15 – Meet Tami: Cancer Survivor Turned Advocate
December 19, 2023

Meet Tami, manager of a Christmas tree farm in rural Oregon. Cancer has had a profound impact on Tami’s life, from her grandmother’s diagnosis more than 30 years ago to her own 2017 diagnosis to her participation in the PATHFINDER study. Tami shares what she’s learned about cancer and the importance of proactive screening, including her own experiences with multi-cancer early detection (MCED) testing.

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Kim 00:08
Welcome to The Cancer SIGNAL, a podcast presented by GRAIL, where we discuss the impact of early cancer detection, the science behind multi-cancer early detection and insight into how this approach has the potential to shift the cancer paradigm. I’m your host Kim Thiboldeaux. Today we are joined by Tami, who lives in rural Oregon with her best friend and husband of 34 years John and their adult son Matthew. They also have a daughter Megan, who lives in a town not too far away. They raise Boer goats and honey bees and have a house bunny that they love very much. They also have Christmas trees. Tami manages the farm and is blessed to be busy with work and activities at home, at church and in her rural town. Tami is here to share her story about how cancer has impacted her and her family and about how she stays on top of her health with cancer screening today. Welcome to the show, Tami.

Tami 01:01
Thank you very much.

Kim 01:02
So Tami, before we dive into our main topic, I’m intrigued about your farm. So could you paint a picture for our listeners of what life is like on the farm?

Tami 01:12
Sure. So we are our farm has kind of a interesting, we started out with quite a few Boer goats on our farm and we’ve dwindled down to a small herd. But we still raise them and they are like our children, our furry children. Also have bees, which I helped my husband with. That’s his hobby. And so we have honey that we sell, and we raise bees to be able to sell to people as well. We want to start in the bee business.

Kim 01:58
Wow, fantastic. Love to hear that. It sounds wonderful Tami. Tami, I know you and your family have experienced loss due to cancer. Would you tell us about how cancer first impacted your loved ones?

Tami 02:14
Sure. So that kind of takes me back to the early 90s, late 80s When I found out that my maternal grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. And I’d never really thought about, well, I mean, I think every woman thinks about breast cancer, but you never really think it’s going to affect you and your family. And that really rocked my world. She was, she was, you know, the grandma that you always went to her house at Christmas, she had everything perfect. Kind of like Good Housekeeping table for Thanksgiving. Christmas, you know, that house was decorated just to the hilt. And it was always a magical place to go for holidays. So when she was diagnosed, I was shocked. I went to visit her. She got through that, had a mastectomy. And then fast forward to 1999. Actually, in 98, she was diagnosed again, with breast cancer. She had, it had metastasized. And within six months of her diagnosis, I think it was six to nine months she passed. And that really rocked our world as a family. We thought okay, she combated this the first time, she battled it and won. And we thought it would happen the second time. And when it came back, it was much more aggressive. And so yeah, so that’s, then that got me to thinking, well, goodness, you know, now this is in my family genes, right, somehow or I figured somehow in my genes. And so that got me on the path of actually starting mammograms and this was in, I was in my, oh, probably late 20s, early 30s when this all happened, when she passed so it was early for me to start that but I was begging my providers at the time, you know, my medical doctor to refer me.

Kim 05:02
And in fact you were diagnosed with cancer personally, correct? Can you tell us about when you were diagnosed and what that was like?

