EDMONTON — This time last year, Tammy McLash and her family were going through the “darkest time” of their lives: after rounds of chemotherapy, the mother of twin toddlers came down with a terrible infection and spent the entire month of December in isolation, unable to spend Christmas with her family. She wasn’t even able to hug her children, Madeline and Adam, on their third birthday.
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“It was really hard, especially because I kept hoping that I would be able to get out of the hospital,” Tammy recalled. “It was just really tough knowing I wouldn’t be there for their third birthdays and not able to spend Christmas with them. Christmas is such a family time to me.”
“It was sort of the darkest time for us,” Tammy’s husband, Mathew McLash, added. “A year ago right now was the worst time.
“Her positive attitude, honest to God, it carried us, our whole family, through this. Really, it did, because if Tammy weren’t as strong, I don’t know how I would have been.”
In August 2014, Tammy was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Chemotherapy wasn’t working and her only hope was a stem cell transplant.
“I just kept focusing on the future and knowing that next year would be different,” Tammy said.
Tammy’s battle with cancer and her family’s desperate search for a stem cell donor touched Canadians across the country. By January, she finally found a match. After spending four months in Calgary-the first eight weeks again without her children-Tammy was on the mend and ready to head back home to Edmonton.
Watch below: Alberta mother battling leukemia desperately searching for stem cell match
Now, fast forward another seven months, the McLashs are back home, healthy, and getting ready to spend Christmas together as a family.
“When I think about all that’s happened in the past year, I’ve gone from the lowest part to the highest part with this renewed sense of every day is a gift and you just live every day to the fullest,” Tammy said Monday, from the comfort of her own living room.
With the sounds of their children playing in the background, Tammy and Mat sat down with Global News to reflect on the past year. They emphasized how truly lucky they are to be where they are today ; happy, healthy and at home with their kids.
“I cherish that I’m able to take care of them, that I’m here to take care of them, I’m here to clean up messes after them, I’m here to play outside with them,” Tammy said. “I’m here to just cuddle with them on the couch when they wake up really early in the morning, you know. It’s just wonderful.”
“There is no such thing as taking normal for granted any more,” Mat said. “Normal is playing with your kids or enjoying a meal together as a family or walking your kids to school… that’s normal, but tomorrow it might not be.
“Normal changes pretty quick so we don’t take normal for granted.”
And they say without the “miracle” of the stem cell transplant, Tammy wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas at home with her family.
“Often I’ll just think about saying thank you to that person if I ever get to meet them. Just how would I say that? Because they’ve given me so much. It’s tough to even explain how thankful I am,” Tammy said, fighting back tears.
“We’ll forever and a day be in debt to the person who saved her life and all the people that helped us through the journey,” Mat added.
The couple says they couldn’t have made it through their journey without the support of their family, friends and the community. Knowing how important it is to have a support system around you, Tammy and Mat are dedicated to giving back any way they can.
Tammy was asked to be the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada’s honoured hero for this fall’s Light the Night Walk.
Mat, who works as a developer, is building an apartment complex three blocks away from the Cross Cancer Institute; he plans to always keep one suite vacant for families to use while going through treatment.