Tabitha Cyrus, whose friends and family affectionately call her Taffy, was three years old when she was diagnosed with autism. Her family had anticipated that something wasn’t quite as it should be, but the news still came as a tough blow.
“That’s not a diagnosis a mother ever wants to hear,” Rebecca Gilbert, Tabitha’s mother, says.
More than thirty years later, Taffy was dealt another difficult blow after her sister’s accidental discovery led to a different diagnosis.
To this day, Taffy is completely nonverbal and needs a caretaker to help her with most of her everyday tasks. Her mother and sister do much of her caretaking, and it was her sister, Leslie Cyrus, who first noticed the lump in Taffy’s breast while helping take care of her.
“Watched it for a couple of days, a week or so. It started changing to different colors, started moving. We took her to the family doctor and he said she has cancer. I can flat out say it,” says Leslie.
Rebecca adds, “The second words a mother never wants to hear is that your daughter has breast cancer.”
Taffy’s cancer was already in stage IV when it was discovered. She required a full mastectomy and a long regimen of chemotherapy treatments.
Taffy has an abnormally high pain tolerance due to her autism, which may have helped improve her treatment experience. However, because she could not fully understand what was going on and couldn’t be persuaded to hold still and cooperate, she needed to be sedated for every scan and every treatment in order to help keep her calm and safe.
“But through all of this, Taffy has become stronger. We all have become stronger,” says Rebecca.
Taffy’s whole life has been a fight to get the care and opportunities she needs to thrive, but her struggles have made her stronger and allowed her to be strong enough to fight through this new battle. She is now in recovery and will hopefully be declared to be in remission within a few years.
Taffy’s story is a reminder that even people with intellectual, learning, or developmental disabilities can still get breast cancer and other diseases, meaning they still need regular checkups from a doctor. They should also be receiving regular monthly breast exams from a caretaker if they’re unable to perform one themselves.
Learn more about Taffy’s unique and inspiring story in the video below.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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