Tami 05:09
Yes, so I had been having regular mammograms, you know, probably not every year, but I had been doing pretty good about going and getting checked. So in 2017, in the spring of 2017, my aunt, my maternal aunt had been diagnosed with breast cancer, well she was waiting for a diagnosis. And I was really worried with that, because everything from my grandma, you know, just came rushing back into my head. And so I was really worried. And I was sitting watching a movie with my husband one night. And I just had my hands crossed on my chest. And I was nervous and you know, how you just kind of pick at yourself when you’re nervous and you’re kind of just rubbing your chest, you know? And so as we were watching this movie, my finger hit something on the upper part of my, way up high on my breast, and I thought, Oh, my word, you know, my head is just really playing, my mind’s playing with me and I’m worried about my aunt. And but no, I mean, actually, what happened was I, I felt this thing that felt like a BB, you know, kind of just hard like a BB. And after the movie said, Honey, you know, can you feel this? Like, was this? Am I, you know, is my mind just playing with me here? And so, no, he felt it. He’s like, Yeah, you should get that checked. So fast forward to you know, I went to a breast specialist who, who was yeah, concerned about it. So she put a sticker on it. And a sticker on another area she was worried about and went had my mammogram same day.

Kim 07:18
And tell us that, tell us about that. What did they find on your mammogram? And what were the next steps then?

Tami 07:22
Right. So, the mammogram was what they call mammogram silent. So they looked at the mammogram, even though I had felt the tumor, it was not there. It was not on their scan. So immediately, they always send you for an ultrasound. And the ultrasound showed everything, it showed the blood source to the tumor, it showed the tumor perfectly clear. And basically, they just, the technologist just left me on the table, you know, and she said, I’ll be right back, I need to go get the doctor. So doctor comes, you know, and says, Hey, we’re concerned about what we’re seeing, and we want to do a biopsy, you know, just to make sure this isn’t anything that could potentially be cancer.

Kim 08:22
And then did they also tell you that you had dense breast tissue? What did they tell you about this? And let’s continue with the next steps after the biopsy.

Tami 08:30
Okay, so, yes, so during this time, because my mammogram showed nothing. That was because I was also diagnosed with extreme dense tissue, which is the highest level of density that you can have in your breasts. And so they describe, it was described to me like looking for, ‘cause cancer is white on a mammogram, dense tissue is white on a mammogram. So it’s like looking for a polar bear in a snowstorm. It’s very, very hard to see on a mammogram. So that’s why it showed up on a, you know, on an ultrasound. Yeah, and about, apparently at the time I was diagnosed, apparently there is about 40% of women who get a diagnosis like myself with the dense breast tissue.

Kim 09:39
And then tell me what was the treatment plan then what treatment did you undergo? Well, you know, what was the outcome? Talk us through that.

Tami 09:45
Sure. So then, after the biopsy that I had done, actually, after that appointment, I went somewhere else and had a biopsy and it was diagnosed as cancer. I was then referred to a breast surgeon, and she was amazing. And she, you know, walked us through all the steps of what it means. I had invasive ductal carcinoma. And stage one, I was grade one. So she explained what the grade meant, what the stage meant. And so basically, I just had surgery for, I had a lumpectomy, just had a surgery. I didn’t, I chose not to have any radiation. And I chose not to take the hormone blocking drugs. So that was my way, with the caveat, I told my medical oncologist, If I don’t take the drugs, I will go every six months, I promise to get scanned. So to this day, that’s you know, I have been doing that. Although now I’m far enough out that I’m probably going to just be going yearly.

Kim 11:08
Well, that’s great to hear that you had a good outcome. Tami, I understand a few years after your cancer experience, you enrolled in clinical trials, studying multi-cancer early detection, the PATHFINDER study, and the results of that were recently published in The Lancet, can you tell us what led you to join this study?

Tami 11:28
Yes, so I’m kind of a, I guess, a medical geek of sorts. I’ve always been fascinated by studies. And when I got cancer, I was all about, you know, Hey, can I help someone? Right? With what, with what I got? Can I help women who have a similar diagnosis that I had, have hope, right, and to maybe be able to help in a study of some sort. So I started off and on, I just go to our local medical systems, we have a big medical system where I live, and I go to their website where they do their studies, and I was searching for, you know, breast cancer studies. Most studies are all about, you know, like, oh, they might they might study drugs, or they might study women who are actually still, you know, during their diagnosis, they can, they can join a study. But I was past my diagnosis and past my treatment. And so I thought, well, how can I? How can I join a study? And then I saw the PATHFINDER study. They were studying people who had history of cancer, or history of cancer, I think in their families. And they were looking for people too who hadn’t had cancer before, I think as well. So I joined the study, I had my husband join the study, and I actually recruited my parents to join the study as well. And so we all did it together. And it was so easy.

