Chloe Green is only 6 years old. She shouldn't know this much about cancer.
She knows her mother has it and that everyone raves about her courage. Chloe worries and sometimes cries, but this week she is having fun making posters for a carwash to raise money.
It will be years before she can fully appreciate the sacrifice Tammy Green made in the autumn of 2004 when doctors confirmed the cause of all that morning nausea. Tammy already suspected. She'd been there three other times.
The timing of this pregnancy could not have been worse. A routine examination had turned up two tiny spots on Tammy's lungs. She had been told to expect this might happen, but two years had passed since the first diagnosis of a frightening rare cancer called mesenchymal chondrosarcoma. Tammy, married with three other children, had allowed herself to believe she had beaten it, but now there were these suspicious spots.
She rejected any thoughts of abortion. She delayed chemotherapy, worried about the effects it might have on the baby. And shortly after Chloe arrived on July 8, 2005, Tammy Green went back for an examination that now showed nine spots on her lungs. Surgeons at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa removed the upper lobe of her right lung and portions of the left.
Tammy and her husband, Rich, dubbed Chloe their "miracle baby.'' It had not seemed remotely possible that Tammy could have a baby after all she had endured.
It started with lower back pain in early 2003. Tammy, then 29, attributed it to spending 10 hours a day on her feet at the salon where she cut hair. She also lifted and carried around 1-year-old Shayna and 2-year-old Kaylee. When Rich got a new truck and Tammy couldn't get comfortable on the seats, she went to a chiropractor. He detected an unusually hard spot near her spine and suggested she get a CAT scan.
At Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville, surgeons removed a cancerous tumor that Rich likened to "a 5-pound bag of sugar.'' It had grown rapidly into the spinal canal. "One-sixteenth of an inch and she would have been paralyzed,'' her husband said. It took 27 hours of surgery as doctors removed three ribs and her diaphragm, fused her spine and inserted rods, screws and carbon filter discs.
Tammy did not have health insurance. Medicaid picked up the operation. As Tammy recovered, Rich took a job with Lowe's in Gainesville while family and friends cared for the children, including son Tyler, then 8. Her mother provided them a house, the same one on Bass Lake Road in New Port Richey where Tammy grew up.
After Chloe's birth and the second cancer surgery, Tammy again allowed herself to believe she might be cured. But in November 2009, tests revealed another tumor, this one in her chest. Doctors said they could not safely remove it and wanted Tammy to undergo more chemotherapy. By now she was an expert on mesenchymal and concluded chemo would not solve the problem. She chose to begin alternative therapies, including radically changing her diet. She started an organic juicing regimen and lost 120 pounds in two years.
She felt healthy and enjoyed the normalcy of working three days a week. The girls were able to stay together at Cypress Elementary School. Tyler excelled as a football player at River Ridge High. Rich got work as an emergency medical technician and entered the paramedic training program at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
But with little income and mounting bills, they leveraged their home. Unable to catch up, they declared bankruptcy last year and moved into a rental home that costs $1,500 a month plus utilities.
Two weeks ago she had a scare, coughing up blood. She wound up in the emergency room. She knows that tumor remains in her chest, but rejects any more traditional treatment. She happened to mention a woman she had met years ago who sought a cure at the Oasis of Hope in Tijuana, Mexico.
Angie Daughtery, Tammy's cousin, was listening. In a matter of hours, she created a Facebook page called "Tammy's Road to Hope.'' Social media power fueled support for a carwash and before they knew it, donations reached $3,500.
Unfortunately, Tammy had based her estimate for the Mexican alternative treatment center on old information. It would cost several thousands more, so now she is also considering Health Quarters in Colorado Springs. Both centers, she says, emphasize that the body is capable of healing itself.
Meanwhile, she feels a tightness in her chest. She recalls that when she was first diagnosed, doctors told her only 15 percent of all patients make it longer than five years. Only one person in 10 million got this kind of cancer, she said, and still managed a joke: "I'm special. I'm rare and unique.''
She is stunned by the generosity of strangers, comforted by the love of friends. Her goal is simple: "Live. Be there for my children.''
"It would be easy to die,'' she says, "because I do have pain every day. But I refuse. I have so much to live for.''