Giving Hope for more time: Tara’s Story

Hospital winner

Tara Whitehead was 42 when she first felt the lump in her breast. At first, she brushed it off – busy with her kids (4 and 7), family, work and life. “No one wants to think they have cancer,” she shared. But, after thinking about it more, she called her family physician to set up a breast exam and mammogram. She was sent for biopsy, and it didn’t take long for the diagnosis: Stage 2 breast cancer. Tara was connected right away with Dr. Silvana Spadafora – an Oncologist at Sault Area Hospital.

“Of course it’s terrifying when you get the news,” Tara said. “But after you speak to Dr. Spadafora you have a plan, and once you have a plan you have hope. From the minute I talked to her I knew I was in good hands,” Tara shares. “I knew she would do everything in her power to try to beat it.”

Dr. Spadafora sent Tara for a full body scan, and it became clear that Tara’s cancer was much more aggressive than initially thought. Her diagnosis went from Stage 2 to Stage 4. The cancer had spread to her liver.

Tara receiving her routine antibody infusion in the Algoma District Cancer Clinic at Sault Area Hospital.

Tara went through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but with her specific diagnosis, there is no remission. “My main goal is to buy 10 years,” Tara shared. “But the way things are going, we may be looking at even more time.”

To buy time, Tara comes to SAH every 3 weeks to get an antibody treatment. The antibody treatment works to attack any tumours growing in her body, and gives Tara the ability to live as normal a life as possible. The antibody treatments don’t tire her out like chemotherapy – “It’s about a 2-hour treatment, and then I go home and I can get back to normal – I can make dinner, I can clean my house,” Tara says.

It’s through local donations that the services Tara needs to treat her cancer are available here, at Sault Area Hospital. “I haven’t had to leave town; it’s been an amazing journey. SAH has been very accommodating to our family, the chemo was here, everything was here. Everyone has been wonderful.”

While many at Sault Area Hospital have made an impact, Tara has a special connection to Dr. Spadafora; “I feel so lucky to have her. She’s warm, but she also tells you how it is – that’s what I love about her. We laugh together, she always asks about my family and my kids. And we always hug goodbye at the end of a visit. She, and the Cancer Care team at Sault Area Hospital, are a part of my life now.”

Tara will need to receive treatment for the rest of her life, and wants to continue to get as much of it as she can at Sault Area Hospital – close to her family and support system. Cancer Care is continuously evolving, and it’s only with community donations that we can ensure our hospital stays up-to-date with the equipment needed to support the best practices in this field – for patients like Tara and hundreds more who depend on our hospital. Your donations to Sault Area Hospital Foundation ensure our caregivers have the tools to find, monitor and treat cancer here at home.

As we head into the holiday season, Tara is doing well. “As of right now everything is good. I’m looking forward to holiday dinners with family, and I’m thankful we get to spend it together.”

Help us give Tara more time, more holidays, and more hope. Give now.

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