Through Darkness: A Cancer Survivor’s Positive Journey
Imagine yourself doing a daily routine such as showering and then discovering that your life will change forever.
This is the case with 31-year-old Tanisha Pingel of Los Angeles. At the age of 30, Pingel found a lump in her breast during a self-examination. After several tests, doctors diagnosed her with stage zero breast cancer.
“I wasn’t too worried then because it was stage zero,” said Pingel. “Doctors said they would be doing a mastectomy and not a lumpectomy because the lump was large.”
Under the supervision of Dr. David Chan, Dr. Lisa Jewel and Dr. Ali Jones, Pingel underwent a mastectomy of her right breast. Once surgery was complete, it was confirmed that Pingel did not have stage zero but had an aggressive stage three breast cancer. On top of the mastectomy, they had to remove 16 lymph nodes in her right arm. Because four came back positive for cancerous cells, the diagnosis was upgraded to stage three.
“I was shocked at first because time after time, they told me I had stage zero,” Pingel said. “I wanted to remain positive but then I felt hurt and started questioning God.” With prayer and family and friend support, Pingel said she went back to being positive after a few days. “I had some doubtful and emotional moments from time to time in 2010 and 2011 but I mostly stayed positive.”
As she moved forward, a “map” of her treatment was laid out: she was to receive extensive chemotherapy, radiation, enter a bone study that was said to help prevent the relapse of her cancer, and finally, doctors recommended she remove the other breast.
“Because the cancer was so aggressive, they wanted to go in and remove the other breast, even though there was no sign of cancer there,” said Pingel. “It was just another preventative measure.”
One of Pingel’s tests found that her cancer was not genetic. Along with her team of doctors, she believed it may have been environmental, but they were not able to pinpoint exactly how she obtained the disease. They decided, however, that they would give her every treatment possible because of the alarming rate the cancer had spread and the fact that she was only 30.
Pingel began her first course of chemotherapy with a “cocktail” of the drugs Epirubicin andCytoxin. She would go to the Cancer Treatment Center in Redondo Beach, California every week and sit for four hours to be treated.
“I surprisingly didn’t get as sick as they made me think I might,” she said. “I think that’s why I smiled a lot and stayed pretty positive during treatments.”
Even after one course of treatment was over and she began the second with Taxol, another type of chemotherapy used to treat cancer that she did once a month for six treatments, and despite hair loss, Pingel maintained her positive attitude.
It was then that people receiving treatment began to approach Pingel.
“I would smile all the time, and people would ask me how it was that I looked and felt so great,” she said. “I would just say, ‘I’m alive, what’s there not to smile about?’”
Pingel took the praise she received from patients and doctors about her attitude and decided she would turn her diagnosis into something positive. She began speaking to patients who entered the clinic for treatment in hopes of inspiring them.
She would reach out to patients with positive words, a hug, a smile, “Anything that might help them get through that treatment that day,” she said. But even with her positive outlook her battle wasn’t over. Pingel had to undergo radiation as well. Her treatment was five days a week for six weeks which took place at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Though the treatments took her away from the cancer center in Redondo Beach, she took her plan with her to Cedars and tried to inspire and spread positivity there.
It was then that she decided to take what she had learned and spread it to those who are not only sick, but to anyone needing inspiration. She started the “Live Life Tour”.
“I reach out to people and teach or remind them to do one fun thing a day because life is too short and we shouldn’t wait for a cancer diagnosis to go out and live,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be expensive or very time consuming, just one thing that makes you happy everyday.”
Her project is still in the works and will feature a blog that will showcase photos and stories that readers are able to submit themselves to describe how they are living life to the fullest.
“I want to let people know cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” said Pingel.
Pingel said she wants to remind people to live because even if brief, there was a time when she might have feared she wouldn’t.
“I actually never feared, during treatment or surgery, that I would die but when I had a friend die and she had the same cancer as mine and same doctors, I got scared for a bit,” Pingel said.
Her fear of death didn’t last though.
“I made peace with it all one day. The doctors did everything, even overdid some things” she laughed, “because they wanted to make sure it didn’t come back. They say I’ve been given the Cadillac of treatments, and I believe it.”
Pingel continues to speak to people and help them in any way she can by telling them about the Live Life Tour, and continuing to work on it’s progress to inspire people. She is now in remission, but goes for scans and tests every 3 months.
“All tests have always come back negative, I’m happy about that but know life is precious. I am not afraid of death. People should be more afraid of not living,” said Pingel. “That’s what I want to inspire people to do, get out and live.”