Kim 13:23
Yeah, yeah. Tell me about your experience in the study, Tami.

Tami 13:22
Okay. Yeah, it was so easy. We just went in for our appointment. And they brought us into a room, well it was just me, right, they brought me into a room and talked to me about my history a little bit, took a blood sample. And it was easy. So then I got, you know, I got my results, I think, maybe two, three weeks later.

Kim 13:59
So Tami, as a result of the PATHFINDER study, you had your blood tested there through multi-cancer early detection. Would you be willing to share with us what the results were of your test and how you sort of felt when you got the results?

Tami 14:15
Yes. So it was negative. And I was really, I was very thankful for that. So, yeah, that was really exciting to me and gave me kind of assurance, I guess you know, about other cancers that my body might, it might have a, you know, tendency towards so I just wanted to say yeah, that’s, it was a great test and super easy.

Kim 14:48
Do you think Tami, as a cancer survivor, joining that study and getting the test, do you think perhaps you felt differently than maybe others in your family who had never had a cancer experience?

Tami 14:59
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think once you have cancer, anytime you go in for any sort of screening till you get the results, you know, the waiting is always the worst. So, yeah, definitely. I was worried. But I was very thankful for the negative result, so. I mean, I know what it feels like to have a cancer diagnosis. But for me, like, part of it, a lot of it was, yay, my parents are here, and they’re getting the test. And yay, my husband’s here, so, I mean, for me, as their daughter, I’m an only child. So as their daughter, I was like, Well, it’s a win-win, really, because if you get a negative, you get a negative. But if you get a positive, you’re catching it very early, potentially, you know.

Kim 15:58
Great to, to hear those results. And thank you for your willingness to share that with us. You know, I just want to call out for our listeners, that in a recent episode of The Cancer SIGNAL, we did a deep dive into the PATHFINDER trial results with the principal investigator, Dr. Chuck McDonnell, so check out episode 13 if you want to learn more about the details of that study. Tami, tell us what did you learn about multi-cancer early detection in the process? And did it in any way change your perspective on what’s possible with cancer screening?

Tami 16:29
Well, um, I wish, so this study I think is just really awesome. To be able to tell someone maybe that they have cancer. Early detection for me, it was really important. I know they say we should be doing our manual exams, right? Because we know our breasts better than anyone. And so checking your breasts, you know, having a test like the Galleri test, I mean, the PATHFINDER study being a part of that. I think anything we can do to be proactive and advocating for ourselves is so important.

Kim 17:17
And are you more hopeful about new technologies about the future of cancer screening, now that you see some of the science advancing?

Tami 17:25
Oh, yeah, it’s just so exciting. And it gives me hope, because, you know, I had the gene testing, and I did gene testing, and I didn’t have the BRCA gene, even though three members of my pretty close immediate family have had breast cancer, right. So, but I did, I did have what they call a variant of unknown origin. And so I’m hoping that more of these kinds of studies can happen and the testing and all of that, and that they’ll get more answers for those of us who, who have these unknown variants, right, that maybe someday that will point people to more, Oh, yeah, you have a you have a variant that could be breast cancer someday, right?

Kim 18:22
Yeah. Well, the science and technology certainly is advancing and we’re learning new things every day, for sure. Tami, one thing I appreciate about you sharing your story is that you are an advocate for yourself, you are an advocate for your family, and you’re an advocate for your community through the work that you’re doing. Tell us about how you see yourself in that role as an advocate, and how some of these experiences has influenced you as an advocate.

