In life, we form relationships. Some start young with roots so deep they can last a lifetime. Others start simple and grow slowly over time. But every once in a while, people connect in a way that is immediate and life-changing.

These are the types of relationships Tamara Evans formed during her second bout with breast cancer in 2012.

Each time she would have one of her 20-minute radiation appointments, Tamara faced an hour drive to the hospital. “I thought that I might as well make it fun,” she said.

So Tamara and a friend began dressing up. From a princess to a cowgirl and even a pirate, the costumes connected her to other patients who were also getting radiation treatment at HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center. She met 27 people with different stories, but each was progressing on the same path.

Image of Tamara Evans Tamara Evans is a cancer survivor.

Today, Tamara is in remission after her cancer returned for a third time in 2016. She says she’s learned one very important thing during her journey with the disease.

“It’s all about the relationships that you have built along the way. They’re what let you know, ‘Yeah, I am going to be OK,’” she explained.

What it means to be a survivor

Everyone understands the literal definition of what it means to be a cancer survivor. But what many don’t realize is the emotional strain that comes after cancer treatments are completed.

“So often during a cancer journey, patients feel isolated,” said Carol Ann Petersen, the Patient Support and Education Manager at HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center. “There could be 100 other cancer patients being seen at the cancer center on any given day. But you don’t necessarily get to see them or get to know them.”

For Tamara, survivorship is about each of those people she met after her diagnosis.

“When you get done with your cancer treatment, it’s like, ‘Alright, now you are a survivor.’ Then each of us go off and live our life,” she said. “But what we really need is to be able to lean on each other.”

At HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center, patient care resources help heal the body, mind and spirit. Carol Ann’s team works with patients who need emotional support to help them understand and cope with what they have overcome. Integrative therapies, talk therapies and appointments with oncology psychologists are all used.

“What patients tell us again and again is that they are waking up to the emotional impact of being diagnosed with cancer,” Carol Ann explained. “They are struggling. They need support. They need help.”

Tamara volunteers her time to help others

“After you get a cancer diagnosis, you really start to think about the little things and the moments. You stop just coasting along in life,” Tamara said.

Tamara joined HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center's Patient Advisory Board after her second recovery. She has shared her personal stories and advice in hopes of making the patient experience even better.

“I had no idea how much fulfillment you could get by serving on a board like this,” Tamara said. “It gives us all encouragement.”

One of the projects the group helps with is the Creating Hope Together survivorship celebration. The annual event allows cancer survivors and their families to come together:

“This event helps us celebrate each other’s lives,” Tamara said. “It gives us all hope. To help show that there is life after cancer is one of the greatest things a hospital can do.”

Funding for this event comes from donations made to the Park Nicollet Foundation. Learn more about the impact the Foundation’s Love + Legacy Campaign is having.

More photos of the Creating Hope Together survivorship celebration

Image of Tamara Evans

Photos courtesy of Moira Lennox.