Tami Fassinger

First post: Jul 18, 2018 Latest post: Aug 15, 2018
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Tami was diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer in 2009.  Vanderbilt performed a lumpectomy and followed that with targeted radiation and then estrogen suppression.  She told very few people of her plight.  Almost four years later, everything looked great and Tami was feeling normal.  

In the Spring of 2013, Tami started having some headaches, which we attributed to an auto accident.  When her speech started to slur during a lunch with friends, she was rushed to the ER at Vandy where they diagnosed her with some sort of migraine headache.  Our family doctor didn’t buy it and sent her for tests, saying that the speech is controlled by the 12th cranial nerve and a migraine shouldn’t affect that.  The radiologist at Vandy (who, as far as I can tell, just about walks on water) looked at the scans and told us her back lights up like a Christmas tree and yes, they found lesions on the 12th cranial nerve.  Officially, since this was breast cancer spread to the rest of the body (spine, muscles, bones), she was considered Stage 4.  They decided that radiation was the right course and outfitted her to look like the man in the iron mask to ensure the radiation only hit the right spots.  The slurring cleared up.  She now started chemo in earnest.  

The oncologist at Vandy was very forthright and explained that there are many chemo regimens, and that we were going to go at them in this order.  We learned that these chemos often work for a while and then the cancer seems to find a path around them and you have to move on to another chemo.  Practice showed us that this timeframe is 6-9 months.  While the chemo was hard and made her tired and sometimes sick, Tami continued to work and few people really noticed—she still had hair and the energizer bunny was still present.  

In June of 2016, Tami became tired and required transfusions.  In July, she slipped while walking, caught herself without falling, but broke her pelvis and we later learned, her clavicle.  As she was convalescing, she had troubles with infections of the mouth and throat and, for the first time in her life, she had trouble talking.  She was diagnosed with neutropenia or a dearth of white blood cells and was hospitalized to keep her from getting sick while they brought her white cell count up.  She was bedridden for several months.  

Eventually, the bones and infections healed and a growth appeared on her forehead.  Scans showed it was a tumor on the inside of her skull.  Back to radiation and the torture masks.  The radiation caused the tumor to shrink, but she now has a permanent bald patch just above her left forehead.  She did a Donald comb-over and no one was the wiser.  She is now on about the third chemo treatment.  In the spring of 2017,  they found tumors all over the inside of her skull.  Round 3 of the Iron Mask.  This time, he told her that it would be the last time he could irradiate the head.  

The tumors in her liver now measured about 4 inches, just small enough to let her into a clinical trial of an immunotherapy.  This seemed to work miracles!  She felt better and the tumors shrank.   This one zapped energy, but did not make her sick—a tradeoff, to be sure.  In the Spring of 2018, her back was killing her and they found lots of lesions on the spinal cord, where the immunotherapy drug’s molecules were too large to go; Radiation helped again.  6 weeks later, the scans showed the tumors had grown over 20%, indicating that the miracle immunotherapy was no longer working.  Tami decided it was time to take some time off and went on Short-Term disability.  

She started a new drug as she stayed home, still spending hours with her phone, texts and emails from work—she was not emotionally ready to stop.  In June, we thought Tami was having a stroke and rushed her to Vandy ER where they found lots of tumors in her brain.  The oncology team determined that there was nothing more that they could do and ceased treatment.  Tami began home hospice.  

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