Tami 18:52
Well, I see myself as, I have seen too many people in the world where they have very little support. And I know how important, I look at my life pre-cancer and post-cancer. And I still remember getting the diagnosis, having that call from the pathologist, or whoever it was, that called me and told me that I had breast cancer. It changes, there’s a moment where there’s the before, and there’s the after cancer, and post-cancer, you see life different. Every day is a blessing. It was a blessing before, but you didn’t realize how much it was a blessing until after. So I see that for every person that I, that is in my life, every person that I meet on the street, right in my community, in my church, in my family. And so I feel like if I can help them get their health in better shape, and if that means going into, you know, have a screening, whether it’s Galleri, or a mammogram or a blood test, you know, to just get their health in better order, I think is so important. I think it’s just so important for people to have that care and someone that cares about them. So that’s kind of my mission in life.

Kim 20:24
That’s wonderful. That’s great. Thank you. Um, before we say goodbye, Tammy, to close us out. Can you tell us about the mobile mammography clinic that you helped to coordinate in your rural community?

Tami 20:36
Sure, yeah. Because of my history. I’m super passionate about helping women detect their breast cancer early. It’s just so important. So I just contacted our large medical system here in Portland, where I live. And, you know, they had this mobile mammography van. I also lead some other things at our church. We have a free dental clinic and a free vision clinic. So I thought, well, mobile mammography, how great would that be? Right? So yeah, now we are scheduling actually three times a year, we have mobile mammography clinics, for our women of our community, and we’ve already been catching cancer. So it’s, it’s just a real important thing. I can’t tell women enough. Please go get your exams. Don’t put it off.

Kim 21:40
Yeah. That’s great advice. Tami, I want to thank you so much for joining us today, for sharing your story with us and telling us a little about, the little bit about the farm and about your family. Really fascinating stuff. So thank you for being with us. This is The Cancer SIGNAL presented by GRAIL. I’m Kim Thiboldeaux, please rate and review our podcast and be sure to subscribe to learn more about the impact of early cancer detection on future episodes.

Based on a clinical study of people ages 50 to 79 around 1% are expected to receive a cancer signal detected result, which includes predicted cancer signal origins. After diagnostic evaluation, around 40% of people are expected to have a confirmed cancer diagnosis.

The Galleri test is prescription only. The Galleri test is recommended for use in adults with an elevated risk for cancer, such as those age 50 or older. It is not recommended for individuals who are pregnant, 21 years or younger, or undergoing active cancer treatment. Galleri should be used in addition to routine cancer screening. Galleri does not detect a signal for all cancers. False positive and false negative results do occur. For more information, including important safety information, please visit galleri.com

Important Safety Information
The Galleri test is recommended for use in adults with an elevated risk for cancer, such as those aged 50 or older. The Galleri test does not detect all cancers and should be used in addition to routine cancer screening tests recommended by a healthcare provider. Galleri is intended to detect cancer signals and predict where in the body the cancer signal is located. Use of Galleri is not recommended in individuals who are pregnant, 21 years old or younger, or undergoing active cancer treatment. Results should be interpreted by a healthcare provider in the context of medical history, clinical signs and symptoms. A test result of “No Cancer Signal Detected” does not rule out cancer. A test result of “Cancer Signal Detected” requires confirmatory diagnostic evaluation by medically established procedures (e.g. imaging) to confirm cancer.

If cancer is not confirmed with further testing, it could mean that cancer is not present or testing was insufficient to detect cancer, including due to the cancer being located in a different part of the body. False-positive (a cancer signal detected when cancer is not present) and false-negative (a cancer signal not detected when cancer is present) test results do occur. Rx only.

Laboratory/Test Information
GRAIL’s clinical laboratory is certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP). The Galleri test was developed, and its performance characteristics were determined by GRAIL. The Galleri test has not been cleared or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. GRAIL’s clinical laboratory is regulated under CLIA to perform high complexity testing. The Galleri test is intended for clinical purposes.