After learning she had stage IV breast cancer, Cindy Tomaszewski felt her life was suddenly out of her control. She went from being a healthy mother of three young children to quickly losing both breasts to a double mastectomy and learning the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and, possibly, her liver and bones.
But there was still one thing the 34-year-old elementary school speech pathologist could control.
“I shaved my head. I needed that little piece of control back,” she said while holding a clear plastic bag containing her long blond locks, still in a ponytail. “This was one thing I could do.”
Her husband, Augusta-Richmond County firefighter Sgt. Michael Tomaszewski, was the one who held the clippers.
For three days this week, Thursday through Saturday, the fire department will wear T-shirts made to support the Tomaszewskis. It is the first time the department has been allowed out of uniform for something like this that Battalion Chief Ivan Bolgla can remember in his 32 years of service.
To commemorate the week, the fire department will hold a chicken dinner from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Fire Station No. 1 on Broad Street. Lt. Clay Chipley said firefighters have sold many more shirts and dinners thanexpected, leaving them scrambling to fill all the orders.
“It’s just snowballed,” he said. “We have been overwhelmed with orders.”
The support has solidified the Tomaszewskis’ love for Augusta and the people who surround them. When they moved from California in 2003 to start a family, they ended up in Richmond County for work and found a second family.
Now that she has started chemotherapy, which will continue for at least the next eight months, Cindy Tomaszewski is trying to keep life as normal as possible for the couple’s three kids: Helena, 4, Sebastian, 3, and Stella, 1.
She remembers standing outside Helena’s room one evening while the little girl prayed before bed.
“She said, ‘Dear Jesus, please, please, please take Mommy’s cancer far, far away.’ Then she started to sing Hakuna Matata from The Lion King. ‘It means no worries, for the rest of your days.’ Soon we were all singing.”
The couple were trying for their fourth child when she had an ectopic pregnancy and her fallopian tube burst. That hospital visit is what led to doctors finding the cancer.
“The baby is our angel baby,” she said, tearing up. “Sent to save me for her brother and sisters.”
She said she and her family have leaned heavily on their faith the past few months, moving from “lukewarm Christians” to more serious believers.
“We’ve been able to see God’s hand over us,” she said. “Stage IV breast cancer is scary, but knowing this is not a surprise to the Lord, that he knew before I was born, helps me be at peace with it.”
For Michael Tomaszewski, the generosity shown by his fellow firefighters has been humbling.
“I used to be the kind of person who only wanted to help other people,” he said. “But I don’t know what is going to happen down the road.”
His biggest hope is to take the money being given to him and his family, put it in an account and never have to touch it. Then, when his wife is recovered and back to work, the family will donate the money to charity, he said.