Tatum shines through an onslaught of despair
Cape Town - As we mark Women’s Day, a woman of true strength and stature who has been on a roller coaster of hardships and heartbreak over the past three months needs to be celebrated.
Tatum Tippens, 26, from Atlantis, near Cape Town, was living her best life until her world was turned upside down last year.
In May 2019, her mother, Liesl Tippens, 46, was diagnosed with colon cancer.
As the family battled to come to terms with it, they would never have imagined their vibrant daughter would be diagnosed with cancer two months later.
“On July 29, 2019, I went for a colposcopy and gastroscopy after I had suffered from severe heartburn, indigestion which got worse as I was choking on everything and vomiting after eating.
“I was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer,” Tippens said.
While the family were still reeling from her mother’s diagnosis, her own diagnosis placed even more strain on them.
“It really broke my mom and my entire family because how was this all possible at the same time,” she said.
Tippens, who worked as an administrative clerk at the local Wesfleur Hospital, is the open-minded one who took on every challenge and, doing so, remained positive despite the cancer diagnosis.
She was set to start chemotherapy as soon as possible as well as radiation for five weeks. She could never have imagined what lay ahead.
“In the beginning, I didn't think that I would make it, but I kept being positive and my faith and trust grew from a mustard seed to a garden and, to be honest, radiation wasn't as bad as chemotherapy was.
“The hospital staff really made my weeks pleasant. I would dress up like someone that's coming for a photo shoot to feel better.
“My big personality played a huge role in this nightmare.
“My mother didn't get radiation, but with chemotherapy we would discuss our experiences and side effects and help each other feel better,” Tippens said.
She started her journey at the Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital but had to receive her radiation treatment from the Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Pinelands.
On January 13, she was set to have an esophagectomy operation, which is the removal of all or parts of the esophagus. This in turn affected her speech.
However, the cancer was so aggressive that she had to return for chemotherapy directly after her operation.
Fortunately, she never never lost any of her hair during chemotherapy.
On April 17, her mother lost her battle to cancer.
“I lost my best friend, the person that had my back through every battle I had to face, even though she wasn't strong enough.
“I would feel sick after treatment and at midnight just feel someone rubbing my back or holding me. We shared a bed for this whole year.
“I promised her I will fight for the both of us and I won't give up because I know she did her best. She was the hero of her family so I will continue living on with her strength,” Tippens said.
Holding on to her faith, and with support from family and friends, she has kept fighting.
Her grandmother was her pillar of strength. They spoke every day and after her mother’s passing she would find comfort in just lying next to her grandmother when she became overwhelmed.
Two months after her mom's death a routine check-up would bring her the joy she had been yearning for.
“On June 18, I went for a CT scan at Mediclinic. The next day I got a call from the doctor. I intentionally missed the call. During the call back she gave me the news. I was lost for words.
“I was with my cousin at that moment and we couldn't talk. On our way home we just started singing. I got home and started crying and all I could say was, 'Thank you God, mom, I did it'.
“I was cancer free.”
Later, not feeling well, Tippens went for a Covid-19 test on July 16 and tested positive.
It was a huge blow, but she made her way to the isolation facility.
“As I was heading to the hotel, I got the news. My grandmother had just passed on. I was on the floor. I just couldn’t accept it because how is so much pain even possible?” she said.
Being away from her family, Tippens was left with so many questions and, all the more heartbreaking, she would not be able to attend her grandmother’s funeral on July 25.
“I believe God has a reason for everything. My mind is overloaded and I just want to be with my family.”
She is currently receiving speech therapy. Her doctor seems positive that another surgery is not needed.
With her new lease of life, Tippens said she will no longer be making plans for the future but taking what life hands her.
“I have dreams, bigger dreams, but for now I just want to appreciate every chance I get with my family and friends and the beauty of life regardless of the hurt we feel.
“I'm really amazed at the favour God showed in my life and I know greater things await me,” she added.
* This Women’s Month, IOL in collaboration with the African News Agency, are calling on our readers, corporate partners and staff to nominate a woman who embodies the spirit of the women who took part in the 1956 march on the Union Buildings, by empowering and uplifting her community, fellow women or industry.
The #SheIsMyRock nominee will be featured on IOL and you could stand a chance of winning an awesome gift for her thanks to our sponsors Dove, JC le Roux and Sorbet.
To enter, email us at [email protected] or Whatsapp to 0745573535, include a picture of the inspirational woman in your life and tell us why she is your rock. Text, audio and video entries will be accepted.
African News Agency/ANA