Tyler mother and daughter fight cancer together

For years Tammy Phillips’ sister kept reminding her to “get a mammogram” after she had found several cysts in her breasts during her exams. “In 2012, I was 42 years old when I visited the ETMC Breast Care Center for my first mammogram,” recalled Phillips. “A week later, I received a call that I need an ultrasound and a biopsy. Two masses were found in my breast. A few days later the tests came back and one of the masses was cancer — ductal cell carcinoma. I remembered crying for awhile and then telling myself, ‘you can do this.’”

Phillips, who works as an ultrasound technologist and coordinator at ETMC Tyler, shared the news with her family and co-workers. People brought her food and gave her lots of support. She says she was included on several prayer lists. “I knew I had to stay focused and lean on Jesus,” she said. “I put everything in God’s hands.”

Phillips underwent surgery to remove the mass, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and 32 rounds of radiation. One friend made her a surgical cap to help with the loss of her hair.

“I made it through this journey knowing the Lord would get me through it. People were amazed at how I kept a smile on my face and would not let it get me down,” said Phillips. “This was just a bump in the road, and because of prayers, support and love from family and friends, I got past it.”

But two years later, the road got bumpy again when her mother, Barbara Sexton, was diagnosed at age 71 with the same type of cancer.

“I have been receiving annual mammograms since I was 52,” said Sexton. “My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years earlier and then my daughter. I was scared, but knew my family and friends would be there for me.”

Sexton had surgery to remove her cancer. She went through three of her six scheduled chemotherapy treatments, but became so ill she stopped them and proceeded to radiation.

“I got through my treatment with the love and prayers of everyone, and my faith in Jesus Christ — keeping my faith strong and taking one day at a time.”

Today both mother and daughter are cancer-free. They hope by sharing their stories it will help someone else who may make a similar journey one day.

ETMC programs for cancer patients

Many cancer patients find comfort through the ETMC Cancer Institute’s support groups. These groups meet several times a month and consist of East Texans with different types of cancer. Participants meet to talk about their lives, their treatment or what they are concerned about at the time.

The ETMC Great Getaway cancer retreat is a three-day camp that gives cancer survivors a chance to relax and refocus, and provides opportunities for meeting others who share some of the same concerns associated with living with cancer.

“This is a chance to get away from the stress of day-to-day life and enjoy the company of others who have been through similar experiences,” said Regina Davis, director of the ETMC Cancer Institute. “Healthcare professionals, as well as cancer survivors, are on hand to assist with retreat activities.”

The ETMC Breast Care Center also holds a free, one-day retreat for breast cancer survivors in the fall. The Pink Ribbon Getaway features topics such as a physician panel discussion, healthy eating tips, lymphedema management, tai chi, bra fittings, a fashion show, a share-your-story session, a gourmet lunch and door prizes.

If you are interested in cancer support groups or attending the cancer retreats, call the ETMC Cancer Institute at 903-535-6302 for more information.

Early detection tips

  • Perform monthly breast self exam starting at age 20
  • Begin clinical breast exams every three years beginning at age 20 and annually after age 30
  • Become familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts and see your doctor if change occurs
  • Have a baseline mammogram at age 35 to 40
  • Annual mammograms beginning at age 40

Go to the ETMC Breast Care Services page.