“I JUST want people to pour their love for me into Zoey and make sure she lives a great and happy life.”
That is the wish of mum Tina Bills, 28, from Dunmanway but now living in the US, who has been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
Her beautiful little daughter Zoey is just 18 months old.
Tina admits knowing she might not be around when Zoey starts school, or to bring her to sports, or help her deal with puberty... breaks her heart.
This Sunday, June 25, Tina’s mother Erika is holding an Open Garden Fundraiser in West Cork to aid with the high costs associated with her daughter’s illness and help Tina fulfill a bucket list of plans, which include seeing the Northern Lights and snow camping. All the money from that event will go into Tina’s gofundme.com account.
Ten years ago, Tina Bills (neé Treutler) left her home in Dunmanway as a young woman. In a dream move to relocate to the United States, where her boyfriend, now husband, is in the navy, she did what thousands of teenagers only dream of.
After Rob and Tina got married in Texas, they had to move around due to his job, but were mainly based in Virginia since 2009. Tina completed her bachelors degree in media arts and animation in 2014, and beautiful little Zoey was born in November 2015.
“She is the happiest baby in the world and makes my heart sing with happiness,” said Tina.
If you ask Tina what her biggest wish would be, the young mother replies without hesitation: “My biggest wish is for my family and friends to be happy, to not break down or shut down when I do die.”
But she has smaller wishes too, which are still huge for people with cancer: “I hope to be around for much longer than the statistics say. I wish for the cure for cancer and that Zoey didn’t get the mutated gene from me, so she won’t have to worry to deal with this in her own life.”
It has been a difficult year for Tina and her family, at first dealing with the news that she had a tumour, then that the tumour had spread to the liver and isn’t curable, and consequently enduring all the medical procedures and treatments, some of which were quite painful and difficult.
Recalling her diagnosis, Tina said: “During breastfeeding Zoey I had already noticed a lump, but I considered it a clogged milk duct for ages, although it hurt and grew in size. Until I noticed a lump in my armpit as well, which was the first time cancer crossed my mind.“
But it was only during a trip to Europe, introducing her baby daughter to her family in Ireland and Germany, that she was in so much pain that she could not shrug it off anymore. When back in the US, she went to see her gynaecologist who thought just draining the breast would do the trick. Even after another ultrasound, nobody thought it was cancer.
“My insurance company, through the military, denied my referral to see the out-of-network physician and wanted me to wait for about a month for a new checkup.”
Tina was taking the maximum dose of over-the-counter pain medication, so she and her husband decided to take matters into their own hands, and went to an ER, refusing to leave until a surgeon saw her.
“Eventually, we got another ultrasound, and this time they said ‘Hmmm‘ while looking at the screen.”
A biopsy of the breast and the lymph node under her arm later, resulted in her admission to hospital, followed by a whirlwind of tests.
Looking back, she doesn’t remember many details of that time, while waiting for the results to determine which stage of the cancer she would be at.
“It was all a blur. Zoey’s first birthday was around that time, and everybody was tiptoeing around the thought of me having cancer.”
Then she got the call that the liver biopsy came back positive, meaning stage 4 cancer, the disease was not curable.
“I couldn’t tell you what I felt at that moment. I think it was thoughts of what I needed to do next, and what I would never be able to do. The thought of not being able to have baby number two and not being able to see my daughter grow up.
“That still breaks my heart every time I really think about it. I am going to miss so much of her life. Will I get to see her start school? Will I take her to sports? Will I live long enough to help her through puberty? Teach her the things she needs to know in life? All those things were suddenly taken away from me.”
Tina knows the thought of her mother losing her daughter, her brother losing his twin sister and her husband losing his wife and best friend are also unthinkable thoughts.
“My husband, however, being as strong as he is, didn’t let this shut him down, he reached out to his navy and diving community and found the best cancer hospital.”
Tina lost her hair during the second round of chemotherapy, but it’s currently growing back.
“When I noticed my hair falling out, I decided to shave it in front of Zoey so that she would see the transformation and still see me as Mama, and not be confused waking up to a bald lady.”
The girl watched closely and a little bit confused.
“But she still knew who I was and was comfortable with me, which made me very happy.
“She loved touching my head. It took me much longer to get used to it.”
Tina wore a beanie hat pretty much all the time.
“As soon as someone sees a bald head, it screams CANCER, which isn’t fun.”
Yet Tina is very open about her situation on her Facebook page, called ‘Tina for remission’, where she posts regular updates, including pictures and videos of treatments and highs and lows of the situation, even pictures of the mastectomy.
“I first only did that to keep my family and friends up to date, but after some time it became kind of a platform for sharing information on stage 4 breast cancer at my age which is more common than people think.”
There are nearly 40,000 deaths annually from this disease.
“Making sure to do things you always dreamt of, is a lot more time-sensitive once you know your time could be cut short.
“My bucket lists keeps getting longer any time I see some place that looks cool to me, mainly travel destinations. Seeing the Northern Lights, for example, or the Chinese New Year. Maybe visit base camp at Mount Everest. Oh, and I’d love to go snow camping.”
On June 25, from 12 to 6pm, an Open Garden Fundraiser take place in Dunmanway in aid of Tina Bills.
The event is being organised to raise money to aid with the high costs of treatments and to help make Tina’s bucket list plans come true.
Tina’s mother Erika is holding the event at the Pinetree Lodge Garden, Cloonkirgeen, Ballinacarriga, Dunmanway.
Tina herself was scheduled to travel from the US to be there for the fundraiser but due to radiation treatment over the coming weeks, the 28-year-old cannot travel to Ireland.
“I am hoping for many people to come and enjoy the garden, a cup of coffee or tea, and a piece of cake,” says Erika Treutler.
There will also be face painting and a raffle.
For more information, call 085-7020061.
For more on how you can donate, see www.gofundme.com/tinas-remission.