Keep the faith

Mother’s battle with cancer causes her family to grow stronger


Alyssa Kift

Tammy and Racheal Sizemore look at old pictures. Tammy was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in spring 2016 after previously recovering from breast cancer.

Story by Langley Leverett, feature editor

Sitting in the backseat of her dad’s car, her eyes flitted back and forth as she watched the world stream by in vibrant color. Her father, noticeably quiet, said nothing. Sensing something was amiss, she turned her head and timidly asked what was wrong. The instant he answered, every door in her mind slammed closed with an audible crack that left her resolve shattered. The former brilliant landscape drained of all vibrance, slowly fading to a barren, stagnant grey.

In the spring of 2016, junior Racheal Sizemore received the news that her mom was once again battling cancer, now in the form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her mother, Tammy Sizemore had previously struggled with breast cancer in 2013.

“I had no idea. They said it was probably caused by the chemo in the breast cancer. I didn’t think of that being a side effect, but they said it’s probably how I got leukemia,” Tammy said. “I’ve been through this before, so it’s not like this was a surprise. I didn’t get depressed or real shocked about it. I mean, it was surprising, but it wasn’t anything. My husband even guessed it before the doctors told me.”

However, the following week, Racheal could only let the numbing reality encompass her; this was her way of coping with the shocking truth.

“I just felt like everything was falling apart. We had no idea what was wrong with her,” Racheal said. “They spent a whole week doing tests on her because they didn’t know. During that first week, I didn’t know what to expect or how to react. When they told us ‘cancer’, I just lost it. I couldn’t hold back any tears or keep it together.”

With her mom in treatment, Racheal had no choice but to pick up in her mom’s absence so that she could help provide for her family. Despite the calamity, her relationship with her sister grew stronger.

”Knowing that my mom was going through cancer again was really difficult not only for me, but for my family as well,” Racheal said. “There were only six weeks left of school. With my mom away, it was extremely stressful. I knew I had more responsibilities around the house now. I was overwhelmed with what there was to come. Sometimes dinner was on me and my sister. I would make sure she had something to eat before I ate. I never had to worry about that before, which scared me. We were tight on money due to all the hospital bills and everything. We are definitely closer now than ever before; I felt like I was a mother taking care of her.”

Racheal was astonished at the perseverance and strength her mother possessed. Her confidence and conviction began to climb as she watched her mom conquer the unbeatable.

“My [inspiration] was my faith in God. Lots of prayer. I totally had to lean on that, it got me through, otherwise I don’t know how I would have gotten through,” Tammy said. “I never doubted myself because I knew God was taking care of me, I didn’t worry about it at all. I had friends that had gone through it, and I could lean on them. I had lots of people checking on me, everyday, “Hey, how are you doing?” The swim parents–we’re like another family. They checked up everyday.”

Throughout the emotional experience, Racheal felt the relationships within her home become closer and increasingly more reliable. Although times were shaky, she could count on the stability of her family.

“They had to really pull together while I was gone,” Tammy said. “I just told Racheal that I’m only a phone call away and that there are plenty of surrogate mothers and friends to lean on. She had spine. When I got back, it was like nothing ever changed. The next day my daughter was calling me from school, “Mom, I forgot something can you come bring me it?” and I was like, “Sure.” It was like nothing ever left off.”

Tammy relates the hardships of dealing with two different forms of cancer.

“You see, breast cancer was easier because I could do all my treatments here, and it was nothing compared to leukemia. I had to take a year off from work, without pay. That was hard. There’s no way I could work, I’ve lost 26 pounds and it’s been hard to eat,” Tammy said. “The chemo messes up with your taste buds and nothing tastes good. The chemo this time was stronger than when I had breast cancer. I lost my hair quicker this time. I had full body radiation twice a day, and that was a trip, having to lay still for 40 minutes everyday. You don’t feel anything, but it wipes you out. It made me sick.”

Although Tammy has been through a multitude of struggles, she has persevered inevitably.

“I’ve been through the ringer, but I’m doing good,” Tammy said. “The last couple of weeks I’ve started to eat better. I had my checkup yesterday, and everything was clear. You just get up and get on with life. God’s taking care of me and I have no reason not to believe that.”

Sizemore relates to other individuals to keep the faith, even when things are going tragically downhill.

“Spend as much time as you can with them. It will get better,” Sizemore said. “There may be nothing you can do about this situation but it’s OK. Things may be difficult now, but don’t let that tear you down. Stay positive through it.”