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Family reaches out to community for support

Tammy Stratton and her family raised money for expensive cancer treatments. - K. Dingman
Tammy Stratton and her family raised money for expensive cancer treatments.
— image credit: K. Dingman

Tammy Stratton has been battling ovarian cancer for four years.

After spending thousands of dollars on treatment and travel costs, Tammy’s sister Vanessa, who has also suffered from a female specific form of cancer, reached out to the community for support.

“We are so fortunate that we live in a beautiful community, people are so willing to help,” Vanessa Stamler said. “I’m so humbled by the community support... it’s amazing.”

Stamler raised $8,555 within the first 24 hours of her website launch.

But Stratton said she has relied on more than just financial support during this difficult time.

“You want people to give you power and strength from their words,” she said. “The community will help you out, you just have to reach out.”

After sharing her story on Facebook, Stratton said she received countless words of encouragement from family, members of the community and even school friends she hadn’t spoken to in over 18 years.

And although she was initially resistant to share her story and accept sympathy, she quickly realized that this support helped in not only her recovery, but her family’s recovery too.

“By being quiet and shy I’m actually hurting my children and my husband,” she said. “I didn’t realize by me being so quiet and shy about it that it wasn’t giving them permission to go talk about it. They need support too.”

Stratton said she’s thankful to live in a small community where support is readily available.

“Other people that live in big communities, they get lost in the mix, they have cancer and they don’t have anyone,” she said. “We really do live in such a great community. I have moments where I think to myself, ‘oh my goodness, I’m not going to make it,’ and then I go back and I read everything (Facebook comments). I need to show these people that I’m going to do it.”

Stratton wants to empower other cancer patients in the community to reach out and ask for support, especially when it comes to diagnosing the illness.

She said her battle with ovarian cancer has enlightened her on the difficulties many face in diagnosing the disease.

After several blood test and scans, Stratton’s illness remained undiagnosed by doctors.

“By the time it finally did show up (on a scan) it had already metastasized and changed cancers,” Stratton said. “I’m listening to my body because I don’t trust any tests from this point forward.”

A lot of the symptoms associated with ovarian cancer can easily be mistaken for regular menstrual symptoms, Stratton said.

Symptoms include thigh pain, headaches, nausea and lower back pain.

“I ignored it for quite a while. They were all signs of ovarian cancer but I didn’t know that at the time.”

Stratton continued to be persistent with her doctors until her disease was properly diagnosed.

“I listened to my body and got treatment faster than somebody who ignored their body,” she said. “If your doctor's not going to listen to you, you need to find one that will.”

Stratton’s sister said she experienced similar testing and undiagnosed results when she was suffering from cervical cancer.

Although Stamler has now been in remission for nine years, during the time of her diagnosis she underwent two major surgeries within a two week period, and was told by doctors that if she hadn’t been diagnosed at the time she was, she would have only had six weeks to live.

“It got to a point where it was too late to undo the damage that was done,” she said.

After undergoing surgery, Stamler was unable to bear children.

That was when Stratton selflessly stepped in and opted to be a surrogate for her sister.

Stamler said that is the reason she began the campaign.

“She helped me have two beautiful children, which is the best gift anyone can give someone else,” she said. “I just wanted to show her some sort of appreciation by helping her get through this journey.”

Although Stratton is grateful for the community support she has received, she said does want anyone’s pity.

“Don’t feel sorry for me,” she said. “I’m strong and I’m going to kick this.”

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