By Mary Wade Burnside
Times West Virginian
Last year when Tanya Robe participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K run/walk — which takes place this year on Saturday in Morgantown — she had her friend and co-worker Tammy Ross with her.
This year, Ross only will be with Robe in spirit — her name on about 20 pink tie-dyed T-shirts that say “Fight Like Tammy 1962-2013.”
“It’s going to be very hard,” Robe said. “It’s hard to come in every day. I know she would support this tremendously. She supported it when she had it and when she didn’t have it.
“On her death bed, she was amazing, telling us what to do at work. She was a very big inspiration to all of us.”
Robe and Ross shared not only a fight with breast cancer but also a workplace, Mon Power/FirstEnergy in Fairmont.
Ross had fought against breast cancer twice since about the year 2000 and then Robe was diagnosed in 2011. Ross was diagnosed for the third time soon after, this time learning that the disease had spread to her bones and her liver.
“We commiserated together,” Robe said. “She would tell me, ‘You have five minutes to cry, and then I need you to get back at it.’ When she was diagnosed, I said, ‘OK, Tammy, you have five minutes to cry.’”
Ross lost her battle on July 17. But her friend, Mary Lough, who happens to serve as the hospital systems account representative at the American Cancer Society in Morgantown, noted that funds raised by her organization that have gone toward research and clinical trials extended not only the length of Ross’ life but also the quality of her final years.
“She may not have lived to be 80 or 90, but from the time she was told it was in her liver and bones, she lived two years,” Lough said. “We’re making huge progress.”
When Lough first started working at the American Cancer Society 18 years ago, that lifespan prediction would have been more like two months.
“She had a good quality of life for two years,” Lough added. “That’s huge. We don’t just want to cure it. We want quality of life.”
Lough and Ross met through their church, White Hall Church of Christ, about 20 years ago, Lough said. In fact, members of the congregation will be walking as a team during the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event, calling themselves the White Hall Church of Christ Warriors.
They will don the T-shirts, Robe said, as will some of Ross and Robe’s co-workers at Mon Power.
The T-shirts were Robe’s idea. She and her daughter, Brandi, designed them. Because Tammy’s 51st birthday would have been Oct. 26, Robe asked Mon Power employees if they would want to wear them on Friday, Oct. 25, and congregation members if they would want to wear them on Sunday, Oct. 27, in their friend’s memory.
Robe was surprised by the response. Altogether, she has had 144 T-shirts made. “I just put in my second order. It’s going to be really cool.”
About 20 White Hall Church of Christ Warriors also will be wearing the T-shirts on the run/walk, which begins with registration at 9 a.m., with the walk/run at 10 a.m., at Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park in Morgantown.
This will be the fourth event, Lough said. Previously, the path has been up into downtown Morgantown, but this time, participants will remain on the rail-trail that goes through the park.
“It will be level and paved,” Lough said. “People can bring strollers and wheelchairs.
“It’s non-competitive, unless you want to consider that we’re competing against breast cancer. But not each other.”
The goal this year will be to raise $50,000, $5,000 more than the top amount ever raised of $45,000, Lough added.
Registration costs $25 before Saturday and $35 on Saturday, Lough added.
As of Tuesday, 28 teams consisting of 215 people had raised $19,385, according to makingstrideswalk.org/northcentralwv.
Funds raised go toward programs such as Look Good, Feel Better, a class held at area hospitals, including Fairmont General Hospital, in which licensed cosmetologists work to help cancer survivors deal with some of the side effects of treatment that can affect looks, such as red and splotchy skin and hair loss.
“They receive a bag of makeup to use as tools and learn how to keep from getting an infection and how to look like you have eyelashes and eyebrows,” Lough said.
Funding from the American Cancer Society also has resulted in actual medications and research that has yielded better treatments, she said. For instance, the breast cancer-fighting drugs Tamoxifen and Herceptin were developed by grants funded by the American Cancer Society, Lough said.
The organization also funds the Reach to Recovery program that benefited patients such as Robe, who had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy and radiation in her fight against the disease.
“As soon as I was diagnosed, they partnered me with a lady who was with me when I was going through everything,” Robe said. “She came to see me in intensive care. That way you can have somebody you can go to and ask questions.
“They did great pairing me with her. She was a perfect match.”
Email Mary Wade Burnside at firstname.lastname@example.org.