NEWTON FALLS - In the face of adversity, some people emerge stronger.
In the face of cancer, Mary Tatman came out smarter.
Tatman, of Paris Township, has twice battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Mary Tatman and her daughter Elizabeth share a smile Thursday at the McDonald’s in Newton Falls.
The first time was in 2002. A swollen lymph node caught her attention, but a feline encounter near the spot led the doctor to believe she had cat scratch disease. A few months later, the spot had not improved, and the node was surgically removed.
"Nobody had ever said the word 'biopsy' to me," she remembered Thursday while getting some dinner for her daughter, Elizabeth.
So when she was told the results of a biopsy were not good, her first response was "what results?" A second reaction quickly followed.
"I cried for 10 seconds," she said. At the time, Elizabeth was 18 months - there was no time for tears.
Then she went on to have 23 treatments of radiation, followed by a clean bill of health.
The next bout started in 2005 with a lump that her doctor felt a few months earlier but didn't mention - maybe a "wait and see" approach.
In February 2006, the lump was still there, and she was again diagnosed - but with Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was a lump in her armpit, and she could only feel it when her arm was down, not her normal position for self-examination.
"It was like I had a big jelly bean in my armpit," she said.
It was at this time that Tatman got involved in her own care.
Turns out, the Hodgkin's lymphoma was a misdiagnosis. Apparently the way the Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's diseases present is similar.
"The first time, I just went along with the doctors. I just trusted them 100 percent. I might have been treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma," she said. "The second time I got more involved and did more research."
For the non-Hodgkin's, she was facing four treatments of radiation and four of chemotherapy. But her research gave her strong feelings against that course. She said radiation would have put her at more risk for developing solid tumors within 10 years.
"That's going to put me at 50-something. I wasn't willing to take that risk," she said. If she was 70, it would be different. But she was 42 years old with a 5-year-old.
So she started a series of eight chemo treatments. She and her sister-in-law, who was receiving treatment for breast cancer, spent that summer bald.
"It was a great bonding experience for us to go through together," Tatman said.
Tatman was able to stop after six chemotherapy treatments. She said she stayed ahead of the nausea and felt a little rundown here and there, but the worst part was feeling hot all the time.
"It was two years before I knew what it was like to be cold," she said, adding that her daughter and husband often froze at their home because of it.
After she beat the cancer again, Tatman lost her job of 18-plus years at Amweld. She took advantage of the funds available for retraining and turned to histology.
That's the study of tissue. So the person who didn't even know hers was being tested in a biopsy years ago would now be the person who took that tissue and turned it into slides for examination.
Tatman, 47, just completed her associate's degree, and she is pumped - she said she is excited about sitting through a tumor conference. It lets her follow a case from start to finish.
"It's all about the diagnosis," she said. "I wanted to see what role the histologist is going to play."
Her advice to others now is to be aware of their bodies. When she was in treatment the second time, she developed a melanoma. It was a new mole under her breast, caught only because she's learned diligence when it comes to her health.
Now, she's considering even more schooling, although finding a new job comes first. She also goes to the Relay For Life and is considering starting a team next year.
And Tatman's ready for whatever comes - she says God's obviously got a plan for her.
"Knowing that it could come back - I just don't worry about that," she said.