Saving Grace

Single Mom Survives Cancer to Help Others

by Shannon Kelley Gould

Last summer, single mother of two Tami Finseth began feeling
tired. Very tired. A lump appeared under her arm; another on her
thigh; another under her chin. She’d always been healthy — worked
as a mortgage broker, went to the gym, volunteered at her church
and her kids’ school — and denied that anything was wrong for as
long as she could, but eventually, she realized she knew that
something wasn’t right. She had no medical insurance for herself,
so she called her kids’ pediatrician, who told her to see a surgeon
immediately. The surgeon found more lumps, thought it might be
breast cancer, and sent her in for a mammogram. The next day, she
was told it wasn’t breast cancer. The following day, the surgeon
removed a lymph node. And the following day, her birthday, Tami was
diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma. The doctors wanted to begin chemo
right away, but, because she was without insurance, couldn’t. Tami
found herself desperately pleading her case at the Medi-Cal office,
which she described as one of the most horrible experiences of her
life. Despite the astronomical costs that cancer treatment entails
(chemo alone runs about $25,000), applicants are grilled and their
assets and bank accounts scrutinized in order to prove need. The
process was so stressful and unpleasant, in fact, that Tami began
thinking about doing something to help other single parents
battling cancer, even before her own treatment had begun.

Once she had Medi-Cal in place and began chemo, Tami knew it was
time to tell her son Dakota, who was about to start fifth grade,
and daughter Jade, who was going into fourth. The deaths of two of
the kids’ classmates’ mothers the previous year were still fresh in
their minds, and, though Tami put on a brave face, the kids didn’t
want to leave her side.

Her status as a single parent compounded the nightmare: “I
didn’t have anyone to break down to, to regroup; you kind of don’t
get to do that,” she said. Beyond that, there was no one else there
to reassure Jade and Dakota, let alone take them to school, pack
their lunches, or help them with homework. She wasn’t able to work,
so the three lived off her savings, “which goes pretty quick in
this town,” and the support group she’d been referred to was full
of couples. “You’re scared enough, but then you go to this support
group where it’s all couples, and it’s like you’re ostracized
again,” she said. “It hurts even more.” Also, she pointed out,
frequently — between work and kids — single parents are simply too
stretched to have the time to cultivate a strong support

“Being a single parent is really overlooked in society; there’s
not a lot of support,” Tami said. “Raising a family alone, every
day, you’re depleted.” Add to that the nightmare of cancer, with
chemo treatments measured to be so strong as to stop just short of
killing you, and it can be devastating.

Tami credited her family, friends, and acquaintances from her
church and her children’s school with helping her make it though,
but it was a battle. Friends shuttled the kids to school when she
was at the hospital for chemo and took them to the hospital after
school. She struggled to protect them, saying, “Mommy loves it
here, it’s like a spa!” but, she said, she couldn’t fool them.
“Even though you have your game-face on, they’re looking in your
eyes; they know.”

All the while, a dream was taking form in Tami’s mind, and,
shortly after receiving her clean bill of health on April 10, Grace
Uncharted was established as a nonprofit to assist single parents
battling cancer, to fill the role a spouse might. The organization
is just getting off the ground, and is in need of cash donations
and volunteers. The YMCA has partnered with Grace Uncharted to
provide child care on a sliding payment scale, and Tami is hoping
that program directors will step up to donate spots for kids.
Prayer quilts and hats are important for those in the battle, while
rides to school and help with homework are important for their
children. Ultimately, Tami hopes to be in the position to tackle
the weightier issues — like medical insurance.

“[This experience] totally changes your perspective,” said Tami.
“You reevaluate what’s important. If my walk through this was to
make other people’s walks easier, I would do it again.”

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