tammy’s favorite classes was HeartMath Meditation, where she learned a simple yet powerful meditative technique that uses heart-focused breathing to help improve clarity, harmony of the mind and body, and balance. It can help shift your emotional state and calm your mind. She liked it so much that she shared it with her daughter.
Doing something for others
For support, she attended Breast FRIENDs (First Resource in Experiencing and Navigating a Diagnosis), an informal support program for anyone experiencing a breast cancer diagnosis.
She also joined the Waterford Place Giving Back Society, which meets monthly to participate in activities that make a difference in the cancer community.
“What attracted me to the Giving Back Society was the opportunity to do something for someone else,” she says. “I’m a novice crafter, but I love that they are constantly trying to find things to do for other people.”
The Waterford Place building has since reopened, so now Tammy goes to classes or programs in person. But she loves that she has the opportunity to participate remotely when she can’t make it there.
She appreciates the staff and their “smiling faces. They are so warm and inviting,” she says. “It’s important to feel welcome, and they know your name. They take the time to get to know you, and I appreciate that.”
Doing something for yourself
The period immediately following her diagnosis was an overwhelming time, Tammy says. But she used the time between her diagnoses and the start of her treatment to figure out how to take care of herself — and put herself first.
“I made plans to be a better me,” she says. This included exercising, eating right and reducing stress.
“I view exercise as mental healing,” she says. “It makes me think I am doing something healthy, something for me.”
With support groups, meditation and exercises programs, cooking demonstrations and classes on nutrition, Waterford Place offered Tammy many opportunities to do something healthy for herself.
“It was time to put me first,” she says, and she believes it helped her as she went through her treatments. “It helped me to not be so tired. I learned to ask for help. I learned that I don’t have to be everything and that it was OK to put me first. I’m glad I took the time to get my life in order and pare it down.”
No longer in treatment and with no evidence of disease, Tammy is a survivor and says she feels “really good.”
Looking back, Tammy thought her 24-year career in law enforcement had prepared her for anything. She found that all of her experience and training was “nothing compared to cancer.”
But she made it through and says, “I’m stronger for it and happy. I’m living proof you can get to the other side and be happy.”