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June 2012
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BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAIT gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com

Tammy Bohannon will never forget May 23. Everybody has those days they remember, she said, and that will always be one of hers.

May 23 of this year, Bohannon found out she has breast cancer after discovering a lump a week earlier.

"The hardest thing about May 23 was saying the words out loud," she said. "Calling my family in Indianapolis and speaking those words was extremely difficult, it made it real. That was May 23, and that started my journey that I'm on now."

Bohannon had her first chemotherapy treatment in June, and will have her last Nov. 11. Then she'll undergo a double mastectomy, radiation and breast reconstruction. Her treatment timeline is about a year long, and her prognosis is good. Even so, she's fighting like she's fighting for her life.

"They have that breast cancer saying, 'fight like a girl,' but I thought, I'm going to do more than fight like a girl. I'm going to fight like a redhead," Bohannon said. "I'm bringing out everything I've got. Cancer doesn't stand a chance."

"Fight like a redhead" has become Bohannon's mantra through her treatment process, which she's documented on Facebook. With every treatment or doctor's visit, she posts using the hashtag #fightlikearedhead, sharing her experience.

Once she broke the news, the support she got in return blew Bohannon away, she said. The support of her family and friends and her faith in God have helped her fight.

She didn't like losing her long, beautiful red hair, but she was prepared for that, she said. The hardest part of it all has been learning to ask for help. Even though the red hair's gone, the trademark redheaded stubbornness isn't, she said.

She's determined not to let cancer derail her life. She still works as a teacher's aide at McCracken County High School. She still gets out and does all the things she would normally do, most days. If anything, her diagnosis has pushed her to do more.

"It really does change your perspective on things," she said. "You realize very quickly what's important and what's not. You truly live for today. You don't take tomorrow for granted, no matter how good your prognosis is."

Though Bohannon's well over halfway through her chemotherapy treatments, it all still feels surreal at times. Now that it's October, she sees breast cancer awareness commercials, shirts, banners and ribbons everywhere, and she still thinks to herself, "Oh my gosh, that's me now."

After her diagnosis, but before her treatments, she remembers catching herself in the mirror and thinking, "I have cancer? This is the face of cancer?" She still looked perfectly healthy. She had no family history of the disease. "This is the face of cancer?"

"I've learned that you can't assume anything," she said. "Somebody's got to be that one in eight, so why not me? The biggest risk factor is that we're women. That was my only risk factor, but that's all I needed.

"My big soapbox in the beginning when everyone was offering help was, you want to know what you can do to help me? Make sure you get your mammograms. If you're going to bring me food, then you better be able to tell me when your last mammogram was. Men, nag your women. You can't assume anything. You just can't leave it to chance."

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