Peters Township cancer survivor comes up with creative fundraiser
Think back to when you were a kid and how you really, really would have enjoyed throwing pies at the faces of some of your teachers.
Meet Tammi Hanak, who probably qualifies as one teacher you would have spared.
The speech-language pathologist at Peters Township’s Bower Hill Elementary School has such an energetic, encouraging personality – you can see her online hosting the school’s “Snack Scene at 3:15” TV show – that it’s difficult to imagine anybody wanting to toss one of those snacks her way.
But that’s what a select group of students will do on the afternoon of April 20, for a good cause, of course.
Hanak is marking her 20th year as a cancer survivor by raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through its Man and Woman of the Year program.
• Mad Mex Night: 5 to 7 p.m. May 2 at Mad Mex Lakeside, 200 N. Lakeside Drive, North Strabane Township
• Comedy for Cancer: comedy and trivia featuring a meet-and-greet with Pittsburgh Dad, 6 to 10 p.m. May 6 at Twelve Whiskey Barbecue, 1222 E. Carson St., South Side
• Sip, Shop, and Sparkle: wine tasting and vendor show from 1 to 3:30 p.m. May 7 at the Washington Winery, 202 S. Main St.
• Tammi’s Last Hurrah at the Hofbrau: 5 p.m. to midnight May 13 at the New Hofbrau, 416 Highland Ave., Canonsburg
The North Strabane Township resident is among six women who are up for the honor in the Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia region, with the winner – $1 raised counts for one vote – to be announced May 20. Hanak’s goal is to raise $20,000 in honor of her two cancer-free decades.
Her students are firmly on board.
“I went into every classroom, and I let them know why campaigning for the LLS is so important to me, about how I had cancer when I was young, but now that I am better, I want to do something to give back to the world,” she said. “And I want my little friends at Bower Hill to be part of that.”
They’ve been helping through a “Pennies for Pies” competition, donating their spare change with the promise of each student in the class that contributes the most having the opportunity to zap Mrs. Hanak.
The contest wrapped up prior to spring break, during which she planned to put aside plenty of time to tabulate the results.
“I am stunned by the generosity of these children,” Hanak said. “It’s one of the most humbling feelings ever, to watch these little kids do this for you.”
She wasn’t that far from childhood, herself, when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I was in graduate school at Ohio State. I was getting married in eight months. I was looking for my first job. There were a lot of things going on,” she recalled. “In the midst of all that, I became ill. I was convinced I had walking pneumonia or some kind of upper respiratory infection, because I was student teaching.”
Her parents told her that she’d better visit an emergency room in Columbus, or they’d come and take her back home to Hopewell Township. So she followed their directive.
“Life changed very quickly that day.”
She embarked on treatment for the disease, which starts in the white blood cells and affects the body’s immune system.
“I kept student teaching all through it,” she said. “I just put my wig on and went to school. And I had very understanding supervisors and professors. They were just so helpful.”
During a checkup five years later, Hanak’s oncologist told her:
“You know, you don’t have to come anymore. At this point, the odds of your original cancer coming back are fairly slim.”
From that point on, she’s made it her mission to make the most of her second chance at life, from competing as a ballroom dancer to becoming a fitness instructor to, in 2012, starting her own fitness business, all the while continuing her career as an educator.
In the meantime, she and her optometrist husband, Dr. Robert Hanak, have raised daughter Marissa, who is a senior at Canon-McMillan High School and getting ready to attend Kent State University.
“I look at her now and I think, I was only a few years older,” Tammi Hanak said about the age when she learned she had lymphoma, “and I’m sending her off to college. And what if I get a call like that?”
Marissa has helped her mother’s Leukemia and Lymphoma Society cause by producing a video for her fundraising web page, telling her story from the viewpoint of a cancer survivor’s daughter.
Her involvement corresponds with what Hanak had in mind when, at the suggestion of friends, she embarked on the Woman of the Year campaign:
“I want her to see that Mommy did something really special, and hopefully instill in her some type of love or interest in doing something similar one day.”