If you’re planning to visit Tammy and John Hayes of Breezy Point, just remember: No frowns allowed; chins up and smiles all the way.
That’s how the Hayes family rolls, despite a serious brain cancer diagnosis for Tammy.
The Pequot Lakes Fire Department will host a benefit spaghetti dinner and silent auction for the family from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Trailside Center at Pequot Lakes Baptist Church.
Life was normal for the Hayes family until last September. One day at Honey Tree Child Care Center in Jenkins, where Tammy worked for five years, a father asked why she was walking funny.
The woman with an infectious giggle had no idea what he was talking about, but then noticed that, in fact, she wasn’t walking right.
“It started before then, but no one really said anything,” said Tammy, who turns 44 this month.
Within a few days of that conversation, Tammy had symptoms of a stroke, John said. She had been having trouble writing, and her right side wasn’t working right.
She saw Dr. Brett Nienaber at the Essentia Health-Pequot Lakes Clinic on Tuesday, Sept. 17, and he wanted her to have an MRI.
“I’m like, ‘What?’ I’m telling you, it was stupid. It’s still dumb,” Tammy said, referring to her cancer.
She had an MRI that night at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, where she received the diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme cancer that has spread throughout her brain. John said people have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting Tammy’s rare type of cancer.
Within a week she was visiting a neurosurgeon at St. Cloud Hospital and had brain surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
“It’s amazing how quickly things can change,” Tammy said, noting she loves to work and to be with the kids, but she isn’t able to work anymore.
Tammy had six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. Now she is on maintenance chemo in the form of pills she takes at home for a year. For now, the tumor has shrunk, which is as good as can be expected. She’ll have MRIs every three months.
“It is what it is, and eventually it will be done,” Tammy said of her future.
John and Tammy have three children: Amanda, 23; Michelle, 20; and Evan, 17, a junior at Pequot Lakes High School. John is part-owner of Neumann Construction, a Pequot Lakes firefighter and active with the Pequot Brush Pilots and antique snowmobile clubs.
The close-knit family is handling Tammy’s cancer with a positive attitude.
“We fired an oncologist who said, ‘You have less than a year,’” Tammy said. “I said, ‘If you let him back in I’ll sue the hospital.’”
“Chins up and smiles,” John said.
They found the information regarding her type of cancer to be depressing, so they stopped researching it. And they’ve found support from family, friends and the community to be overwhelming.
“Everybody has helped so much and I get cards from people I don’t know,” Tammy said with a giggle. “Everybody’s been so wonderful.”
“From the beginning we’ve had so many people asking, ‘What do you need?’” John said. “We’re usually the people trying to help everyone else.”
Today, Tammy doesn’t have much stamina and her right side still doesn’t function 100 percent. She can’t do as much as she once did.
“That’s been a huge change because Tammy’s done everything in the house,” John said.
But, he added, “A positive attitude is such a better way to go.”
“It has to be,” Tammy said. “When I wake up and I feel good I say, ‘Everybody must be thinking of me now.’”
Nancy Vogt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook.