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May 28, 2022

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Treating herself after cancer treatment

Tearra Flippo held a cancerversary in September to celebrate the return of her pre-breast cancer self

By , Columbian staff writer, and
, Columbian staff writer
Published:
10 Photos
Olivia Mathisen, 4, left, plays with Riley Sombounvong, 7, in the community room at Tearra Flippo's Vancouver apartment during her cancerversary party in early September. Flippo hosted the party to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the end of active breast cancer treatment. Flippo had chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy, and now takes hormone inhibitors for treatment.
Olivia Mathisen, 4, left, plays with Riley Sombounvong, 7, in the community room at Tearra Flippo's Vancouver apartment during her cancerversary party in early September. Flippo hosted the party to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the end of active breast cancer treatment. Flippo had chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy, and now takes hormone inhibitors for treatment. (Zach Wilkinson/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Peanut butter and jelly. Hugs and kisses. Sugar and spice.

Those great tandems have a new one joining the list: cancer and parties. Not a celebration of cancer, but more of an after-party — a celebration of defeating cancer. Early in September, Tearra Flippo, 32, did exactly that at her Vancouver apartment in what is called a cancerversary. She held her party about one year after finishing chemotherapy and radiation and starting hormone inhibitors, the final stage of her treatment, which lasts seven years.

Flippo has moved out of the active cancer patient role into a recovery role. And now, a year into that recovery, Flippo is finally feeling like her usual, positive, energetic self. Now, it’s time to celebrate.

“I wanted to bring everyone who was involved,” Flippo said. “The party was mostly for everyone else so that they could come here and I could thank them for everything they did for me.”

Guests included her older sister, Teanna Flippo; her dad, Mike Flippo, and his wife, Lynn Pocock; her fiance, Ryuichi Ohyama; her 7-year-old daughter, Riley Sombounvong; and her former stepmother, Kate Newgard, whom she considers a “mother figure.” All had visited her throughout treatment, helped her financially or supported her in other tangible and intangible ways.

Newgard, who is a nurse navigator, was a treatment nurse for Flippo’s mother, Tirsa Flippo, who died of breast cancer when Tearra was 16. Newgard helped Tearra Flippo navigate cancer treatment this time around.

She asked Ohyama to marry her near the end of her treatment in 2018. He lives in California and Flippo is planning to move there in the future.

Flippo, who was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive breast cancer, said it took an emotional toll on her and her family. Her daughter, Riley, started crying when Flippo cut her hair during treatment.

“I just want your hair back. I don’t like this,” she recalled Riley saying.

And Flippo remembers when she wandered around her apartment on her first night after treatment, because when she laid down she felt like she would vomit. “It’s not all pretty pink ribbons,” Flippo said.

Through her cancer journey, Flippo made personal growth that was borne out of challenges she faced. She said it was tough to not have enough energy to spend more time with her daughter. It was also tough for Flippo to not quite be her regular, social self at Simple Solitude, the nail salon she owns. She said clients noticed the changes.

Over time, though, Flippo said she noticed her old self creeping back. But each time she thought she was completely back, she would discover there was a little more progress left to be made.

“Chemo brain is such a real thing,” said Flippo, who also had a double mastectomy. “I couldn’t even remember what light switches (went where) in my house, where I parked my car if I went out.”

Flippo said the last year, leading into her cancerversary, has been a time of her building stamina and getting to a place where she isn’t consistently battling exhaustion.

“It was about regaining physical energy to not need a nap in the middle of my day or to take my kid to the park,” she said.

Clients now tell Flippo they feel like she’s back to her old self again, and she’s responding with, “Isn’t that amazing? I feel that way, too.” Flippo explained that during treatment, she had to learn to accept it was OK to give herself a break, and that she could always bounce back better the next day.

Perhaps the best metric Flippo can provide to show she’s back to normal isn’t something that’s happening. It’s something that now isn’t happening. It’s something that allowed Flippo to enjoy her cancerversary fully, engaged and lively.

“I’m 100 percent me and it’s amazing,” she said. “I don’t even need a nap.”

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Columbian staff writer
Columbian staff writer

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