Cancer survivor gives hopeful new face to disease

Tammy Horvath is a former medical social worker. She is a mother, best friend and wife.

She is also a cancer survivor.

After being diagnosed in March 2004, with two children under the age of five, she was given less than a month to live. Now, seven years later, Horvath is living proof that cancer can be beaten.

On March 31, Horvath shared her story with guests at Rouge Valley Centenary Hospital’s sixth annual Health Fair.

“[It’s] about sharing the survivors’ journey because it’s a very impactful story,” she said. “It can be a very tragic story but has a positive outcome for the most part.”

Health Fair visitors got the chance to learn about cancer, palliative care and blood donation. With the help of speakers like Horvath, guests were provided with information on preventative measures for serious illnesses.

“I think as survivors, we have an obligation and a privilege to share the story, to share that there can be happy ending, to instill a sense of hope and to put a new face to cancer,” Horvath said.

Her experience with cancer has not only given her a new-found positive outlook on life, she said, but it has allowed her to change the lives of many touched by the disease.

“For me, the ability to share this story makes sense,” Horvath said. “It gives my suffering and my experience some meaning.

“I can put on that positive face that your hair really does grow back and your life does come back. It may be a new normal, but normal comes back.”

The Health Fair offers patients and their families a chance to network with one another while accessing various services available to them, said Pamela West, a Rouge Valley Health System nurse practitioner and chair of the cancer and palliative care community advisory committee.

“I think there’s still an incredible amount of fear around cancer,” she said. “People need to recognize it as a chronic illness.

“It’s not a death sentence for many patients now and people need to be better educated so they understand that concept of moving forward and living. Just like you live with arthritis and diabetes, you can live with your cancer.”

This year, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) set up a blood truck outside the hospital where the public was invited to donate blood.

“The CBS is hoping to get 32 units of blood,” West said. “Last year, our hospital used 4,800 units of blood. It’s a product that not only cancer patients use, but surgical and trauma patients as well.”

Milan Bayan, an officer with York Regional Police, attended the blood donor clinic. For him, the importance of donating blood hits close to home.

“One of my relatives got into a huge accident six years ago and a blood transfusion saved his life,” he said. “I’ve been donating blood ever since.”

Having faced her own mortality, Horvath said her cancer experience has taught her the importance of living life day by day.

“We are so blessed and so lucky to have woken up this morning because we don’t have tomorrow. None of us do,” she said. “I know what it’s like to plan my funeral. I know what it’s like to tell my kids I’m going to heaven. There’s nothing worse.

“You better believe that when I woke up this morning, I was thankful.”