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 breast cancer stories, but each was progressing on the same path.

Tamara embraced being a breast cancer survivor even after her cancer returned for a third time in 2016. No matter which stage of her battle with cancer, she knew what was important to her.

“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.
In spring of 2018, Tamara Evans’ cancer journey came to end but her inspiration lives on through the memories she created and the smiles she shared.

What it really means to be a breast cancer 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 was 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 volunteered 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. During that time, she shared her personal breast cancer stories and advice in hopes of making the patient experience even better.

Prior to COVID-19, Frauenshuh Cancer Center hosted a survivorship event annually. The event was thanks to donations made to the Park Nicollet Foundation.