Last March, a week before her 59th birthday, Lotus resident Deb Tull was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was almost nine years to the day that my husband had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, so we were both familiar with the ‘C’ word,” said Tull. “Only this time, we traded places.”
Tull had triple negative breast cancer — a two centimeter tumor in her right breast.
“The surgeon told me there were two choices: a lumpectomy with radiation treatment or a mastectomy with chemotherapy. I had a lot of decisions to make but not a lot of information.”
After doing research and remembering her husband’s five-year long bout with cancer and related issues, Tull opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy and aggressive chemotherapy.
“It was a Draconian measure, but I didn’t want it to spread and I didn’t want to have to tell my kids I had breast cancer again,” she said.
Her husband, Richard, gave her a piece of advice from his own experience: “Before you make the decision, join one of the breast cancer support groups.”
“It was the most valuable thing I’ve ever done,” said Tull. “At our first meeting, a woman saw how scared I was. She took me into the bathroom and showed me her breasts. I thought, ‘It’s not so bad, I can do this.’”
On May 8 of this year, Tull went in for her reconstruction surgery, the last medical step in the longest journey of her life. She plans to be up and around in time to attend the Albie Aware Gala on Thursday, May 16 where she is one of five nominees for “Survivor of the Year.”
Tull became part of Albie Aware, the Albie Carson Breast Cancer Foundation, when she was asked by her breast cancer support group to participate in an Albie Aware fashion show.
“I didn’t like to wear a wig when my hair fell out, so I had a variety of scarves, hats and turbans and they wanted me to model them,” said Tull.
Albie Aware was created by Doug Carson in memory of his wife, Albie Carson, who died of breast cancer at the age of 55. The foundation emphasizes early detection through education, awareness and testing.
“Albie Aware is so important to me. As a healthcare executive I had resources, but a lot of women don’t have resources and they are so scared when they get that diagnosis — they need help right now,” said Tull. “Albie helps with finding doctors, with additional diagnostic testing, financial assistance for testing, mammography clinics and even will go along with you to the doctor. They are local and they believe in breast cancer services and education.”
As part of her own healing, Tull began to participate in Albie Aware fundraisers. She created some of her own after she was nominated for “Survivor of the Year.”
The award is based on raising money for Albie Aware and Tull’s personal goal is to raise $50,000.
“Every donation dollar is one vote,” said Tull. “I’d love to win, but I’m alive, so I’m already a winner. It’s more important to me to help more women and men understand breast cancer detection and treatment.”
Tull quoted some scary statistics: more than 2,400 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the next year — 400 will die from the disease. More than 70 percent of women with breast cancer, like Tull, have no family history of the disease.
“After the mastectomy, I had chemotherapy from June to October,” said Tull. ” Yoga, breathing and watching eight seasons of “24” helped with the chemo pain — when that little clock on “24” would count things down, I would get up and do 20 minutes of stretching and Yoga.”
“I’ve received so much from my friends, my family and even from random strangers, that I want to help ,” said Tull. “Breast cancer is life-changing but it doesn’t define who you are.”
Determined to be a survivor and not a victim, Tull has thrown herself into fundraising for Albie Awareness and into mentoring people newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Last September, Tull went to a Healing Journeys conference.
“I met a woman who had just been diagnosed and she looked so forlorn. I started talking to her and we’ve become good friends. She lives in Truckee and had to come to UCD (University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento) for her medical appointments, so I went with her to the doctor,” Tull said.
Tull cut her waist-length hair for Locks of Love before the chemo, but now she loves her very short hair and has decided to keep it short.
Meditation, yoga and healthy eating have become a way of life and although she plans to return to her executive job at Landmark Health in June, Tull isn’t planning on doing it the same way.
“No more 14 hours days, I’m looking for balance and taking care of myself. My compassion is at a much deeper level so I know I’ll do my job better,” said Tull.
Yoga continues to be a healing practice for Tull and she is thinking about one day teaching a class for those going through chemotherapy.
She’s volunteered for the mentor program at Marshall Hospital and bought a case of “The Breast Cancer Companion — A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed” to give away to Albie Aware and nurse navigators. “It was so helpful to me that I think everyone needs this book.”
The Sacramento Kings, the River Cats, local wineries, All Outdoors and the Enchanted April Bed and Breakfast in Pilot Hill have all been generous supporters of Tull’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Albie Aware.
“It’s the first time I tried fundraising, but I’ve been fortunate,” said Tull, “and I’ve met so many wonderful people doing this, including young women who are being diagnosed.”
Two things haven’t changed.
“I’m a docent at the Wakamatsu Colony,” said Tull. “When I was first home from surgery, I went to the barn and just sat there, all bandaged up, and answered questions.The barn is a very healing place for me.”
The other is her love of gardening and Tull is ebullient that, this year, she can work in amongst her roses and sweet peas. Last year, after the diagnosis, friends hung peace flags in the garden for her.
Despite her continuing recuperation, Tull is always available for a hug or words of support, turning her journey of fear into a quest for how to help.
To donate to Albie Aware or for further information about the foundation visit the Website at albieaware.org or call 916-927-1592.
To support Deb Tull for “Survivor of the Year,” click on her photo on the Albie Aware Website.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.