Sister Survivors

Survivor Sisters

On May 22, 2012, at 44 years old, Tina Dixon received that dreaded phone call – could she come in to talk about the results of her biopsy. She was not at all concerned with all the recent tests she had undergone at the UMass Memorial Medical Center’s Hahnemann, Memorial and University campuses. She was surprised by the phone call as she thought that the doctors were just covering all the bases as they had in the past with questionable scans. Fast forward through six procedures, four and a half months of chemotherapy, the wig she wouldn’t wear, and seven weeks of radiation, all with a positive attitude inspired by her sister, to May 2013 and a clean scan – great news!

Oh, but wait, Tina’s sister Deborah Gleason felt a lump in her breast. She gave it a month to see if it would change, but in June it was bigger. Debbie had a clear scan in January. It could not possibly be breast cancer. She thought since Tina had just finished treatments in March, the doctors were just being cautious because of Tina’s history. On July 26, 2013, right after her 42nd birthday, Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Armed with the positive attitude she had instilled in her sister, she began her journey of biopsies, major surgery with a hospital stay, two months of chemotherapy and a wig that she wouldn’t wear either. Her great news came in February 2014 with a clean scan.

Tina once told Debbie that maybe she had to go through her breast cancer journey so that it would be easier for Debbie to go through hers. Debbie knew that she could complete her treatment plan because she watched her sister do it. Each sister says that the other sister had a harder treatment. While their treatments were not the same, both had obstacles to overcome. They told each other you are strong, there is no crying in cancer, pick yourself up from those bad days and get through.

Debbie is a little biased when it comes to UMass Memorial Medical Center and is proud to say that she works at UMass. From the registration staff, to the lab techs, radiology techs, doctors, residents and nurses and everyone in between they were treated in the most professional and caring manner that neither will ever forget. This staff is truly in their positions to help care for the most vulnerable patients in their worst hour. They made the journey more bearable and continue to provide excellent care as they monitor the sisters’ health.

Tina and Debbie had committed to walk in the UMass Cancer Walk on September 29, 2013. Tina knew she would regain all of her strength by Walk day and they both wanted to give back to the community that had supported them throughout their treatments. With Debbie’s diagnosis, Tina did not want Debbie to walk the route on Walk day. Being the fiercely strong woman that Debbie is, she and her sister completed their first walk as individual fundraisers a month after her surgery and the week before her first chemotherapy treatment.

In 2014, they organized Team T.D., Tina and Deb Take Down Cancer. They had eight team members and raised $1,588. They continue to fundraise for the Walk and add more team members every year. Debbie and Tina continue to raise money for the UMass Medicine Cancer Walk to bring attention to this horrible disease. They know how hard the doctors and scientists at UMass work to find better ways of treating cancer patients and want to support these efforts so the next person diagnosed with cancer has hope for a cure.