Tamekah Alnissa wasn't even due for her first mammogram when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
A hug from her business partner at the Hair Restoration Center of Roanoke revealed pain in her right breast, so she saw her primary care physician for an exam.
"She told me that I'd pulled a muscle," said Tamekah, "but she sent me for my first mammogram at age 38 just to be on the safe side."
The mammogram confirmed the pulled muscle on her right side—and revealed a mass on her left.
"I kind of felt like I stopped breathing for a moment," she said, "and then everything just started moving really fast."
Breast cancer care can be complex, calling on a diverse team of specialists, from general surgery for initial biopsies to plastic surgeons for breast reconstruction. Tamekah's care team included:
- Roxanne Davenport, M.D., Surgical Oncology, Carilion Clinic
- Amanda Gillespie-Twardy, M.D., Medical Oncology-Hematology, Blue Ridge Cancer Care
- Kurtis Moyer, M.D., Chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Carilion Clinic
"I have never had something go so quickly," said Tamekah. "They worked very well together and it didn’t even seem like that Blue Ridge and Carilion were separate when it came to my treatment. Everything just flowed and they made it seem like they all worked together just for me."
It was not an easy road, but Tamekah gained valuable insights as she traveled it.
"When I think about my diagnosis, I don’t say anymore 'why me?'" she said. "I say 'why not me?'"
"I have two daughters. So now my daughters are able to go in and get started and get an early mammogram because I was diagnosed so young. I would rather it had been me than one of my daughters or one of my sisters, who got mammograms just to be on the safe side."
The experience deepened her passion for her work, too.
"Most of my clients are women that are going through cancer and chemo and they need a wig," she said. "So my job here was to find them the perfect wig just to make them feel more comfortable, make them feel more normal. And then I got my diagnosis, and clients that I have helped put in wigs and made them feel beautiful, they were able to come back and help me get through the most difficult time of my life."
Her advice for other her clients, family and friends is just as clear: "A lot of things that we go through are not really about us. It’s not about us, it’s about what we get from the situation that we can pass on to somebody else to help them through the journey."
She also encourages people to follow their physicians' advice. "I still have issues with my health," she said, "but if I continue to do the things that I need to do, and that my doctors tell me to do, that everything is going to work out just fine. And that’s what hope is to me. That when everything is dark around you, that you still believe that everything is going to work out just fine."
And finally, Tamekah shares her hard-earned advice with all of us: "If you feel like something is off with your body, go to the doctor. Your body will tell you when something is wrong. Get it checked out."