By all accounts, it doesn't seem like someone as on top of her game as Tiffany Honken should have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
She completed her monthly checkups, yearly mammograms and always made her trips to the doctor. If there was any way that she had breast cancer, surely, she thought that she would have caught it.
But then came the Thanksgiving weekend of 2016 when she found the lump on her breast. At first, doctors thought it was just some sort of infection. However, after taking an antibiotic for some time, the lump did not abate. After weeks of taking antibiotics, having fluid drained from her breasts and receiving a mammogram, she decided that the best course of action was to get a biopsy and figure out what exactly was happening inside of her body.
“He says, ‘You don’t really need one right now,’” Honken said. “I said, ‘No, I’m insisting that I do.’ I had the biopsy, and three days before Christmas, I got the phone call.”
That phone call told her that she didn’t have any normal kind of breast cancer. She had inflammatory breast cancer, one of the more aggressive versions of the disease. Because of the general lack of a lump (only 10 percent of people diagnosed with this version find one), the disease is normally not discovered until it hits Stage 4.
Honken was stunned and distressed by this development. She had done research on the condition and realized that the odds of beating it were extremely low - around 15 percent by most estimations. She spent the interim crying and screaming and her frustration was palpable.
She soon underwent surgery and treatment and three future scans ended up showing that the cancer was gione. However, in August 2018, it came back, and this time, it was bad enough to where she said the condition is now classified as being terminal.
“It had metastasized to other areas of my body,” Honken said. “Then, you are a Stage 4.”
It now seems likely that at some point the disease will overrun Honken's body, but before that happens, Honken said she is trying to live her best life. She currently works at Brookstone Acres as a life enrichment assistant alongside one of her best friends, Sara Inman, who works at the facility as a nurse. Inman has worked with Honken since Brookstone opened in 2014 and has been a calming presence during a trying time in her life.
"She's one of the best people I know," Inman said. "She's got the biggest heart and everybody loves her. She's just wonderful to anybody and everybody. She's a fighter and very, very courageous. She's been through some really bad days and has always been a fighter."
On the day that Honken learned that she had inflammatory breast cancer, Inman was right by her friend's side, ready to provide comfort.
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"I picked her up off the floor and spoke with the doctor because she was unable to," Inman said. "We came up with a plan - the next step."
That next step for Honken was to fight the disease with all her might and with help from her family and friends like Inman, she has been able to cope with the daily reality of living with terminal inflammatory breast cancer. She has traveled the world and experienced life in ways few people have.
“Everybody says ‘Do your bucket list’,” Honken said. “I’ve realized your bucket list does not have to be huge. My bucket list could be having dinner with my husband that night or having a family get-together on my daughter’s birthday or making it to my grandson’s second birthday or my granddaughter’s first birthday. Your bucket list doesn’t have to be jumping out of airplanes and traveling to exotic countries.”
She also finds that her faith is allowing her to remain positive and keep going in the face of a deadly disease.
“There’s a reason for all of this,” Honken said. “I don’t know what it is. At first I was angry and frustrated, but I just told a friend that I believe I have been given a gift. I know that I’m going to go and now I have time to prepare for it. Time to prepare my loved ones for leaving, I have time to write letters, I have time for ‘I’m sorry’s’ (and) time for ‘forgive me’s’. I’ve forgiven people who I thought I would never forgive. Part of me feels like it’s a gift from God that I’ve been given the time to prepare.”
While she prepares, she also finds the time to continue her treatments. Thanks to an encounter with the leader of an inflammatory breast cancer Facebook group, she makes the trip down south to Houston to receive treatment and go through clinical trials, some of which are working well. Honken estimates that her cancer has decreased by 63 percent.
“But there’s no guarantees,” Honken said. “It’ll be what takes me. Every day is a gift.”
She has plenty of gifts to provide for her grandchildren when and if that day arrives. For the past several years, Honken has been collecting gifts of every kind to give to them from birth to high school. It’s all about leaving a legacy and providing them with something special that will leave them with a memory that will last beyond her years on earth.
“I have three totes downstairs,” Honken said. “Each one of those totes is filled with gifts from ‘GG’ that ‘GG’ should be able to give sometime in their life. That’s been important to me.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.