Published: October 2, 2019
Conquering Breast Cancer: It Takes a Team
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Tam Dang, Associate Director, Quality Operations, shares her inspiring journey with breast cancer
It was around Tam Dang's 50th birthday when she received an envelope in the mail –it wasn't a birthday card, but instead, a notice from Health Canada indicating it was time for routine medical tests, including a mammogram.
With her mother and two older sisters in good health, Tam felt confident that she too, would be delivered a similar clean bill of health. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
Tam was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a form of breast cancer that begins in the milk duct of the breast. With the potential for it to be an invasive form of cancer, her doctors scheduled surgery.
Once the initial shock of the diagnosis wore off, Tam began to struggle – not with her diagnosis, but rather with how she would communicate the news to her team.
"I would be worried if someone I saw every day went on unexpected leave," she said. At the time, she was Associate Director for Quality Operations in Etobicoke, Canada and had been in that role for more than six years, saying her team at Apotex grew to become her second family.
Her first step was to share the news with her manager who offered unyielding support. Then, Tam gathered her team for a meeting.
"It was quite emotional," she said. "They were so supportive, not only when they found out about my diagnosis but the entire way through, even to this day. And it wasn't just support from my boss, my team and friends at Apotex but also from Health Services and Human Resources. Even when I was on leave, Health Services and Human Resources supported my team."
She worked every day up until her surgery – which included the removal of the tumour and a biopsy of surrounding lymph nodes to see if the cancer spread. The morning of her procedure, Tam was scared and nervous.
"When I was registering, I got a text from my manager and it gave me so much strength. I felt it throughout the entire day," she said. After her surgery, Tam said she received daily messages from her Apotex colleagues sending words of encouragement and prayers.
"I wanted to get well, to get stronger so I could come back and see these folks at Apotex," said Tam. "Those encouraging texts, words, emails – I can't describe it, it's overwhelming."
Two weeks after her surgery, Tam received amazing news – the tumour didn't spread but it was recommended she undergo radiation treatment. Before she started, Tam visited her team at the Etobicoke manufacturing facility. She believed it was the best thing she ever did as the love they showed her made her feel even more ready for treatment.
Upon completing radiation Tam was prescribed APO-Tamoxifen. When Tam realized her medication was made by Apotex, she said it was the best feeling ever. This moment of pride was also a moment of realization that Apotex has been by her side through many major milestones in her life.
Tam started as a QA Associate in 1999. Since then, Apotex has seen her buy her family home, give birth to her son, allow her to flourish as a leader at Apotex and grow into the person she is today. "When I'm sick, Apotex is there. When I'm well, Apotex is also there."
Since January 2019, she has been back at work in a new role as Associate Director, Quality Operations, External Manufacturing Quality. Tam says she wakes up every day with the goal of making it a good day. She has never felt stronger, more confident or more valued – not just as an employee, but as a person, a friend and a leader at Apotex.
Her journey has shown her what type of manager she wants to be. Tam strives to have an impact and do what her boss did for her. She always wants to put the needs of her team first.
Every year over 9 million people die from cancer. The best chance to reduce these numbers is through early detection and intervention. Tam encourages everyone – regardless of gender – to get tested.
"I'm here today because of my family and friends at Apotex," said Tam. "And I'm here today because of Apotex."
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