Hayley Dolan and Elizabeth "Lizzy" Morgan were in second grade when they met. They and their families became fast friends, especially their moms, Dee and Tammy, who attended school events and were also workout partners, regularly walking, biking and playing tennis.
Two years into their friendship, at age forty, Tammy Morgan was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. During the next three years the two families shared life together. When Tammy traveled to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for treatment, Dee cared for her kids. The families comforted one another and laughed through many tears.
Tammy's motto was, "Either you can laugh or you can cry." Tammy chose laughter. When she lost her hair Tammy gathered a few friends together to help her shop for a wig.
"A few of us went with her and it was hysterical!" said Dee Dolan. "She tried on all sorts of crazy wigs and had everyone in stitches. She could have been all ‘poor me' but instead she chose to laugh."
Tammy's husband, Tom stated that even while dealing with the side effects of treatment, Tammy lived life to the fullest, entertaining friends and remaining involved in her children's activities while fulfilling the roles she treasured most as a wife, mom and good friend.
"While she was undergoing treatment she still maintained an active schedule, including a summer vacation to a "guest ranch" in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at our daughter's request. She still attended the kids' events, including field hockey, baseball and horseback riding, even though she did not feel well most days."
Dee remembered Tammy putting together a gorgeous costume for Lizzy's sixth grade Greek banquet, saying, "This is the prom dress I won't get to do."
"Lizzy was beautiful and had the best costume," said Dee.
During her numerous hospital stays, Tammy was touched by the many families facing cancer. "She had a deep concern for children because she knew, first hand, what her children were going through," said Tom. "As her disease progressed, she talked with her friends about doing something for the children who were affected directly or indirectly by such a horrible disease."
To honor Tammy, her Ohio friends started "Team Tammy" in 2000 and ran in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
A "Team Tammy" was also formed in Oklahoma, which included Lizzy and Hayley along with fellow Heritage Hall middle school students and parents. The Oklahoma group raised $15,000 by selling donuts, wristbands, car magnets, hats and carnations and completed an honorary lap for Tammy.
Tammy remained as involved as possible, cheering on the teams, choosing team colors and researching and selecting the charity that would benefit from their efforts. She chose to give the proceeds to Kid Link, a support group for kids of parents with cancer.
Tammy lost her battle to breast cancer in July 2003, three years after her diagnosis. Team Tammy decided to continue the work she had inspired them to do and to make her dream of helping families dealing with cancer a reality.
"It was Tammy's strength that motivated us to do something in her memory," said Dee. "She brought so much happiness to those who knew her. Everyone just wanted to do some good and something really big," Dee said. "That's when Tammy's House was born."
Tammy's House is a non-profit organization that was spearheaded by Nancy Petersen, one of Tammy's close friends, and the original Team Tammy group. "Tammy wanted our efforts to be all about the kids," said Peterson. "It's been an incredible labor of love and outreach for children in need."
Tammy's House board members include: Edmond residents, Lizzy Morgan, Nancy Petersen, Turner Peterson, Dee Dolan, Hayley Dolan, Brenda King, Graham King and Rachel Hardy along with Oklahoma City residents, Helen Harris, Laurie Totoro and Adrienne Totoro.
Recently, the group decided to adopt, decorate and supply two rooms at Children's Hospital on the Hematology/Oncology floor. To reach their new goal, they organized a dodge-ball tournament for Heritage Hall students, raising nearly $30,000 for the hospital. The rooms were completed in June.
The Morgan Media Room is on the Stem Cell Transplant Unit. Here, young patients can play video and board games, watch TV and simply get out of their hospital beds. It includes an XBox 360, chess/checker game table, video games, including Guitar Hero, DVDs and comfy recliners for lounging. This room is special since many patients are unable to leave their unit for weeks at a time due to the risk of infection.
Tammy's Cove is the family room, located on the cancer ward. The room offers patients and families a dining area, PlayStation table, sand table, magnet board, flat screen TV, games, computer area with Internet access and a work area. Here families can dine together, celebrate a special birthday or just relax together.
Amber Grayson, Child Life Specialist at Children's Hospital, has seen first-hand how the efforts of Tammy's House have benefited the children treated there.
"It's great. It encourages kids to venture out of their rooms and play with other patients," said Grayson. "Some of the little ones have to grow up so fast dealing with their illness. This allows them to just be kids."
The Heritage Hall students have gained from the experience as well. "So much of the time you see pain and suffering but feel helpless to do anything about it," said Dee. "Now these kids know that with some hard work and determination great things can be accomplished."
The Tammy's House kids plan to continue their efforts for many years to come. And waiting in the wings to carry the torch after the original Tammy's House kids graduate are their younger siblings, including Jack Morgan, Mitch Dolan and other Heritage Hall students.
To find out how you can help Tammy's House raise funds and support cancer victims and their families, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.