Last February we introduced you to licensed clinical [oncology] social worker Becky Cammy in an article titled Frontline Warrior that explained the breadth of her role helping cancer patients at Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC), how her collaboration with Legacy of Hope led to the establishment of its Emergency Patient Support Network, and that she was a sponsored runner for the Love Run Half Marathon. We’re happy to report that she’s back for an encore as a sponsored Legacy of Hope athlete. On March 26th, she’ll run the Love Run Half Marathon.
Cammy had planned to do the Love Run Half Marathon last year, but she ended up running the 7.6k option, because she was on the rebound from a “very first world problem—having injured my hip while running on a beach in Aruba a couple months prior.” In some ways the 2022 Love Run 7.6k was the springboard for Cammy’s recovery. She credits Philly Runs Free with pushing her to complete the race at a point when she wasn’t sure she could even race that day. “I was hesitant because I'd been injured for a few months and was just starting to feel better. Philly Runs Free helped me stay accountable to doing the race; and I'm glad I did cause I think it gave me the confidence to feel like I could build from there.” And build she did. Cammy kept at it, picked up the miles, and was feeling really good by the summer. So it’s not surprising that she PR’d in the Philly half marathon in November, averaging a speedy 7:26 per mile for an impressive 1:37 finish. “I didn't expect it to be a PR year…but I did it smart—physical therapy and regular body work for three months after last year's injury. I feel great now, coming off a pretty good Fall. Now I’m back in training for the (2023) Love Run Half Marathon.”
Cammy experienced “probably the most significant loss” of her adulthood, when her dear friend, who’d been treated at [SKCC] for stage IV colon cancer for four and a half years, died in May at the age of 36.” As an oncology social worker, Cammy found the intersection of the personal and the professional to be a weighty collision. “It made trying to stay present and maintain hope with my friend very tough, knowing ultimately how it would probably end. It was really, really hard. And the heaviness of it struck me after she died.”
The tragic loss of her friend to cancer hit Cammy hard, as she reflects “She was able to get engaged, get married and buy a house—kind of live through a few things that she really wanted to do. Her fertility was impacted by her diagnosis at age 32; and she’d gone through fertility preservation but ultimately wasn’t able to carry. So it was rough. Colon cancer is usually very treatable but it was stage four by the time she was diagnosed. She’d seen a doctor for some GI symptoms and it turns out that the cancer had already metastasized to her liver and lungs. I think the five year survival for stage four is like under 15%. She survived four and a half years. She was strong in the beginning—the first round of chemo, you know, she honestly didn't look that sick for the first two years other than her hair loss. Her cancer recurred; and she went through a lot of surgeries. She went through quite a lot.”
“Looking forward to those life events helped her hold on for that last year and a half. She got married in a small, intimate wedding—tears everywhere as you can imagine, because it was so much more than just a wedding. We went on an awesome girl's trip to Jamaica with a bunch of friends last summer. It was really a celebration of her life.”
Cammy’s vantage point as an oncology social worker allows her to easily see how cancer impacts almost everyone, “someone knows someone or has a family member who's been impacted. I'm empathetic to the stories I hear every day here from patients, but loss really strikes a different nerve when it's a close friend, or family. It cuts deep.”
Cammy shares that she thinks a lot about her friend a lot on her runs, which provide her time to grieve. “I am reflective and in my own space, I often drift off and think about her. She'd been sick for a long time, but the last year and a half was really downhill—lots of hospitalizations, lots of bad side effects. I think a lot about how she's not gonna live into her eighties and die a little old lady. There's so much loss of the future.”
“I would talk with her frequently about Legacy of Hope, and she learned a lot about social work and the diversity of people who are impacted by cancer. She never imagined she'd get cancer. She had a great support network, lots of friends and family. It really struck her when she realized that some people do this all by themselves—without anyone. Throughout her years being in treatment she would say to me ‘How do people do this by themselves!?’ She definitely went through challenges, but she wasn't worried about putting food on the table, unlike many of the patients we refer to Legacy of Hope. I think learning that was quite profound to her. It's the kind of thing you don't really want to think about until you have to. And then by then it's just so overwhelming. It's tricky—a really hard balance. You knew in your gut this was gonna be inevitable. You didn't know when, or how, but it was important to make preparations, and have the tools to navigate. We live in this death-defying society where we don't talk about it; people can be weird about it because of that.
Apart from the painful loss of her good friend, 2022 was also a significant year for Cammy because it was the year her team referred Tyrone Mack (featured in Broad Shoulders) to Legacy of Hope. “Tyrone’s story is so powerful and surreal—fighting stage IV colon cancer, his son being recently diagnosed with leukemia, and his daughter with a severe congenital heart defect. Being a social worker feels different because of my experience with Tyrone’s case. Cases like this amaze me with the resilience of the human spirit. Despite accumulating stressors and challenges to his family, Tyrone’s spirit is so vibrant. Everyone here at SKCC kind of knows about him.”
Cammy’s spirit is cut from the same cloth as Tyrone's; and she exhibits the same resilience she admires in Tyrone and her other clients, which is no small feat, considering the volume of difficult and often tragic stories she deals with on a daily basis. Philly’s cancer patients are blessed to have her in their corner. You can support Cammy’s half marathon effort this March by donating to her fundraiser. Go one better and register to run the Love Run Half Marathon with Becky. Philly Runs Free.